Sarah Hegenbart - The Courtauld Institute of Art

Sarah Hegenbart

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Sarah Hegenbart

PhD student, associate lecturer

Thesis: From Bayreuth to Burkina Faso: Christoph Schlingensief’s Opera Village Africa as contemporary Gesamtkunstwerk

Supervised by Prof. Sarah Wilson

Funded by

  • Association of Art Historians UK Award
  • The Sir Siegmund Warburg Award, Courtauld Institute of Art
  • The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Award, Courtauld Institute of Art
  • The Jacob Rothschild Award, Courtauld Institute of Art
  • Jenkins Memorial Award, University of Oxford
  • DAAD Grant, Award by the German Academic Exchange Service
  • Carl und Max Schneider Foundation Award, Humboldt University of Berlin
  • Schüchtermann-Schiller’sche Familienstiftung Studentship

This research project examines Christoph Schlingensief’s Opera Village Africa (2008-ongoing) in Burkina Faso as a participatory experiment, which brings together longer narratives emerging from Germany’s highly problematic past and an ambivalent fascination for Richard Wagner. The Opera Village Africa will serve as a lens through which Schlingensief’s earlier works will then be analysed. Since it was typical for Schlingensief to incorporate earlier projects in subsequent works, the Opera Village Africa comprises various strands from his diverse artistic practice, which he carried out as filmmaker, theatre and opera director and performance artist.

Schlingensief described the Opera Village as a contemporary Gesamtkunstwerk, which was deeply inspired by his production of Richard Wagner’s final opera Parsifal for the Bayreuther Festspiele from 2004-2007.

This raises the question to what extent Wagner’s notion of the Gesamtkunstwerk and its philosophical and historical context resonates in Schlingensief’s Opera Village. Does a comparison between Wagner’s and Schlingensief’s approach to the Gesamtkunstwerk reveal a shift in a paradigm underlying German historiography?

Tracing the roots of Schlingensief’s Opera Village back to the Gesamtkunstwerk, which unifies multiple art forms, may not only elucidate the participatory art project of the Opera Village Africa, but could inform a theory of participatory art more broadly. Rather than viewing the origins of participatory art in performance art practice in the 1960s, it shall be asked to what extent the roots of participatory art can be found in the Gesamtkunstwerk and Wagner’s idea to engage the spectators in a way that carries on into their life.

My research will facilitate the first English-language monograph of Christoph Schlingensief. Moreover, an investigation of Schlingensief’s work will shed new light on issues in contemporary art history and aesthetics more broadly. The Opera Village is an especially well-suited example since it touches upon a range of relevant questions such as contemporary interpretations of the Gesamtkunstwerk, intermediality, the value of a participatory art, the engagement of participant-spectators, the link between the aesthetic and moral realm, postcolonialist issues and the formation of a collective memory.


  • M.St. in Ancient Philosophy (University of Oxford)
  • M.A. in Philosophy and History of Art (Humboldt University of Berlin)


  • BA2 Constellations, Autumn – Image, Object, World: American Art 1945-1975
  • BA2 Constellations, Spring – Cold War Cultures: Art in a Divided World
  • TA MA Core Methodologies, Courtauld, 2014
  • Visiting Lecturer for the MA course ‘Curating Contemporary Art’, Royal College of Art, London, 2013

Research interests

  • Christoph Schlingensief
  • Richard Wagner
  • German Romanticism
  • The notion of the Gesamtkunstwerk
  • psychoanalysis
  • aesthetics; particularly Baumgarten, Kant, Schiller, Schlegel, Schelling, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Adorno
  • Ancient philosophy; emphasis on Plato
  • participatory art and art education
  • virtue ethics and aesthetics
  • Bildwissenschaften

Conference papers

  • ‘The Myth of the Aesthetic Age: How the concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk challenges the idea of an autonomous aesthetic realm’ at The European Society for Aesthetics Annual Conference, Amsterdam, May 2014
  • ‘The Participatory Art Museum: Approached from a Philosophical Perspective’ at the Royal Institute of Philosophy Annual Conference at the University of Glasgow titled ‘Philosophy and Museums: Ethics, Aesthetics, Ontology’, July 2013
  • ‘Participatory art projects and well-being: An argument for the cross-situationalist reliability of aesthetic skills’ at ‘Patterns of Thoughts: An Interdisciplinary Conference on Aesthetics, Education and the Arts’; The Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool, June 2013
‘How to evaluate participatory art’, Dubrovnik Philosophy of Art Conference, Croatia, April 2013
’Participatory Art and the Idea of Aesthetic Education: Does Every Participant Get Something Out of His Engagement’, conference on ‘Contemporary Aesthetic Education in the UK’; University of York, December 2012
‘Why Beauty and Love belong Together: On Alexander Nehamas’ Analytical Connection between Beauty and Love’; The Fifteenth Annual Conference of the British Postgraduate Philosophy Association at the University of Reading; September 2011
‘The Attraction of the Kalon – Why Aristotle’s Understanding of ‘Parts’ of the Soul Elucidates His Ethical Theory’, 15th Annual Philosophy Conference at Villanova University (Philadelphia) titled ‘The place of psyche: politics, art, nature‘; April 2010
  • ‘Do narratives enhance human flourishing? Narrativity in visual arts as strategy to create an authentic life form’; Oxford Postgraduate Conference in Continental Philosophy; September 2009
  • ‘Does Plato radically reject visual arts? References to the epistemological function of arts in Plato’s dialogues’; Ockham Society, Oxford, May 2009

Recent publications


Hegenbart, Sarah and Mündner, Sven (editors): Mythos Berlin—A London Perspective. London: The White Review, 2012.


  • Hegenbart, Sarah: The Participatory Museum: Approached from a Philosophical Perspective. In: Philosophy and Museums: Ethics, Aesthetics and Ontology, Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplementary Volume, Cambridge University Press, forthcoming.
  • Hegenbart, Sarah: Christoph Schlingensief: Surmonter la séparation de l’art et de la vie. In: ‘Outrescène‘, No. 14, May 2013, pp. 127-131.
  • Hegenbart, Sarah: A New Idea of Art – Christoph Schlingensief and the Opera Village Africa. In: The White Review, No. 5, August 2012, pp. 27-35.
  • Hegenbart, Sarah: Why Beauty and Love belong Together: On Alexander Nehamas’ Analytical Connection between Beauty and Love. In: Philosophical Writings, Proceedings of The Fifteenth Annual Conference of the British Postgraduate Philosophy Association at the University of Reading, 2011, pp. 61-71.
  • Hegenbart, Sarah and Simoniti, Vid: Beauty and Meaning; Music and Morality: An Interview with Roger Scruton. In: Postgraduate Journal of Aesthetics, Vol. 8, No. 1, April 2011, pp. 1-15.
  • Hegenbart, Sarah: Does Plato radically reject visual arts? References to the epistemological function of arts in Plato’s dialogues. In: STAAR, 2009, pp. 34-37.

Book Chapters

  • Hegenbart, Sarah: Brauchen wir Ideen zum Leben? Autonomes Denken und Urteilen als essenzielle Fähigkeiten des Philosophen. In: Was ist Leben? Festgabe für Volker Gerhardt. Edited by Simon Springmann and Asmus Trautsch. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 2009.
  • Hegenbart, Sarah: Platons Nomoi: Die Ansprache an die Siedler – Populärphilosophie für die breite Masse. In: Jahrbuch Politisches Denken 2008. Edited by Barbara Zehnpfennig. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 2008.

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