IMAGES Journal for Visual Studies

Events: Visual Construction of Culture

Symposium Programme and Abstracts

Friday, October 26, 2007

•• 10.00

•• 10.15
ŽARKO PAIĆ, Faculty of Textile Technology, Zagreb
Deconstruction of Image: From Mimesis and Representation to Communication

At a centre of a new approach to phenomenon of visuality as a basic mark of an age  of media presence, lays a  notion of image. Despite clear demarcation of mediology as one of the auxiliary post-sciences (which merges art history, philosophy, sociology  and various cultural sciences), from a traditional (metaphysical) notion of image that belongs to art, an extremely opened issue is whether "new image" in  the digital surrounding of contemporary culture is an image at all, or perhaps something completely different.

The talk problematizes a manner of construction of visuality as: 1) a communication media (Klaus-Sachs Hombach  and ICONIC TURN project); 2) the visuality of culture that supplements previous social models of reality construction (W.J.T.Mitchell) and; 3) the representation of reality of the world through a notion of "immersion" into virtual space (Oliver Grau). The basic assumptions of this work are that the visual construction of culture in an age of disappearance of history, art and world is confronted with impossibility of founding its own post-disciplinary origin. Inasmuch, the iconic turn, instead of becoming a reign of metaphysical linguistic complex which provides the image with a possibility of interpretation, turned out to be but a deconstruction of the previous models of image, in their historical emergence from mimesis to representation to communication.

Emptiness arising by disappearance of leading notions of philosophy and art history results in a chaotic language of media reality. An image without a world is yet another conditional visual trace of its signifier's presence. When an image, inside a plenitude of "images", does not represent and stand for, but is understood as an artificially produced reality in virtual space, then the main question is how at all should we maintain the notion of art - without the basic categories guaranteeing its historical viability. From mimesis to representation to communication the path leads us to the pictorial transformation of the world into an artificially produced world, which medially construct its own "image of the world". The question is not how and which notions to use in order to interpret "the new image of the world", but does an image from now on, ontologically precede any possible understanding and experience of the constructed reality? 

•• 11.00
NADEŽDA ČAČINOVIĆ, Faculty of Philosophy, Zagreb
The Visible and Cognition

A problem denoted in the title is actualized by the critical reflection upon the most recent interdisciplinary researches, especially works by Barbara Maria Stafford and also Martin Kemp, including the already known works by Hans Belting and Friedrich Kittler. This search is to answer a question what are the basic elements enabling the visibility of culture today.

•• 11.45
MILAN GALOVIĆ, Faculty of Textile Technology, Zagreb
Image in Technical Era

In the era of "pictorial turn" it became revealed that the scientific approach to the image has to be inter-, multi- and even "post-disciplinary". Amongst all the traditional metaphysical "disciplines", the most widely pursued today are aesthetics and anthropology. In his "The Age of the World Picture" Martin Heidegger made an attempt to reflect upon the image on the levels of ontology and certain pseudo-cosmology. During the domination of analytic philosophy of language and semiotics, Max Imdahl and Gottfried Boehm endeavoured to rehabilitate some deeper approaches to the image. However, it seems that these attempts are challenged by what Vilém Flusser calls "technical image", of course, under condition of not starting from a latter's narrow instrumental and anthropological notion of technique. The intention of the exhibitor is to enter a dialogue with the above mentioned authors in order to demonstrate how "pictorial turn" and "iconic turn" have incited yet another deep and more comprehensive turn – "technical turn". This will more clearly expose not only justifiability of a - many times stated - questionable quality of both word and notion of image within newly risen "science of image", but also the possibilities and reaches of art which encloses itself inside the surrounding of "technical media".

•• 12.30
KRUNO MARTINAC, University of Melbourne, Australia
Someone Looks at Something

Focus of this presentation is on the critical introduction of the model of systemic-functional semiotics to an interpretation of images. Through a close semiotic analysis of an image it is possible to read the internal visual facts of the image, whether a work of art, a glossy magazine advertisement or an amateur phone camera moving or still image shared in the virtual space.

