Mar 29–May 12, 2005

Beauty Politics

Thematic projects

  • The beautiful soul
  • The sensual city
  • The perfect human being
  • The musical moment
  • The Re-Turn of Beauty
Within these thematic projects, cultural and historic aspects of beauty as well as aspects of beauty in everyday life will be explored in an experimental way that leaves room for action and reflection. Filmmakers, architects, musicians, designers, etc., both exhibit or perform their works and use them as a basis for more general, and informal, comments on beauty.

The beautiful soul

Do we live in a secularised culture in which beauty has emancipated itself from "the good"? In their films, directors such as Lars von Trier present women who, as martyrs, incarnate inner and outer beauty. Are religious concepts of the good still valid for our aesthetic conceptions today?

The relationships between beauty, goodness and holiness, and the way they are echoed in culture and society today, are the focal point of this project. While the panel discussion concentrates on the religious and spiritual dimensions of contemporary conceptions of beauty, the symposium "Beauty and suffering" examines aspects of holiness and the aesthetic conditions under which femininity is presented between the poles of sanctification and humiliation.

The sensual city

Does a city's beauty lie solely in the visual aesthetics of its buildings and structural ensembles? Innumerable conscious and unconscious stimuli - smells, sounds and images - combine to create the unique atmosphere of certain places and squares. How is our perception of the city shaped by the interplay of these different factors?

The New York architect team Diana Agrest and Mario Gandelsonas present their visionary designs for their Shanghai of the future. Artist Sissel Tolaas examines the smells of urban spaces and their function as aids to orientation and recognition. Musicologist and curator Christoph Metzger analyses the suggestive power of acoustic stimuli in the city.

The perfect human being

The striving for physical perfection pervades every aspect of daily life. All human beings, the media implicitly suggest, can create themselves anew by dieting, fitness training, styling and undergoing operations. To what degree is the standardisation of ideals of beauty and images of the body connected with this development?

Media hype is continuously picking up trends pursued by the beauty industry and research into attractiveness, which ultimately strive to objectify beauty. The aggression and violence - implicit in cosmetic surgery - to which people subject their own bodies are rarely the focus of debate. Media and natural scientists, psychologists and artists meet to discuss the social, intercultural and ideological implications of standardising and modifying the body. Practitioners from the beauty sector talk about their work and raise critical questions.

The musical moment

Does music have its own categories of beauty, or do general characteristics also play a role here which are merely applied to music? How do definitions of beauty vary in different music cultures? Composers Helmut Lachenmann and Toshio Hosokawa, as well as philosopher Rolf Elberfeld, come together to discuss these questions.

The Re-Turn of Beauty

How has the striving for beauty inscribed itself on mass culture and contemporary art? International experts discuss the issues raised by the exhibition, the performances and the thematic projects. Reflections on aesthetic and scientific debates in this area illuminate developments that have again placed the concept of beauty at the centre of cultural discourse in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.