Journal of Visual Culture

Published by SAGE Publications
Print ISSN: 1470-4129
An analysis of war images in the 19th—century press reveals a certain resistance to the new medium of photography. First, printing techniques did not allow for the direct use of the photograph itself in newspaper layouts: as the photographs were reproduced through the work of an engraver, what was there to distinguish them from traditional representations? Second, at the turn of the century, the halftone process replaced engraving and allowed for the printing of images that were more faithful in tonal subtleties to the original photographs. When special correspondents began supplying war photographs, how did illustrated newspapers organize the dissemination of this new kind of image? A consideration of the use of war photographs in the illustrated press informs us both of the choices made regarding the documentation of the war and the nature of the images that circulated in the public sphere, shaping the visual culture of the era.
Knight’s impressionistic Icthyosaurus was a far cry from the diagrammatic renderings of earlier paleontological artists. Charles Knight, Ichthyosaurus , 1902, American Museum of Natural History. 
In the early 20th century, artists and administrators at New York City’s American Museum of Natural History relied upon the tools of visual education to help visitors ‘virtually witness’ the prehistoric past. This decision to reconstruct a world no one had ever seen aroused hot debate among the museum’s staff. Reconstructions forced the museum’s scientists, artists and administrators to decide whether emotional, scientific or artistic truths were in conflict and, if so, which should take priority. The conflicts over the museum’s reconstructions of the past illuminate the difficulties of rendering information that could not be verified by eyewitnesses, and the limitations of visual education when it came to representing scientific and historical information.
In this article, the author posits and argues for a new category of museums: the conceptual museum. By taking the Sigmund Freud Museum Vienna and its Contemporary Art Collection as a case study, she suggests that museums that are seemingly empty, for instance, without objects, are, in fact, filled with their own histories, contingencies and epistemological confluences, which, when they come into contact with the personal histories, fantasies, knowledge, expectations and longings of their visitors produce a rather full encounter.
This article is a contribution to urban media archaeology. It sheds light on ‘mobile visualities’ by concentrating on the Paris Universal Exposition of 1900. After discussing theories and practices of walking, it focuses on a specific technological prosthesis for the pedestrian: the Trottoir roulant, or the moving walkway that circled the exposition grounds. Even though it was not the first of its kind, the extent, location, and function of the one in Paris made it special. The Trottoir roulant not only connected two major parts of the exposition, but traveled along normal boulevards on an elevated platform. This turned it into a panoramic viewing machine of sorts for observing the city as a spectacle. The article analyzes the materiality and history of the system, but it also discusses its discursive dimensions, such as the ‘accidentalist imagination’ it inspired and the topos traditions it activated. The Trottoir roulant’s relationship to photographic and cinematographic activities at the 1900 fair are also highlighted.
This article examines the role of animation in early instructional medical films through close analysis of the films produced by the collaboration between the American College of Surgeons (ACS) and Eastman Kodak in the late 1920s. The ACS placed medical motion pictures at the center of surgical training and thus established moving images as fundamental to the practice of medicine. These films made extensive use of animation to present surgical sequences that were otherwise impossible to capture on film. By adopting the motion picture as an educational tool, the physician–filmmakers actively constructed medical reality through representations that depended on artifice to convey objective scientific truths. ‘Actual photography’ and animation were blended to visualize the invisible and simplify explanations by reducing the information contained in the visual image. The films simultaneously demonstrate how the motion picture camera served as a tool for medical documentation, training both their objects (the patients) and their subjects (the doctors) in the process.
This article argues that the emergence of a trans-disciplinary discourse of ‘visual culture’ must be understood as, above all, a constitutively urban phenomenon. More specifically, it is in the historically new form of the capitalist metropolis, as described most famously by Simmel, that the ‘hyper-stimulus’ of modern visual culture has its social and spatial conditions. Paradoxically, however, it is as a result of this that visual culture studies is also intrinsically ‘haunted’ by a certain spectre of the invisible: one rooted in those forms of ‘real abstraction’ which Marx identifies with the commodity and the money form. Considering, initially, the canonical urban visual forms of the collage and the spectacle, these are each read in a certain relation to Simmel’s account of metropolitan life and of the money form, and, through this, to what the author claims are those forms of social and spatial abstraction that must be understood to animate them. Finally, the article returns to the entanglement of the visible and invisible entailed by this, and concludes by making some tentative suggestions about something like a paradoxical urban ‘aesthetic’ of abstraction on such a basis.
