Contingency Art Theory

Preliminary remarks

This is an excerpt of an essay related to cultural and sociological art studies concerning contingency art, a new kind of artwork, possibly a new art movement in the not to distant future. I intend to publish a complete and revised version later, first in German language.

To avoid misunderstandings, I´m pointing out explicitly, that I don´t refere extentively the perception of the role of art in a social society, pointed out by German sociologist Luhmann in: "Art as a social system". This whole theory should be otherwise reviewed intensively and so it isn´t subject of the remarks relating to contingency art. In the following I refere to the perception of contingency relating the implication to individuals in a social system and the art system with relation to it´s relevance for individuals in a social system as written down by Luhmann in Social Systems that includes also the art system.
Cited passages are translations from German into English language of my own. So references are made only to German original literature.

1. Contingency

Contingency (latin: contingere = to occur; late latin: contingency). In the Following the approach of the term contingency with diagnostically potential from a sociological present-day perspective of the 21st century. Contingency is a common used term in the sociology, especially with Luhmann´s  Theory of Social Systems, to specify the basically openness and uncertainty experiences of human life. The term is generated by exclusion of necessity and impossibility. Something is contingent, that isn´t necessary neither impossible; what how it is, (was, is), may be, but also possible different. The termin consequently labels existing (experienced, expected , imagened, fantasized) respectively the possiblity of differentness; it labels objects on the horizon of imaginable variations. It assumes the existing world, doesn´t generally label all that is possible, but that, which considered from reality indeed is also possible different (Luhmann 1987). So contingency relies on distinctions and constructions that always soever can be made differently In so far the term contingency labels a negation of necessity and imposibleness.

The function of the art system is refering to contingency in a very specific way. Art shows contingency in a paradigmatic manner: The artist himself and also the observer of art, both they don´t have any other chance (than watching obervations as laid down in shapes) to oberserve...And this observers will find, that there are multiple contingencies to connect shapes to already existing other shapes. Than the completed art work is a framework of shapes, a composition, that in many respects could be made different (Hermsen in: Koller 2007, page 140).

In everyday life of modern age, man is characterized by varied experiences, that all structures and fromations of organization percieved by himself, are contingent. In other words: On earth all that exists or will be done, also on principle is possible and imaginable different. As human beeings we´re living in a world of multiple truthes.

Living in a society of contingency (Greven 2000) means for the individual, to be on the move in a form of a society, where settled and traditional forms of institutionalization and collective life inreasingly is determinated by ambivalence and ambiguousness. To get certainty of orientation at a state of destinctiv individualization is increasingly problematic. Induced by the contingency of modern society individual everyday lifeworld is fragmented to a variety of permanent decision making, those are associated with an enormous, numerous expansion of alternatives to act.

Contingency isn´t only limited on the level of the individual person and his horizon of decision making. On principle contingency is occurring without boundaries, also visible on the level of politics and economics and impresses parameters and directly the structure of effects in science and technology. That everything is possible different from other observations or things has been formative for the art system, long before it´s legitimation in the system of the sciences. Luhmann explicitly allocates contingency a pioneering role in the art system (Luhmann 1990, page 90).

A multi-option society of modern characteristic cultivates the sense for possibilities (see Robert Musil) in view of decision making, acting or to leave something undone. To us it occures more and more that our global society in comparison to earlier times of modernity has become - although intensively and bigger intercommunication and networking is happening - it´s getting more complexly, fragmentet, finer-grained, heterogenic, disoriented and more complicated.

2. Contingency Art

In a society influenced by a lot of experiences in contingency - so my thesis - the development of a corresponding  kind of art, that matches to the sense for possibilities of human beeings and their personal freedom of discretion, also accordingly their handling with (purchased) art, is almost consequential to occure.
These kind of art, by me named „Contingency Art enables purchaser of my artwork, to rearrange and modify their piece of art as they like to do it (as in their domicile, office, and also in public areas). So they can get new views and impressions of their artwork. More than this: The owner, respectively art collector, gets the power, to configure and to shape this piece of art at his own will and therefore, he defines the conditions of fulfillment by his wishes. And so, every buyer of my contingency art determinates the conditions of private happyness by committing his emotions at a thing, his pieces of contingency artwork, he owns (1).
My fundamental artistic invention, making this exemplarily and illustrating possible, these are pieces of artwork, assembled with a different number of contingency fields depending on the individual construction of every single contingency artwork.
The contingency fields, frequently placed in a  modular expandable framework are the early inventions and they´re only one form of expression of that, contingency art can be. At present a lot of innovative and sometimes adventurous contingency artwork is concepted and has already worked out by myself, M. H.

The complexity of artistic design and composition of my contingency artwork can accomplish large-sized dimensions, the more mudules consisting a corresponding number of fields, respectively boards are interconnected as far as - based on the single project - there are no static, material-specific or physical limits.