Systemic-functional semiotics suggests that all the arguments stem from the image itself, its composition and social semiotic defined by the complex interplay of its systemic options. It supports W.J.T. Mitchell’s argument that an image is a complex set of practices which lie behind and make possible the image and its capacity to convey meaning.

•• 13.30 Lunch break

•• 15.00
ALEKSANDAR MIJATOVIĆ, Faculty of Philosophy, Zagreb
Profane Iconology

Numerous critics have discerned the iconoclastic charge in Marx's works. Already in his works On the Jewish Question and Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, both published in 1844, he shifts emphasis from religion to economy as a central form of contemporary human alienation: while religious alienation affects consciousness, economic alienation affects real life.  And while religious alienation sacrifices humaneness for the sake of God, an alienation incited by a contemporary society sacrifices the very humaneness. Using such basis, this talk will consider the peculiarities of Marx's iconology and, in this light, draw consequences for a concept of visual culture.

Namely, Michael Foucault in his The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences claims that, within modernist episteme, economic  representation refers to an external relation established with a subject as a human being. In order to represent a world, a man previously has to master himself, as a being endowed with a representational  capacity. Hence, according to Foucault, in modernity man becomes split into a subject and object of insight. Man, as claimed by Foucault, assumed a divided position of "a subordinate sovereign, an observer". The origination of visual culture is primarily linked to the seeing becoming independent from philosophy. In modern representational forms, whose rise begun at the onset of the 19th century, one can discern the prevalence of representation over a represented object.

However, modern orientation of iconoclastic blade towards images rests on presumptions discernibly different from those that were inspiring pre-modern iconoclasts. The latter held an icon replaces the God, while modernity claimed images replace the reality. The iconoclasm was at first connected to solving the crisis through religion, while during the era which proclaimed to be liberated from Gods it became tied to the critique of visual culture. Therefore, according to Marx, in modernity an icon, enlivened through representation, does not desecrate the divine but questions the humane: man becomes a victim, without God. Such argumentation announces contemporary interpretations of visual culture to be the battlefield of endangered humanness.

•• 15.45
The Visual Construction of Carnival Reality

While the basic thesis of this symposium seems to be the difference between the status of the pictorial in the traditional and current worldview, this paper seeks to present an alternative vision of the pictorial that had run parallel all along the reign of the traditional paradigm: the pictorial as understood by the temporary festivities of the carnival described chiefly by M. M. Bakhtin.

The thesis of the paper is that, while dominant catholic society of the middle ages expressed a definitive contempt for the pictorial (as a mere representation of the spiritual realm at best, as misleading and dangerous at worst), carnival openly understood the temporary social utopia it constructed as essentially »pictorial«. Moreover, from the carnival worldview, the contempt of the reigning paradigm towards the pictorial was only there to conceal its gross dependence on visuality (e.g. suggestive imagery of heaven and hell), while carnival fused and concretized these very fantasies, making them livable as pictures. Carnival utopia was pictorial and temporary, but it was in no way merely an illusion nor a temporary release: it sought to establish its pictorial reality as a permanent, livable state of the world and understood the pictorial to be the only true reality reducing the everyday, banal concept of reality to a likewise effect of ideology.

In conclusion the current revival of the pictorial is examined as a possible establishing of the carnival's stance as a dominant worldview and two key distinctions are put forward: the current victorious emergence of the pictorial is at once too banally real for carnival's festive take on the imaginary, while the essentially virtual, digital trait of modern visuality is far less tangible than carnival's specifically concrete and palpable life in the plane of pictures.

•• 16.30
Holocaust and Media

In this talk I would like to analyze the presentation of Holocaust in media (primarily film and photography) from a political-semiotic perspective. The starting point is a case of Anne Frank and the popularization of Holocaust which, transferred into the American context, lead to the universalization and also revitalisation of Holocaust. This Americanization of Holocaust has most clearly been reflected during the war in Bosnia, hence a backbone of my talk is an image of Fikret Alić, by means of which I endeavour to prove how Holocaust is instrumentalized and used to legitimize "humanitarian interventions" (from Kosovo to toppling Saddam Hussein and other dictators). In analyzing representation of Holocaust in media, I shall list /demonstrate the exemplary excerpts from the films The Producers, Life is Beautiful, The Pianist and Dr. Strangelove.