Acousmatic sound – a sound that one hears without seeing the causes behind it – creates situations where visual contributions to auditory experience are diminished. The author theorizes that acousmatic separation unsettles the relationship of the source, cause and effect of sound. To draw out the consequences of this theory, Les Paul and Mary Ford’s multi-tracked recordings and live performances are examined, and three central claims are posited. First, Paul’s turn to multi-tracked recording was motivated by mimetic rivalry when his ‘sound’ was imitated on the radio. Second, Paul misdirected listeners of his radio program by creating scenarios that depended on false attributions of source and cause. Third, the problems that faced Paul in live performance of his multi-tracked hits resulted in Paul’s creation of the ‘Les Paulverizer’. This device afforded the maintenance of acousmatic spacing during live performance but also forced him into the unusual position of ventriloquizing his own voice.
This article examines the public art practice of the Chinese performance artist Zhao Bandi, aka the ‘Panda Man’, and situates it in relation to the social activism of the Chinese consumer rights campaigner Wang Hai, aka the ‘Anti-Counterfeiting Hero’. Contextualizing the appropriation strategies of these two unlikely figures within contemporary China’s changing legal, market, and media spheres, this article places global contemporary concerns with authenticity, copyright, counterfeits, and fakes in relation to notions of performativity and behavior. Challenging the expectation that appropriation need resemble oppositional or antagonistic strategies of Western precedent, it argues that Chinese figures like Zhao and Wang presented transformative models for consumption and citizenship in 1990s China, laying the groundwork for today’s public discourse of ‘shanzhai’ − a distinctly self-conscious Chinese claim on appropriation.
The author examines the legal issues associated with machinima creation in relation to archival and preservation efforts. Specifically, she argues that what makes machinima as a cultural practice particularly interesting from a legal perspective is its ability to dramatize the tension between copyright law and contract law; public rights and private rights; and the right of reproduction versus the right of adaptation. She proposes that game scholars, librarians and archivists take a page from the play book of machinima creators when developing their own professional approaches to user activism and digital access and preservation.
The author uses a graphic novel approach to explore various aspects of machinima through the character Molotov Alva and his companion Orhalla Zander. Together they contemplate the nature of machinima. Is it an art or a technique? While machinima’s noblest goal, as defined by the author, is to live beyond the now and illuminate the human condition, do its game-based roots prevent it from going mainstream?
Exploring acoustic space, this article aims to supplement the practice of acoustic design by exposing other perspectives on sound’s relationship to space. Following Paul Carter’s notion of sonic ambiguity, the author contends that the idealized sonic image of acoustics eliminates the potentiality inherent to sound and listening as forces of relational intensity and differentiation. To draw out this tension, the article examines alternative forms of acoustics as appearing within the practice of sound art. Through eccentric and speculative design, sound art comes to demonstrate a vital addition to notions of acoustics; by creating heightened listening experiences that exceed the traditional concepts of fidelity, it cultivates forms of noise by integrating extreme volume and frequency, building fantastical architectures for their diffusion, and incorporating a dynamic understanding of psychoacoustics and perception. Through such elements, sound and space are brought together and deliver other forms of acoustical experience while hinting at potentialities for their application in environments outside the art situation. Works by such artists as Tao G. Vrhovec Sambolec and John Wynne provide a vibrant terrain for registering how sound comes to perform as spatial material.
This dialogue is an opportunity for Mark Cheetham, Michael Ann Holly and Keith Moxey to speak together in print for the first time since their edited collection entitled The Subjects of Art History (1998). Concerned, in that volume, with the prospect that ‘art history, like many other fields in the humanities, has entered a post-epistemological age’, the three editors wrote opening ‘position papers’ outlining, respectively, their concern for the (Kantian) philosophical imperatives of/in art history, and how the specters of context haunt the writing of the history of art, and the historiography of art history as Hegelian. Overall, their collection was a chance to reassess the role that the philosophies of history of Kant and Hegel and other philosophical, semiotic, queer, postcolonial, psychoanalytic and museological traditions concerned with ‘history’ have played, and continue to play, in art history’s efforts to legitimate its past and predict its future. In many ways, then, The Subjects of Art History was an attempt, from within the discipline of art history, to picture that area of inquiry in an expanded field that we may continue to call art history or might be more usefully designated as visual studies. The dialogue in this issue of the journal of visual culture is an opportunity to continue that conversation. Specifically, it is a chance to rethink the question of the place of both ‘aesthetics’ and ‘history’ in and through visual studies. As such, this dialogue seeks to address questions such as: how might visual studies rethink what we thought we already knew? Are both critics and supporters of visual studies right to believe that ‘aesthetics’ has nothing to do with visual studies? Why might they be right, or wrong? (And if they are wrong, how does visual studies offer us an occasion to engage with aesthetics in new ways?) What status do or should the philosophies of history of Kant and Hegel, say, have in visual studies? How does visual studies affect such models of history, or what does it mean for it no longer to believe it needs History at all? Or, to put it more kindly, is there something that visual studies can teach us about Kant and Hegel and subsequent historiographical thought? By no means looking to resolve these questions, this dialogue is motivated by an urge to problematize in productive ways the accusation that visual studies does not do, care for, take into consideration, or otherwise understand ‘history’. It hopes to indicate why visual studies has to deal with history, however conceived, if for no other reason than at least (and most importantly) that it can attend necessarily to the genealogies of the study of our visual cultures.