All contingency artwork made by myself is in the sense of contingency experiences subjectively changeable by the purchaser. Concerning each piece of contingency artwork it is different in extension and dimension and so his form, shape, appeal and impression. But all contingency artwork is able to be rearranged only up to a specific limit, considered in the way of it´s preconstruction by the artist. So every contingency artwork isn´t changeable to that point of unrecognizability, based on the assignment to his artistic creator.

Variability and changeablity of contingency artwork by the purchaser ist only possible under specific conditions predifined on basic outlines by the artist of the project. So his artistry isn´t abandoned to arbitrariness or chaos. In fact, concerning the usability of each piece of contingency art work there already exists an orderly handling with the art. That means, every option of changing and reassembling of form and structure of the basic figure is made on basis by the artist preconstruction of the complete art piece. The artist itself has planned and materialized specific options of connectivity by working out a specific number of contingency fields and a background with calculated measures to prefix this fields together. This is the limited ground of possibilities, on which the owner of contingency artwork has the latitude to try connecting the number of contingency fields and other parts he has available to built an new configuration of his contingency artwork (2). The owner of the contingency artwork can determinate, when he has finished the recontruction work to create his own new version of his contingency art piece. He may have aesthetically reasons to finish although there may be left one or two pieces of contingency fields and he chooses to keep them safe until the next time he wants to make changes at his contingency artwork (3). Every purchaser of contingency artwork will explore and realize what kind of configurations of fields are possible or impossible. If there are gaps or openings in the frame by assembling contingency fields together or patterns doesn´t match aesthetically, there is no real connectivity and he will choose other options and chances of connectivity. So the owner of his masterpiece of contingency artwork will experience self-restrictions by changing and remodelling but almost always he will have fun and thrill by creating a new piece of contingency art.

3. Does contingency art make everybody to an artist?

Contingency art, explicitly offering of artwork, based on a number of rearrangable contingency fields - so my second thesis -  does in my opinion, correspond with the search of the individual in present society for permanent new attractions, impressions and challenges. And in modern age this meets as institutionally requested the  fundamentally already internalized, enormous ability of flexibility and preparedness to changes by every individual. So purchasers of my contingency art are allowed (for example in their own zone of preference of Living art) to make alternations of this piece of art in any possible variations. And this in short time with a few simple things, manual to handle by their own. This artwork in it´s frame gets a new life by rearranging it according to the criteria of appearance, harmony or contrast as aesthetically as it´s owner does wish. Essential: By creating the basic version of his artwork the artist himself doesn´t enforce a special predetermined point of view  to the buyer and collector. Simply he doesn´t dictate, in which way and side his artwork must be wall-mounted. To give options for significant changeability of the contingency artwork to the customer is based on my thinking, that human beeings have a deeply-rooted sense for possibilities and so latently he is open to artistic offers, that something principally can, may and should be more different to handle than an artists precepts by his basic artwork.

Whereas the observer of contingency, for example at an exhibition of art, has to content himself to think about connectivity only in his head, the purchaser of contingency artwork by buying this piece of art is able to realize connectivity by his own hands. He can harmonize his thoughts about connectivity by reciprocal actions of trial and error with his hands to examine theory and reality of connectivity and finally he can create a modification of his contingency artwork. During the time he´s living together with the contingency art, he can - whenever he likes - make a new configuration of his artwork. Often not even the artist, who built this artwork knows the limitedness of contingencies concerning his piece of art work. The reason is, that the artist can´t calculate and can´t know the power of observation and the talent of shaping of his fellow men. So every individual has his own subjective access to art, that also includes contingency art. Resultant of this fact, every person has it´s own motivation and perception of changing  contingency artwork practically, his own aesthetical view on harmony, play of colors and figure connectivity.

Contingency art primarily is a kind of Modern Living Art starting at the beginning of 21st century of human civilization. It is something new and in a manner of speaking revolutionarily in dealing with purchased art but also obvious contemporary. May be overdue, to be created, developed and widespread. My profound sociological background associated with my wide interest for contemporary art had contributed to create this new kind of art.

Based on my recently fresh experiences with contingency art (4) and inspired by the reactions of people, that I´ve observed and attended to see them modificate and rearrange my contingency art work, I could review, that this art works in practice. According to my principles of contingency in it´s conversation this artwork is multi-faceted, surprising, inspiring. Contingency art with it´s great potential of individual adaptability based on immanently options to reconfigurate this pieces of artwork in the living area and also the working area is an enrichment and alternative of the existing living art as yet. Contingency art with it´s immanent leave-taking from the artistic determinism to handle artwork only like the artists expects, is a radical difference to traditional thinking. I´m pleased to see, that my contingency artwork meets the interest of purchaser to try out how to change my basic configuration of every single piece of artwork. And it makes me happy to see the result of changing this basic configurations and to see the customers own interpretation, modification and perception of my artwork right on this place where it is shown off to its best advantage. Some of my pieces of art are separable and so this parts can be placed in different rooms or at several places in the same room.

