The Holberg Symposium 2016: Art in Life / Life in Art

How does life enter into the formal structure of works of art and literature? How do those works enter into the life of their own and future times?

All works of art encode histories of longing or derision. These histories are easily forgotten. If a work is sufficiently powerful and compelling, it survives the forgetting, intriguing or moving its audiences in ways that the artist who created the work in the first place could only have dimly apprehended. This capacity to survive amnesia is part of art’s fascination.

New historicism emerged from a desire to investigate the lost or hidden circumstances that governed a work’s creation and that may, even when now forgotten, have left their marks. It emerged as well from an interest in the cultural and historical motives that condition the investigation in the present.

Symposium Programme

9.00 AM–9.03 AM
Opening welcome by Professor Sigmund Grønmo, Chair of the Holberg Board

9.03 AM–9.10 AM
Welcome by Professor Ellen Mortensen, Moderator and Academic Director of the Holberg Prize

9.10 AM–10.45 AM 

Introduction of panel speakers by Stephen Greenblatt

Horst Bredekamp: Symbiosis of Nature and Art. A Neomanneristic Approach.
Joseph Koerner: “Enemy Painting”
Pippa Skotnes: The Visible Elsewhere
Homi Bhabha: Processional Ethics

10.45 AM–11.00 AM
Coffee break

11.00 AM–12.45 PM 

Introduction of panel speakers by Stephen Greenblatt

Adam Phillips: On Distraction
Sarah Cole: Art in War and War in Art
Louis Menand: What Are We Looking At…
Daniel Jütte: Living Stones and the Anatomy of Architecture

12.45 PM–1.30 PM
Lunch break before the Holberg Lecture. A light meal will be served for the audience in
the back of the University Aula.

Panel 1

Horst Bredekamp 
Symbiosis of Nature and Art: A Neomanneristic Approach

Many elements of our contemporary culture demonstrate a negation of the dividing line between nature and culture as between picture and body. In many spheres, and even so also in the sciences, pictures are not only used as a tool of knowledge, but become parts of the object which is to be detected.

In these forms of transformation concepts are coming up again, which were especially treated in the epoch of the historical mannerism, around 1600. The lecture will ask if our time can be seen as a special form of neomannerism.

Biography: Dr. Horst Bredekamp is Professor in Art History and the History of Images at Humboldt University, Berlin. Since 2003, Bredekamp has been a Permanent Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study, Berlin. Select works: Darwins Korallen (2005) and Der Bildakt (2015).

Joseph Koerner
"Enemy painting"

In 1947, a notoriously elusive work by Hieronymus Bosch elicited divergent responses from three German-born thinkers. Against the backdrop of the 500th anniversary of Bosch’s death (1516), Professor Koerner reflects on the causes and implications of this telling episode of interpretative confusion. 

Biography: Joseph Leo Koerner is Victor S. Thomas Professor of History of Art and Architecture and Senior Fellow at the Society of Fellows, Harvard University. He is also a film-maker and is currently making a documentary on Viennese homemaking titled The Burning Child. Select works: The Moment of Self-Portraiture in German Renaissance Art (1994) and Bosch and Bruegel: From Enemy Painting to Everyday Life (forthcoming 2016).

Pippa Skotnes
The Visible Elsewhere

For the |xam, whose way of life ended in the 19th century in Southern Africa, the dead were not gone, but were merely elsewhere. They were sensed in the sudden mist, the shadows at dusk, at the waterholes which had ties to the stars and the breath of the rain. In the art of the |xam, however, the dead were given a visible presence on the surface of the rocks, defying the nature of things as proclaimed by the early people of their mythologies. In this talk I will speak of this presence of the dead more generally, and of my own project to find a living place for the |xam in my work as an artist. 


Pippa Skotnes is Michaelis Professor of Fine Art and Research Fellow at the Centre for Curating the Archive at the University of Cape Town. She is also an artist, curator and authour. Select works: “Lamb of God and the Book of Iterations” (art exhibition, 2001–2015), Claim to the Country (2007), Unconquerable Spirit (2008) and Uncertain Curature (2014) with co-author Carolyn Hamilton.

Homi Bhabha
Professional Ethics

The formal processional is William Kentridge’s leitmotif for signifying what he has called “the muchness of the people in the world.” Funeral corteges, political protests, dances of death, cycles of disease and deprivation somehow happen all at once, side-by-side, in a dire synchrony of fate and circumstance. And yet, Kentridge resists a response to dispossession that elicits a homogeneity of horror or all-encompassing sympathy for the wretched of the earth. There is singularity in suffering; there is agency in joining together to walk the next mile or dance the next step; and in repeatedly drawing the fine, taut line between life and death, the artist reveals what it means to survive, create and engage, as best one can, with the entangled tyranny of time.

Biography: Homi K. Bhabha is Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of the Humanities, Director of the Mahindra Humanities Center and Provost at Harvard. Research Areas: Postcolonial theory, cultural change and power, contemporary art and cosmopolitanism. Select works: Nation and Narration (1990), and The Location of Culture (1994).

Panel 2

Adam Phillips
On Distraction

On Distraction is a consideration of the uses of distraction in Stephen Greenblatt’s work, and in literature in the wider sense. 

Biography: Adam Phillips was formerly Principal Child Psychotherapist at Charing Cross Hospital, London, and is now a psychoanalyst in private practice, and a writer. Since 2003 he has been the general editor of the new Penguin Modern Classics translations of Sigmund Freud. Select works: Adam Phillips’ most recent books are Unforbidden Pleasures (2015), Becoming Freud: The Making of a Psychoanalyst (2014) and Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life (2012). 

Sarah Cole
Art in War and War in Art

From Homer to the present, the question has been asked: in what ways do art and war need each other? What can literature capture and what is the goal of writing about war, if, after all, life must ultimately exceed war’s compass? In formulating some of the questions that constitute the literature/war dialectic, this paper will ultimately take us to a surprising figure, H. G. Wells, who was, in his time, one of the loudest voices prophesying war, cataloguing its horrors, and attempting to find a language that might finally end it altogether.

Biography: Sarah Cole is Professor and Chair of the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. She works primarily on British literary modernism. Select works: At the Violet Hour: Modernism and Violence in England and Ireland (2012) and Modernism, Male Friendship, and the First World War (2003).

Louis Menand
What are we looking at...

...when we look at a certain image? This photograph, by Yevgeny Khaldei, is of the most iconic images to come out of the Second World War. How was it produced and what does it signify? 

Biography: Louis Menand is Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of English at Harvard and a straff writer for the New Yorker. Select works: The Marketplace of Ideas (2010), American Studies (2002) and The Metaphysical Club (2001).

Daniel Jütte
Living Stones and the Anatomy of Architecture

Among the arts, architecture is often considered a particularly rational manifestation of human creativity. The desire for the perfect form runs deep in modern architecture, culminating, perhaps, in Le Corbusier’s notion of the “house as machine for living in.” Historically, however, there have also been other, very different ways of conceptualizing architecture. Following Greenblatt’s call to “explore the ways in which pieces of life pass into the formal structure of art works,” Jütte will focus on one particular idea: the house as a living being.

Biography: Daniel Jütte is a historian of early modern and modern Europe. He is currently a Junior Fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows and a Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study, Berlin. Select works: The Strait Gate: Thresholds and Power in Western History (2015), The Age of Secrecy: Jews, Christians, and the Economy of Secrets, 1400-1800 (2015).


to 13:30, CEST.
The University Aula
Practical information
The event is free of charge and open to the public.