This article relates the current discourse on image wars to the interdisciplinary practice of ‘experimental geography’ in the writings and photographs of Trevor Paglen. In his ongoing project to map the dark geographies of covert military activity in the American southwest, Paglen engages a dialectical method that turns the imperial apparatus of surveillance against itself. Performing his photographic campaigns as a series of interventions into the aesthetic traditions of American landscape art, Paglen solicits a critical exploration not only of the power of military technology, but also of the power of imagination.
Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds (2010) and Margarita Cabrera’s Florezca (2011) are two performative works that exemplify a change in priorities in terms of the ways in which art conveys beauty and truth within the conditions of precarious life. In these works, the subject of the artisan/labourer is staged to complicate the mainstream views of China and Mexico as the derogated zones of labour, whereby the outsource worker and the undocumented worker are perpetually blamed for the loss of jobs in the United States. Ai’s production of millions of ceramic sunflower seeds exported from the ‘porcelain capital’ of Jingdezhen, and Cabrera’s thousands of copper butterflies, created by volunteers enlisted to work in her makeshift maquiladora, depict an ‘affective labour’ that has real consequences. The perspective from the new dialectics of precarity – intervening in art, labour and life – can be viewed in association to Lauren Berlant’s return to ‘affirmative culture’, adapted from Herbert Marcuse’s cultural ideal for happiness, goodness, and solidarity that coexisted with its negation by the material processes of life. Berlant’s emphasis on the ‘sociality of emotion’ as a form of ‘optimism of critical thought’ aligns with the idea that, amidst the oppression of global empire, precarity offers the potential for new socialities and subjectivities.
This essay asks: what is photography to the past, such that a photograph offers knowledge about the past? In an extended commentary on Katja Zelljadt’s account of early Berlin photography, the essay presents two broad positions on the quality of photographic knowledge. The ‘assimilative’ position seeks to equate photographs with all other signs in a semiotic universe, and to derive their meanings primarily from this context. The ‘exceptional’ position holds that photographs are indexical signs that carry a direct impress of the world, and thus carry true knowledge of the world. It is argued that the two positions can be collapsed in a radical spatialization of visual knowledge by expanding Gombrich’s thesis on the ‘primacy of meaning’ to include the powerful neuronal pathways through visual field maps and processing centers. The embodied mind requires that each interpretive event, each ‘reading’ of a photograph takes place in a perspectival position. The essay then considers cartography and the Google-powered HyperCities geohistorical platform as an example of the latest networks knowledge in the hyperspatial internet. Emplacing photographic artifacts in wider and wider networks of contextualization can expand the universe of interpretive meaning, while also deepening their inscription into the terrestrial locations of their production. Rejecting the radical skepticism of the assimilationist position, the essay concludes that photography’s exceptional qualities in the circulation of signs anchors interpretation as we build historical knowledge by clearing pathways to perspectival nodes in the bottomless semiotic-embodied topology of the past.
These texts, The Altar (1917) by Martin Buber and Chromatic Atheology by Jean-Luc Nancy, work together to analyze the philosophical and theological implications of Matthias Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece. Nancy performs a close reading of Buber’s The Altar in order to draw our attention to potentially atheological aspects of the German Jewish philosopher’s thinking, grounded in his analysis of the Isenheim Altarpiece, and in particular in its color.