With my contingency artwork I´ve started in autumn of 2007 an experiment beside my other projects I wanted to realize. Meanwhile I see the incredible reception of this ideas to think and create a new kind of artwork and contingency art has become a inner need of my art working. I like to see that purchaser of my contingency art are getting into an new role with their contingency art. They´re able to become artists of basic changes by itself. For the purchaser of this kind of art contingency in art gets conspicious by pracitically connectivity of certain forced arrangements. This means, that acting with contingency art is a reflection of something fundamental, that is significant for other social systems beyond the art system. The function of art isn´t alone to reveal contingency, but furthermore to visualize an orderly handling with art.
(Luhmann in: Hermsen 2007 page 147). The Individual as a participant of the art system is (in his daily work or in several aspects) integrated in other subsystems of society. Certain independency in one system meets more dependence to other systems he´s involved with. In his personality he has essential liberties and for example he can live this as shown by modifying and changing pieces of art as contingency artwork allows to him and so he can enjoy to give his artwork it´s own personalized character. But for his lifetime he is always a member of society as a whole and hereby under constraint to fit in and be conformable.

4. Perspective

In my opinion contingency art is an appropriate response to the distinct individuality of human nature facing contemporary society. Man, arrived in the new millennium is autonomous and independently but at the same time more self reflected than ever before. Everyday he is manifoldly challenged, to extend his sensoric abilities to look for potential and chances, handling his existenence in modern time. Basically he is able to see differently and, so another of my basic assumptions, he has latently or evidently appropriate advanced expectations and needs relating to the function of art in his living invironment. My contingency artwork is enabling all those interested to adapt this pieces of art to their changing moods and their indivudual needs for variation during the time of living with the contingency art. These abilties I want to correspond with my offer of contignency artwork.

My self-conception of artistry - as named in my bio - is clearly dichotomous. Beyond my contingency artwork I´d never give allowance to a collector or buyer of my other artwork (installations, assemblages and projects of abstract realism), that bases on a strong concept of planning and realization, to change this artwork. There is no arbitrariness in this artwork of mine and no invitation to a purchaser of these works to handle it like contingency artwork. Pointing out this big difference right here is necessary.


(1) Handling artwork by options of redesign and reconfiguration concerning every piece of contingency artwork is able to extend the incentive of art collectors to purchase this artwork, is creating a new type, I would label as a type of a „creative editor relating to the contingency artwork. More about motivation und typology of art collectors in: Dossi 2007, Chapter 2, page 52-98.

(2) As inventor of the contingency art I´ve made it to my business, to contribute to the comprehension of the functioning concerning contingency art. So I´m always assembling at least 10 variations of each contingency artwork, I´ve completed and also I´m creating a presentation by shooting a film that I prepare for people interested in contingency art on a DVD or on my website to show how this kind of art is working.

(3)  Sometimes this is an exiting process. The purchasers will to modificate his contingency artwork is able to prove what kind or type of charakter he is corresponding. In my spontaneous studies I have identified at least two types of characters. There is the  „relaxed composer. He is able to have left over one last piece of material matching to his contingency artwork in his hand after in his view he´d made a successful reconfiguration. For him the overall picture is more important, than a must have to assemble the last piece he left over in the rearranged artwork. Another type of modifier in contingency artwork I´ve labled is the „perfectionistic installer. He can´t left one ore more pieces by assembling a new configuration of his contingency artwork. He´d like always to destroy the already elaborated piece of patterns and forms and he must restart with building a new variation of his artwork , because he is acting up to the principle „there are 48 pieces (number for example), that belong to the artwork, and so it is a must be that I must use all these 48 pieces to rebuilt the artwork, because without all pieces it can´t named complete. The artist did it with 48 pieces and so I couldn´t leave over pieces! But he would never be forced by anyone to use all 48 pieces to rearrange his artwork. That´s the typical freedom, contingency artwork allows to him (M. H.) 

(4) The first contingency artwork was completed in February 2008. Before this point a lot of technical developmental work was necessary.



Dossi, Piroschka: Hype!
Kunst und Geld. Dtv, München 2007

Greven, Michael, Th.: Kontingenz und Dezision. Beiträge zur Analyse der politischen Gesellschaft, Opladen 2000.

Hermsen, Thomas: Die Funktion der Kunst. In Koller, Markus: Die Grenzen der Kunst, a. a. O., S. 139-154.

Koller, Markus: Die Grenzen der Kunst - Luhmanns gelehrte Poesie, Wiesbaden 2007.

Koller, Markus: Kap. 4 „Gesellschaftstheorie und Kunst: Kontingenz. In: Ders. 2007, S. 241-254.

Luhmann, Niklas: Soziale Systeme. Grundriss einer allgemeinen Theorie. Frankfurt a. M. 1987.

Luhmann, Niklas: Die Wissenschaft der Gesellschaft, Frankfurt a. M. 1990.

Luhmann, Niklas: Die Kunst der Gesellschaft, Frankfurt 1997.

Musil, Robert: Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften, 2 Bde., Reinbek 1999.