•• 17.15
Closing of the first day’s sessions

Saturday, October 27, 2007

•• 10.00
KEITH MOXEY, Barnard College, Columbia University, New York
Visual Studies and the Iconic Turn

Visual studies is currently confronted with very different methodological assumptions on which to base its approach to the image. The so-called "return to the object," a concern for the way in which images "work" how they affect the spectator--has been characterized by W.J.T. Mitchell as the "pictorial turn" and by Gottfried Boehm as the "iconic turn." As understood by Horst Bredekamp and James Elkins, this type of "visual culture," or "Bildwissenschaft," concerns itself with understanding how images operate by paying special attention to the mechanisms by which they affect and manipulate the viewer. Nicholas Mirzoeff, on the other hand, conceives of "visual culture" in very different terms. Working from a cultural studies tradition, he is interested in how images make meaning: the ways in which they play an active role in making culture. This tradition approaches the image with the intention of revealing the hidden ideological agendas embedded in their production and dissemination rather than in the way in which they are received by the individual beholder. This talk attempts to discuss and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of these distinct positions with an eye to their political and cultural function.

•• 10.45
SONJA BRISKI UZELAC, Academy of Applied Arts, Rijeka
Art in the Age of Cultural Reconfiguration: From Artifact Towards Visual Text

The early 1960s  rise of cultural anthropological and structuralist researches, simultaneously with a breakthrough of globalizing, mass and popular culture into all the human life's segments and increasing development of new media and technology, altogether marked a start of downfall of modernist utopia of art as aesthetical and even ethical avant-garde of social transformation. At this point a visual paradigm, based on a new cultural turn, became one of the most operative elements of art status. A project of high modernism also invoked visuality. However, this was a concept of "pure visuality", one which spoke about "universalisation" of a new manner of  designing the world  by using the principles of construction and composition of "purely plastic" elements and demands. In the age of growing cultural reconfiguration, however, the new visual paradigm is being constituted as a media extension of visuality field and a form of  transfer of meaning into other spheres: it becomes a privileged place for questioning social and cultural differences. A process of relocation from visual artifact to visual text, which ever clearly delineated itself within the theoretical landscape, but barely entered disciplinary trends of art history, now emerged in the contemporary scene as a change of art's status, along with reconceptualizing of its notion, sense and meaning. The shift of interpretative focus from a thing observed towards a very manner of observation, in which a process of democratization of the visual artefacts' community plays but a secondary role, sets up a question of "pressure" on the textual practice of art in an era when it becomes  transformed into "culture industry".

•• 11.30
McLuhan and Perspective

In my paper I reflect on McLuhan's thoughts about the meaning of the discovery of the perspective in the Renaissance. This discovery is considered in the context of the change in the human perception of the world and of the relation between the secular and the sacral. Special attention is drawn to the specific place of the perspective among the techniques and technologies of the media's conquest (enslavement) of the world. Among other things, the following questions are asked: In how much was the illusion of depth and space (in two-dimensional paintings) the basis for all subsequent illusions? How much does the secularization of art owe to the technique in view of which everything became an object of observation and artistic treatment? Was the removal of the aura of a work of art preceded by the birth of a technique which paved the way for mass reproduction?

•• 12.15
MARCO SENALDI, State University of Milano-Bicocca
Contemporary Art and Television

Television, since the last 50 years, was – and still is – the most influent mass-medium all over the world. Notwithstanding this, contemporary artists seriously overlooked its social, cultural, even aesthetic relevance, and very rarely engaged themselves into TV. However, we should consider at least some considerable exceptions to this shared indifference. Recently, for instance, Italian artist Francesco Vezzoli realized for Fondazione Prada, Milan, Comizi di non amore – a fake reality show; but one should recall also some bizarre "incursions" into commercial TV mechanisms by another great artist as Gino De Dominicis.