This article examines historical transformations in the relationship between the image, time, and knowledge after the war. One site to investigate these changes in representation is at the locus of science, design, film and architecture in the works of Charles and Ray Eames and Gyorgy Kepes for the Center for Advanced Visual Study at MIT and in the interests of science education. In these works, including many science education and pedagogy films, the nature of the image, the materiality of vision, and the relationship between documentation and communication were being aggressively rethought. All these projects were deeply invested in the emergent terms of cybernetics and electronic media. Ontology, documentation, and representation were seemingly replaced by discourses of communication, performance, and modularity; the world as interface for the mediation of ongoing, lively communicative exchanges. The work of Charles and Ray Eames and Gyorgy Kepes provides evidence of a more global reformulation of the work of the document, the relationship between abstraction and materiality, and among science, aesthetics, and visuality.
Piedras Negras Stela 8,   front, combined images from Teobert Maler (1901) and Ian Graham, Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions, Vol. 9, Part 1, Stuart and Graham (2003), Peabody Museum Press. © President and Fellows of Harvard College. 
Tikal Stela 31, limestone, c. 445 CE. In situ, showing burning. Photograph by Edith Hadamard. © Visual Resources Collection, Yale University Library; reproduced with permission. 
Piedras Negras Panel 2, limestone, 667 CE. © Drawing by David Stuart; reproduced with permission.
This essay discusses ancient Maya monumental stone sculptures and the images and texts carved on them c. 600—900 CE, focusing not on the moment of their creation but over time, examining particularly how the ancient Maya used sculptures to interact with their past and its personae, stories, and material remains. Following ancient Maya sculptures and their treatment over time reveals the importance of the materiality of these images and objects, which the Maya seem to have valued not simply as bearers of information but also as relics that allowed contact with sacred ancestors, with the material and experiential aspects of image and object intertwined with any pictorial or textual content. The author concludes that a consideration of the realm of the material along with the pictorial, narrational, or informational is instructive, if not essential, in investigating the use of images as evidence in any culture and time.
The author argues that although machinima is a relatively specialized field, it offers a newer and faster production pipeline for the commercial animation industry as a whole. Pioneered by individuals who have turned their passion for gaming into a powerful professional animation medium, machinima has a great potential. After comparing the development of machinima to the evolution of the internet, the author concludes that the emergence of virtual worlds such as Second Life was instrumental in the growth of this particular type of real-time computer animation.
This article considers the site of the Independent Group’s formation, the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (ICA), as a discursive proposition, using the institutional level (understood as a meeting place of the pragmatic and ideal) as a vantage point from which to re-encounter a plurality of positions that defies the congruities of thematic analysis. To this end, the author examines how the ICA was formed, in relation and distinction to the institutional designation ‘museum’, through an analysis of the three terms that make up its title. He argues that the ICA was a rhetorical space that emerged from a complex negotiation between extant possibilities and understandings of artistic value held within the fragmenting, but hegemonic, discourse of the museum and demands for technocratic, productive relevancy. He proposes that this space impelled, and was, in turn, made manifest by, the declaration of the Independent Group, as a response to and negation of the ICA’s particular formulation of the contemporary.
David Bradford is a 28-year-old freelance writer who is gradually losing his sight as a result of the genetic condition retinitis pigmentosa. He was recently approached by Channel 4 about the prospect of making a television documentary on the subject of his sight loss. In weighing up this proposition, David sought the opinion of the blind academic, John Hull. This is a transcript of the emails between David and John, in which they discuss the difficulties of dealing with blindness in a visual medium. Specifically, they share their frustration at the documentary maker’s insistence on representing blindness as a condition of deprivation in which the subject is compelled to seek solace from a nostalgic celebration of sight rather than exploring the phenomenology of blindness itself.
The author argues that, unlike traditional filmmaking or video recording through inexpensive digital videocameras, machinima presents a high barrier of entry, remaining a relatively complex method of creating videos. In fact, producing rendered animations generated from recordings of gameplay requires fairly high-end hardware capable of running real-time graphics intensive 3D or pseudo-3D environments. Nonetheless, machinima has the potential to make a real impact on the political landscape and can be considered a relatively sophisticated form of art, although one has to remember that art is socially constructed and it is not an intrinsic quality of an artifact.
This essay explores the status and function of non-literary sources — and, in particular, of architectural representation — in the polemical context of historical criticism in the 1670s, 1680s and 1690s. As Arnaldo Momigliano has shown, controversial essays such as ‘The Lack of Certainty in History’ (1668) by the sceptic philosopher François de La Mothe Le Vayer set the stage for an antiquarian response to historical methods in crisis. The aim here is to investigate the terms in which a regime of visual truth emerged in the illustrated writings of antiquarians such as Jacob Spon and others, who posited artifactual evidence as ‘symbol and proof of what happened’. The idea tested out, by way of a few, necessarily restricted, examples, is that the visual turn circa 1700 helped set the stage for the ensuing incursion of architectural knowledge into both antiquarian practice and historical method in the context of the pan-European fascination with antiquities. Central in all of this was the manner in which the conventions of architectural pictoriality surfaced, then intervened, in a methodological transformation of the terms in which speculation on the remote past was conceived.
