W h o   w e   a r e

Research Group Art Production and Art Theory

in the Age of Global Migration

in "Ulmer Verein für Kunst- und Kulturwissenschaften e.V."

Among societal movements, migration has the most dramatic and far-reaching consequences. In classical sociology, migration is defined as the permanent change of residence by people in a geographical and/or social space. Since not only human beings but objects, opinions, and ideas also migrate, the field deals with complex transfer movements. Points of attraction and “places of arrival” (Saunders, Doug. Arrival city. Munich: Karl Blessing, 2011) for migrant workers are mostly big cities whose structure and appearance reflects immigration. Migration has not only remodeled entire societies but also impacted the cities. Rendered more precisely: City is migration (Yıldız, Erol. Migration in der metropolitanen Gesellschaft. Münster: LIT, 2004). New global cities like Hong Kong, Seoul, Buenos Aires, and Dubai are emerging and replacing older multi-metropolises such as London, the world’s largest city in the 19th century. The urban sociologist Sassen describes the exchange between metropolises and their inhabitants, i.e. the inter-city geographies, as a “flow of professionals, tourists, artists and migrants among specific groups of cities” (Sassen, Saskia. “Why Cities Matter.” Cities. Architecture and Society. The 10th International Venice Architecture Biennale. Venice 2006: 27).


Migration as both a movement of internal migration and a process of transnationalization has been growing on a global scale since the 1980s. It is no longer an exceptional phenomenon, but has become the norm: “In other words, movement, once we notice its pervasiveness, is not an exceptional occurrence in an otherwise stable world, but a normal, generalized process in the world that cannot be grasped in terms of any given notion of stability.” (Bal, Mieke, and Miguel Á. Hernández-Navarro. Art and Visibility in Migratory Culture. Conflict, Resistance, and Agency. Amsterdam/New York: Rodopi, 2011: 10) In its new condition, migration is closely linked with globalization as an economic phenomenon. The term “globalization” dates back to the early 1960s. It began to flourish in the 1980s (Naisbitt, John. Megatrends. Ten New Directions Transforming our Lives. New York: Warner, 1982; Levitt, Theodore. “The Globalization of Markets.” Harvard Business Review, May 1983: 87-93), although the phenomenon points farther back into history. The increasingly global concentration and interconnectedness of economic systems through the liberalization of world trade as well as the intensified networking through electronic communication systems and innovative transport technologies interact with international emigration and immigration movements. In this situation, the routes of highly qualified migrants who leave their homes to work as employees and top leaders in multi-national enterprises overlap with those of temporary migrant workers, low-skilled long-term migrants, irregular migrants and refugees. In addition, the travel routes of tourists and migrants meet, for instance at neuralgic arrival places of refugee movements such as the Mediterranean islands of Tenerife, Lampedusa, Lesbos or Kos (Holert, Tom, and Mark Terkessidis. Fliehkraft: Gesellschaft in Bewegung – von Migranten und Touristen. Köln: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 2006).


Until now, migration research has primarily been carried out by the social, political and economic sciences. It focused on economic factors as the main cause of migration movements, including their social consequences. Pushed by the politically and socially oriented Anglo-Saxon Cultural Studies, the Humanities and the Kulturwissenschaften (studies of culture) also began exploring the cultural implications of migration phenomena. This discourse was largely conducted in specialization areas of Cultural Studies such as postcolonial Transatlantic Studies, Diaspora Studies, Gender Studies (women and migration), and Transnational Studies.


Independent research on the formation, production and reception conditions of migration art was established in German academia in the late 1980s. It happened mostly in the area of literary studies, in particular in the subfields of intercultural Germanistics and German as a Foreign Language. However, in response to the at that time nationally oriented politics which refused to award Germany the official status of a country of immigration, the application of the category “migration literature” was restricted to Gastarbeiterliteratur (literature of guest workers) and Ausländerliteratur (literature of foreigners).


