One of the most devastating charges levelled against theories, analyses, and descriptions is that of being reductive or of amounting to a full-blown reductionism. Conceptual frameworks are scolded for being impoverished and descriptions for being too sparse or flat. And conversely, to call something ‘irreducible’ seems to confer an immediate and indisputable dignity to it. And yet the history of science and knowledge cannot be told without acknowledging the importance of reductionist programmes; reductive paradigms have periodically revitalized the arts. What lies at the root of such different attitudes towards ‘reduction’? Can one embrace forms of reduction that are not in the service of production, allowing for the possibility of a ‘less’ that would no longer have to amount to ‘more’?
Recognizing that a critique of the ideals of productivity, success, goal-orientation, and determination is necessarily paradoxical, the ICI Core Project ERRANS takes the shifting and incompatible meanings of erring as a starting point to explore the critical potentials and risks of embracing error, randomness, failure, and non-teleological temporalities. The inquiry is intended to reach across different disciplines and discourses, relating not only to the knowledge of life, diaspora, or arts of failing, but also, for instance, to aesthetics, theories of play and games, or random-walk models in (finance) mathematics.
The expression ‘tension’ appears in manifold contexts with diverse meanings. We speak of social, religious, electrical, sexual, and creative tension. In all these cases, tension refers to a static but unstable state. Such a state is on the verge of a dynamic process that may be destructive as well as productive. Tension provides the condition for transformations, but determines neither their beginning nor outcome. As a state of undecided potentiality, tension promises us agency and demands our involvement, while also captivating us aesthetically. By exploring the critical role of tension, the ICI’s inaugural project also seeks to reflect upon the Institute’s mission.
The ICI Berlin pursues an interlocking series of longer-term core projects developing key paradigms of cultural inquiry and intervention. These ICI Core Projects are structured by annual (until 2013) and currently by biannual research foci, to be explored by groups of two-year postdoctoral fellows assembled in the Institute’s Research Colloquium.
The Core Project draws input from and is reflected in the accompanying and public ICI Lecture Series. Institute staff and fellows cooperate in the organization of public workshops, conferences, and symposia designed to illuminate particular aspects of the common project.