Beginning with the work of David Hockney and a personal selection of popular fictional texts of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, this article explores the expressive connection between visual culture and sexual identity that a range of disciplines have established around the practices and pleasures that in the 20th century became known as ‘homosexual’. As an alternative to these disciplinary protocols of identification, ‘cruising’ is proposed as a model that can undermine the commitment to ‘detection’ and revelation evident in a broad range of projects within and beyond gay studies and queer theory. Although often somewhat informal, ‘cruising’ is not represented as the alternative to more professional forms of investigation, but understood as a form of practice always already caught up in the disciplines that it attempts to dodge and the understandings that it seeks to displace.
In the aftermath of political violence in Latin America, the testimonial emerged as an important document of witness regarding the atrocities that had been committed in the region. In many cases, testimonies stood in for the absence of evidence, whereby archives of witness had been destroyed, hidden, or otherwise disappeared from public record. In this essay, the author analyzes forms of visual evidence in Guatemala and Chile, such as documentary film and illustrations from survivors that extend the function of the testimonial by not only narrating the past, but also visualizing spaces of terror and witness, such as the collective grave, prison camps, and photographs of skeletons. Such visual interruptions in the landscape of memory have the potential to fracture dominant State memory in their refusal to merely disappear. Instead, these forms of visuality name and mark social suffering.
In August 1954, the artist–photographer Nigel Henderson and the sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi set-up Hammer Prints Ltd to sell and promote their designs for wallpapers, curtains and ceramics. Marginalised by art history as a category of applied arts, Hammer Prints was, however, inextricably tied into the ideas and experimental cross-media work of both artists at this time. This article resituates the ethos and designs of Hammer Prints within the wider aesthetic concerns and strategies of the Independent Group which the two artists were engaged with and, in particular, to the reordering of the visual first proposed by the artists in collaboration with the architects Alison and Peter Smithson in the seminal exhibition Parallel of Life and Art (Institute of Contemporary Arts, 1953), the year before Hammer Prints was established. As the article argues, a more complex account of Hammer Prints exists once it is reconnected to both artists’ interest in gestalt principles of perception, contemporary theorisations of ‘pattern’, and ontological questions of art posed by Malraux’s idea of the ‘imaginary museum’ and Duchamp’s idea of the ‘portable museum’. It concludes by locating the designs of Hammer Prints within the new field of communication theory developed by Gregory Bateson.
Contemporary artworks in Northern Ireland are explored here as critical constellations, in Walter Benjamin’s sense, that engage the cultural processes of transition through their problematization of it. It is argued that the artworks become sites in which the assumptions of transition are opened up for critical reflection, requesting attention to the foreclosing of the meanings of memory, of past-and-future, of community. A mode of critical questioning of the present renders the present problematic not in terms of exclusions nor with reference to a past that cannot or will not be erased, but in terms of the present’s inability to be conceived through a linear conception of time. That is, the past and its relation to both the present and to the future are set in oscillation as artworks explore the complex temporalities of a present self-consciously attempting to narrate itself away from the past. The artworks, ‘without the bigotry of conviction’ as Seamus Deane put it, suggest that the task of dealing with the past is flawed wherever the past is conceived as a history that can be rendered present to be judged by subjects who are thereby placed beyond it. That is the illusion of a present ‘no-time’ that dovetails with the desires of commercial enterprise and neo-liberal conceptions of freedom. If this suggests an unceasing restlessness, the consolation is that this questioning does take a form, not as judgement or political decision but as artworks which by definition, remain open to reinterpretation and new understandings. These issues are discussed with reference to the work of four artists in Northern Ireland: the paintings of Rita Duffy, the photography and installation work of Anthony Haughey, and the sculptural works of Philip Napier and Mike Hogg.