But none, till now, engaged himself directly as author/director of TV programs as did Andy Warhol with his – often half-forgotten – Andy Warhol’s TV in the late ’70. This lecture will provide a brief résumé, and a cultural discussion, of the most important case-histories of relationship between contemporary art and television.

•• 13.00 Lunch break

•• 14.30
KLAUDIO ŠTEFANČIĆ, Center for Visual Studies, Zagreb
User Interface as Space of Cultural Differentiation

The issue of cultural differentiation on Internet in the 1990s has never been seriously considered. During the pioneering era of Word Wide Web, Internet was regarded as a new, promising, communication means, rather than a mass media. As claimed by Geert Lovink, artists and new media activists not only revealed but also wrote laws of this emerging media.

With a rise of Web 2.0, both Internet and World Wide Web changed their user structure. From a technological progressive communication means available only to technical, social-humanistic and entrepreneur elite, they became mass media,  equally easy and efficiently used by diverse social strata. Presently, a user more easily and quickly produces and distributes the cultural contents. In producing and distributing those contents, Web 2.0 user frequently faces a selection between various pre-formed models of user interface, whose visual aspects strongly refer to art history. Using the example of MySpace, i.e. cases of services such as YouTube on one hand and and OH-Das Videomagazine on the other hand, one can demonstrate how differentiation between users evolves on three levels: a level of designing the interface (how does it look), a level of site content or service (what is being offered), and a level of user behavior (what can be done with it). In this differentiation, a traditional off-line aspects of cultural stratification, such as division into high and popular art  and related class stratification play an increasing role.

•• 15.15
ANTONIO SANTANGELO, University of Turin
"Real Fiction": The New Frontiers of Constructing Reality in Television

In the last years, we have assisted to the growth of a new television hybrid language, at the crossing between reality TV and fiction.

The new American reality shows have lost the experimental nature of the first "Big Brother", recovering a fictional language that makes them seem a kind of TV series, based on the stories of non professional actors, who play the role of themselves. At the same time, pure fictional products like "The Office", "Laguna Beach", "City of Men" and many more, reproduce the aesthetics of documentaries, real movies and docusoaps.

When these two clear tendencies melt down, they give birth to a new genre of TV programs, not yet well classified by the critics: the "real fiction". It consists in a very interesting attempt to weaken the borders between reality TV and fiction, transforming what we conceive as "reality" into a symbolic construction and augmenting the audience involvement in fictional stories that seem real.

Analyzing some representative TV formats that belong to this new genre, it is possible to demonstrate that "real fiction" is much more than a tendency restricted to television. More widely, it’s an example of how the entire media system works, giving us the possibility to better think to the relationship between some of the key concepts of semiotics, like how the images, the so called "icons", narration and inter-textuality contribute to create reality (or the effect of reality in our minds).

•• 16.00
KREŠIMIR PURGAR, Center for Visual Studies, Zagreb
Visual Turn and Literary Text: Subversive Iconology in the Novel City by Alessandro Baricco

What essentially defines a dialectic nature of visual turn, therefore the postmodern state in general, is a paradox of fear and hope. On one side we believe in the capacity of image to use its technological, communicational and simulational potential to aid in overcoming differences and make world's diversity visible to everyone. On the other hand we dread this very "strength of image" and its power to get out of control and endanger those who create it. This paradox is immanent to postmodern time and the only way to learn living with it is imposed in an entirely new sensitivity to visual stimuli as post-linguistic and post-semiotic relation between images and institutions, body, social apparatus, etc. An insight of especial importance is that the techniques of watching, observing, looking and seeing are not always the best way towards revealing the meaning of visual contents. Namely, this analysis starts with a presumption that strategies of representing the world, characteristic of visual media, are today equally present in literary texts and should be approached as any other iconic material - such as a feature-length film, a short advertising form and, sometimes, a comprehensive theoretical platform of reading the pictorial contents - iconology. In this we will be assisted by City, paradigmatic "visual novel" by Italian novelist Alessandro Baricco.

•• 16.45
Closing of the Symposium