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Katia Schwerzmann

E-Mail:schwerzmann [at] schriftbildlichkeit.de


Ph.D. Project

Title: "The Shift Towards Writing in Contemporary Art" 

Subtitle: "Exploring Textual Border Phenomena in Dialogue with Recent Theories of Writing and Image "



Overview: General Observations

The use of writing in painting is not new. Signatures and inscriptions are and have been an integral part of the painting tradition. There are, however, at least three significant features that seem to be specific to writing in contemporary art. The first feature is the evolution of the nature of writing from an exogenous to an endogenous element of art. The location of text is no longer limited to the frame or the edge of a piece. Text now shares space, in part or in full, with the regions of a painting previously reserved for the image, in some cases even replacing visual representations as the main focus for a given piece. The second feature specific to writing in contemporary art is the clear and deliberate broadening of its function, making it much more difficult to concisely define and understand. The third feature is the increased frequency and resulting normalization of writing in contemporary art, making the usage of text so widespread and common that it now functions as its own visual medium. Text even competes with traditional pictures, acting as the main visual as well as defining the image character. As a result, writing can no longer be understood as a “signifiant de signifiant”.


Overview: The Approach

The first consideration of this thesis is the exploration of writing in contemporary art, focusing on avant-garde, minimal and conceptual art, as a part of the visualization and imaging process of writing during the 20th century that does not primarily consist in the merging of language and images. In observing the departure from traditional writing styles as is embodied by Mallarmé’s poetry, it is clear that writing developed into visuality and pictoriality in poetry as well as in the visual arts. Writing was no longer solely meant to be read but also to be looked at. The theoretical consequences of this revolution are numerous. Due to its increasing visual nature, the text experiences a fragmentation of its linearity, thus affecting the “normal” reading process. Writing also disturbs the functioning of representation and questions its role for the concept of art.

The next step is to define and clarify what I call the “border phenomena of writing” in the context of Bild- and Schriftwissenschaften. The hybrid phenomena between writing and drawing, which share minimal common features with writing, present a challenge to theories of both writing and image. These phenomena are particularly interesting because they cannot be easily defined as writing. They occupy a position in the hierarchy of writing that has not yet been discussed. These hybrid elements defy the apparent opposition between symbol and icon, language and image. They challenge the differentiation between the conventional line of writing and the constructive line of drawing. They require other modes of reception and perception, as ‘reading’ and ‘looking at’ cannot be separated, thus engaging the imagination in a deliberate and powerful manner. In addition, their ontological and semiotic status must also be defined.

Each step of the examination of these hybrid objects will be discussed on the basis of drawings in order to determine how they work, revealing the minimal features they share with writing and how they are able to convey meaning, even if they are not ‘readable’. In order to do this, it will be necessary to develop categories that enable the observer to recognize and define phenomena that do not correspond to any traditional or previously defined pieces of writing or drawing. The objects that will be considered are classified as hatching, pseudo-writing, ordering systems, pseudo-diagrams, blackening and crossing out. The main subjects used for examples in the research are the drawings of Franz Erhard Walther, Hanne Darboven and Alex Hanimann.


Curriculum Vitae

10.2011 – present 

PhD Candidate, FU Berlin in the “Notational Iconicity” Research Training Program, Institute for Philosophy under the DFG scholarship

10.2010 – 10.2011

Associate in the “Notational Iconicity” Research Training Program under a scholarship awarded by the Lausanne University, Switzerland, for a exchange of two semesters in a foreign university


Academic Distinction, “Prix d’excellence”, Lausanne University, Switzerland, for excellent master thesis and excellent examination results

03.2010 – 08.2010

Assistant (T.A.), Lausanne University, Switzerland, Institut for Philosophy


Master of Arts in Philosophy, Modern French Literature, German Literature. Master thesis’ title: „Autour de “L’origine de l’œuvre d’art”. Le surmontement de l’esthétique, la fin de l’art et l’œuvre d’art à l’autre commencement.“

10.2005 – 08.2006

Studies at the Wuppertal University, Germany




September 2012

“Dimensionen des Graphismus: Die drei Pole der Linie”, in Driesen, Christian, Köppel, Rea, Meyer-Krahmer, Benjamin und Wittrock, Eike (ed.): Über Kritzeln. Graphismen zwischen Schrift, Bild, Text und Zeichen. Diaphanes Berlin.


Thomas Huber: Mesdames et Messieurs. Conférences 1982 – 2010. Translated from the German by Katia Schwerzmann et al. Editions du Mamco. Genève 2012. (656 p.)


 “Franz Erhard Walther. Die Zeichnungen”, in: Ambulanz. Nr. 3.


 “Balcons. Déguisements et cérémonies dans le théâtre de Jean Genet”, in: Sang Bleu, Nr. 3/4.



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