Pictures that portray the ‘now’ of a lived reality from the vantage of witnesses emerged in Japan during the 17th century, when the mundane social life of contemporary commoners blasted into the visual repertoire of illustrated books. This change, a revolutionary one, belongs to the broader experience of early modernity, from Amsterdam to Nanjing, as seismic economic transitions helped occasion a new immediacy in social representation. Yet the radical newness of the imagery was quickly tamed by convention, which the author argues is indispensable to the legibility of all illustration. The visual conventions explored here include the ‘ordinary pictorial site’ (in the Japanese case such public spaces as theaters and bathhouses but quintessentially the street) that artists treated in a style of ‘generic factuality’ (combining a loving attention to material detail with stereotypical renderings of faces and bodies). Not so paradoxically, the very tropes and treatments used to convert novelty into normalcy also enforced inertia. If banality is one risk of convention, normativity is the greater problem. Training viewers to see one kind of world, illustrators elide any other.
The author discusses the removal of his machinima-based performance artwork from the popular online video sharing site Vimeo, based on the accusation that it violated the service’s terms of use. The artist challenged the validity of Vimeo’s administrators via a series of emails, without much success. By examining this particular case, the author raises a series of important questions related to copyright, e.g. who owns virtual space and who is responsible for policing it? Are multi-user games a territory or a tool? Can a creative act transform a videogame from private property into a public art site? And perhaps most appropriate in the author’s situation: can copyright censors distinguish their personal criticism of an artwork from that work’s legal status?
As the British government effectively privatizes higher education in the arts, humanities and social sciences, this article tours the monuments that remain (and some that do not) of the last great era in state-funded training in art and design in the UK: the time between the Second World War and the absorption of art schools into polytechnics and universities when institutions intended to provide artisanal training became the autonomously regulated spaces where much of British popular culture was produced and disseminated. As recently as 1984, Simon Frith and Howard Horne could still write that in Britain ‘every small town has its art school.’ This is no longer the case; while in 1959 there were 180 dedicated art and design institutions in the UK, now there are only a dozen left. The rest of the buildings have been quietly forgotten, renovated as luxury apartments and social housing, adapted as annexes of other, larger institutions, abandoned to the elements, or demolished. Combining image and text, this article explores the abandoned and reused sites of British art schools as the ruined markers of a lost future of unregulated creative practice.
As an architect with the London County Council (LCC), a newspaper columnist, friend of artists and an incipient collector, Colin St John Wilson is a fascinating figure in the interacting circles of 1950s London. It was Wilson’s sketch-plan that ordered the ‘market-stalls’ of the This is Tomorrow exhibition and – in the opinion of Theo Crosby – the display he created with architect Peter Carter, engineer Frank Newby and sculptor Robert Adams most closely achieved the exhibition’s original aim of an anonymous synthesis of the arts. In this article, the author interprets Wilson’s life, work and theory as both critique and commentary in an examination of three pertinent issues within the Independent Group: the possibilities of artistic collaboration in architecture; the creative tension in architecture between science/technology and art/humanism; and the potential for a deeper psychologising of space – linked to psychoanalytical debates of the time. Interrogating these concerns is of importance, the author proposes, as they were so central to the discourses and form-making of architecture both at the time and in the immediate futures of the 1960s, the 1970s and afterwards.
In this article, the author examines the history of independent art editions, the economy of multiples and an exposure to the current experimental music and conceptual art scenes that led to the creation of vibrö/ as an audio and visual chronicle of contemporary sound creation. In the second part of the article, she exposes the practicalities of such an endeavour when faced with a ‘no/parallel-economy’, as well as the project’s active relationship with contemporary artists, critical writers, curators and institutions. A brief comparison with similar ventures (labels, publishing companies, individual curators, event organizers, artists’ collectives, etc.) helps to locate this experience in the current topology of a creative domain recently labelled as ‘sound arts’. The author concludes by trying to anticipate the possible development and relevance of such a project in a wider perspective.
This article is a series of excerpts from the author’s most recent book Sinister Resonance. It begins with the premise that sound is a haunting, a ghost, a presence whose location in space is ambiguous and whose existence in time is transitory. The intangibility of sound is uncanny – a phenomenal presence both in the head, at its point of source and all around, and never entirely distinct from auditory hallucinations. The close listener is like a medium who draws out substance from that which is not entirely there. The history of listening must be constructed from narratives of myth and fiction, silent arts such as painting, the resonance of architecture, auditory artefacts and nature. In such contexts, sound often functions as a metaphor for mystical revelation, instability, forbidden desires, disorder, formlessness, the unknown, unconscious and extra-human, a representation of immaterial worlds. Threaded through is Marcel Duchamp’s curious observation – ‘One can look at seeing but one can’t hear hearing’ – and his concept of the infra-thin, those human experiences so fugitive that they exist only in the imaginative absences of perception.