This meant that the research field was marginalized as a minority discourse. It was only with the lively debate on globalization from the mid-1990s that the migration discourse significantly increased in value. Through the

effects of enhanced international mobility, the issue of

migration had arrived to take its place at the centre of society. With this move, it started attracting the attention of the scientific community. Classical theories of migration turned out to be unsatisfactory in explaining the new migration processes directed by the flows of global financial and human capital. (Haug, Sonja. Klassische und Neuere Theorien der Migration. Arbeitspapiere des Mannheimer Zentrum für Europäische Sozialforschung. Mannheim 2000). Migration had transformed from a mainly temporary and unidirectional emigration and immigration phenomenon to a multidirectional transition movement of permanent mobility, an economic, political and cultural nomadism that called for a transnational and multi-local network approach. (Bönisch-Brednich, Brigitte, and Catherin Trundle, eds. Local Lives. Migration and the Politics of Place. Farnham-Burlington: Ashgate, 2010; Hilti, Nicola. Lebenswelten multilokal Wohnender. Eine Betrachtung des Spannungsfeldes von Bewegung und Verankerung. Wiesbaden: Springer, 2013)


Although in the field of contemporary art global migration has been increasingly recognized and reflected as a central phenomenon transforming our society, German and international Art History have not yet systematically investigated migration as a category and mover of artistic production against the discursive backdrop of transnationalization and globalization. Solely in media- and culture-oriented image studies, a theoretical and methodological research interest in inter- and transcultural image migrations (Stegmann, Petra, and Peter C. Seel. Migrating Images. Producing, Reading, Transporting, Translating. Berlin: House of World Cultures, 2004) as well as visual cultures of migration (Bischoff, Christine, Francesca Falk, Sylvia Kafehsy, eds. Images of Illegalized Immigration. Towards a Critical Iconology of Politics. Bielefeld: transcript, 2010) has been crystallizing.


The working group “Art Production and Art Theory in the Age of Global Migration”, established under the umbrella of the Ulm Association of Art and Cultural Studies, strives to explore what the interaction between migration and globalization as the most significant phenomena of social transformation in the 20th and 21st century mean for art research, curatorial theory and practice, as well as artistic production. In what ways do global migrations inscribe themselves into artistic works? How important were artistic exchanges, the traveling of ideas and concepts, before the proclaimed decade of globalization? What kind of contacts between artists and curators existed in times when material and political barriers considerably complicated the communication between Western and Eastern Europe? How is the global art market affected by labor migration? What role do the differences between urban and rural areas play? How does migration reshape the visible and invisible urban spaces? How can cultural remains and layerings be decoded or preserved?


The current transnational move in art production and art markets shows that the discipline of Art History is confronted with major challenges regarding the complex historical and contemporary migratory processes. It has to revisit its own parameters and concepts. Which theoretical concepts correspond to the procedural, performative, transnational and transcultural migration movements and their artistic reflections? How can art history be written by focusing on instability, exchange and cultural changeabilty, and not drawing on national parameters?


Initiators of the research group were Prof. Dr. Burcu Dogramaci (Ludwig-Maximilian University, Munich, Germany) und Prof. Dr. Birgit Mersmann (University Basel, Switzerland/University of Cologne, Germany).


Speakers of the working group were since then:
2015-16_ Prof. Dr. Burcu Dogramaci (LMU München), Prof. Dr. Alexandra Karentzos (TU Darmstadt), Prof. Dr. Birit Mersmann (Jacobs University Bremen);

2016-18_ Dr. Cathrine Bublatzky, Prof. Dr. Burcu Dogramaci (LMU München), Prof. Dr. Kerstin Pinther;

2018-20_ Prof. Dr. Gabriele Genge (Universität Essen), Dr. Angela Stercken (Universität Essen) und apl. Prof. Dr. Melanie Ulz (Universität Osnabrück)

2020-22_ Dr. Alma-Elisa Kittner (Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen), Dipl. des. Kerstin Meincke (Universität Duisburg-Essen), Dr. Miriam Oesterreich (TU Darmstadt).


Current speakers of the research group are: Dr. Buket Altinoba (ZI München), Prof. Dr. Alexandra Karentzos (TU Darmstadt), Prof. Dr. Elke Gaugele (Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Vienna).


If you are interested in active membership or cooperation, please get in contact via email.