‘Auralization’ is a term coined by Architect Mendell Kleiner for acoustic simulations of rooms and buildings. This term is also apt for referring to inner sound and sounding, or sounds and sounding heard mentally. Generally the word ‘imagination’ is used with reference to all senses. Image, of course, is a visual term. So there is a cognitive dissonance when using ‘imagination’ to refer to hearing inner sound – for example a phrase of a new piece of music. This article introduces some vocabulary for discussing sound including the concept of the sonosphere.
As Hegel once said, in Byzantium, between homoousis and homoiousis, the difference of one letter could decide the life and death of thousands. As this article seeks to argue, Byzantine thinking was not only attentive to conceptual differences, but also to iconic ones. The iconoclastic controversy (726–842 AD) arose from two different interpretations of the nature of images: whereas iconoclastic philosophy is based on the assumption of a fundamental ‘iconic identity’, iconophile philosophy defends the idea of ‘iconic difference’. And while the reception in the Latin West of the controversies over the image as a mere problem of referentiality of the letter explains why its originality has remained underestimated for centuries, re-examining Byzantine visual thinking in the light of today’s ‘pictorial turn’ reveals its striking modernity.
This article is concerned with reviewing the histories of structuralism and poststructuralism in their moment of redundancy as theoretical terms in order to unearth and instate some of the missing relations of writing and figure that we can read out of the work of the French writer Jean-Louis Schefer. Little read in the Anglo-Saxon university, his thinking on art, cinema and literature represents a unique intervention that, in its poetic denial of its own structuralist origins, offers a form of critical text that escapes the categories and methodologies of critical theory while remaining rooted in a series of different forms of profound scholarship. Schefer’s work invites us to configure images and to map out the surfaces that make them visible as the invention of an equal and amorous or sometimes unequal relation with them. He invites us to invent.
The author examines the quintessence of machinima, suggesting that the main difference between machinima and any other CGI technique lies in the playable real-time image that informs it. The implication is that machinima’s artistic, cultural, and even commercial future is rooted in this specific flexibility of the image as it opens up a new opportunity for the development of a procedural media format in visual culture and in the history of the moving image. However, the author warns that machinima might actually lose the unique chance it inherited from the underlying video game technologies to become a new media platform if creators disregard its peculiar, intrinsic computer-driven nature.
A lesser-known aspect of André Bazin’s film criticism is his love of science films. Bazin’s key reflection in this regard, ‘Le film scientifique: beauté du hasard’, argues that the science film is not just another kind of filmmaking; rather, placed under the scrutiny of Bazin’s cinephilic, Surrealist gaze, the science film is revealed as the repository of true cinematic beauty. A similar approach to the science film is evident in contemporary avant-garde practice. Gustav Deutsch’s Film ist. 1–6 (1998), the first part of an ongoing compilation project, reveals an affinity with Bazin’s appreciation of the science film. Taken together, these approaches suggest an alternative strand of documentary history that is located at the intersection of scientific and avant-garde filmmaking practices.
Why does sound art remain so profoundly undertheorized, and why has it failed to generate a rich and compelling critical literature? It is because the prevailing theoretical models are inadequate to it. Developed to account for the textual and the visual, they fail to capture the nature of the sonic. In this article, the author proposes an alternative theoretical framework, a materialist account able to grasp the nature of sound and to enable analysis of the sonic arts. He suggests, moreover, that this theoretical account can provide a model for rethinking the arts in general and for avoiding the pitfalls encountered in theories of representation and signification.
This experimental essay is a documentary–fiction account of two research trips undertaken in 2010 to Bhopal, India, and Bridgehampton, USA, by a photographer called Smith and an anthropologist called Willing. Their purpose was to investigate the social, cultural and environmental aftermath of the 1984 Union Carbide gas disaster in Bhopal, with a view to proposing ways in which the disaster might be exploited for commemorative, educational and entertainment purposes. Smith and Willing enumerate here on the ways in which photography and ethnography, as well as the disaster’s ‘materiality’ – its routes and objects – could be used to generate a disaster tourism event in both Bhopal and Bridgehampton, the home of Union Carbide’s former CEO, Warren Anderson. Part fantasy, part political and cultural critique, Bhopal to Bridgehampton also represents a meditation on authorship and the limits of the autobiographical gesture in ethnography. While their experiences are loosely based on some of the author’s own, Smith and Willing are emphatically fictional characters.
Boxing is arguably one of the most visually arresting of sports; its images as potent and corporeal as the sport itself. This paper focuses on one category of boxing picture, the photograph of a head punch – the image taken at the moment when the gloved fist of a boxer makes contact with the opponent’s face. Features distorted by the force of the blow, the head recoiled with its weight and power, the image is both fascinating and repulsive. To understand the aesthetics of this genre of boxing image is to comprehend some of the most fundamental questions concerning the pleasures and horrors of visual representation. To gaze at the stilled moment of this attack on the face is to reflect on the complex historical relationship between violence and the photographic image
George Brecht, an artist best known for his associations with Fluxus, is considered to have made significant contributions to emerging traditions of conceptual art and experimental music in the early 1960s. His Event scores, brief verbal scores that comprised lists of terms or open-ended instructions, provided a signature model for indeterminate composition and were ‘used extensively by virtually every Fluxus artist’. This article revisits Brecht’s early writings and research to argue that, while Event scores were adopted within Fluxus performance, they were intended as much more than performance devices. Specifically, Brecht conceived of his works as ‘structures of experience’ that, by revealing the underlying connections between chanced forms, could enable a kind of enlightenment rooted within an experience of a ‘unified reality’.
One of the difficulties facing cultural historians studying the Independent Group (IG) is to gauge its significance in the production of visual culture by those who attended the meetings. As a loose discussion group the IG can be seen as emerging from the same cultural forces that would, a little later, produce the academic counter-discipline of cultural studies. With its interests in consumer culture and in the social life of new technologies (particularly mass media technologies) and with a voracious appetite for the latest trends in science and art, the IG constituted a semi-formal extra-mural group of autodidacts filling-in the significant gaps of an official art education that was still framed by 19th-century values. A pedagogic agenda, though, does not necessarily generate a coherent project of aesthetic exploration and result in a consistent visual poetics. In this article the author argues that there is still value in attending to the IG as a cultural research group that produced a visual culture that was simultaneously pluralist (and perhaps contradictory and conflicting) in style but collective in orientation and sensibility.
The interactive, immersive and performative aspects of digital games and virtual worlds take the challenges faced by media archivists, curators and historians beyond software preservation to problems that demand new documentation and preservation strategies. The social and performative aspects of online worlds are forcing repositories to develop new strategies for preservation. Of the utmost importance is to preserve and archive practices and performances and not only the software that made these practices and performances possible. The author also argues that the three primary methods for making machinima during its brief history — demo, screen capture, and asset composition — can be matched to three ways for documenting the history of virtual worlds (replay, POV recording, and asset extraction), concluding that machinima provides compelling evidence for the ability of players to turn digital games into their own creative medium.
In the late 19th century, the city officials of Berlin were intent on improving sanitation and hygiene in ‘Old Berlin’, the city’s messy and crowded historic core. While officials believed that demolishing blighted neighborhoods would create a healthier city, they also recognized the need to document disappearing buildings and vanishing streetscapes. Photographs of ‘Old Berlin’ taken between 1860 and 1914 created visual histories of the city: in the earlier period from 1860 to 1890, the images recorded the complex relationship of preservation and progress, whereas after 1900, photographs of the city reflected an historical turn which aestheticized the past into a nostalgic, fixed, eternal moment.
‘Designer toys’ or ‘urban vinyl’ offer themselves as a fascinating site of resistance to the contemporary circulation of images and things. This article provides an introduction to the field of designer toys and argues that the field may be understood to be a materially situated critique of the commercial practice of character merchandising. Beginning with a description of the logic of character merchandising, this article goes on to demonstrate how designer toys critically and creatively transform some of the fundamental tenets of this practice, advancing a critique of character merchandising via the material objects themselves. In this age of image circulation, the case of the designer toy demonstrates how material artefacts can themselves become significant sites of critique.
Drawing on the writings of Luc Boltanski on moral spectatorship and a change to Boltanski’s politics in response to images of distant suffering, this article considers a visual turn in psychoanalysis around the period of the Second World War, coincident with the emergence of a new international vision of the child as an entity requiring special protections beyond the purview of the state. Looking beyond the familiar example of child psychoanalyst Melanie Klein, this article considers the visual techniques of RenÈ Spitz, a psychoanalyst internationally recognized for his work with institutionalized infants who failed physically and psychically to thrive and survive despite adequate nutrition and health care, due to lack of consistent caregiving. The article describes Spitz’s research films which he turned into media texts to make social interventions internationally in institutional childcare practice and policy after the war through venues including the WHO. His work is one of numerous instances of a visual child psychoanalysis (including Anna Freud and Dorothy Burlingham, John Bowlby and James Robertson, Margaret Mahler, and Thelma Fraiberg) in which child psychoanalysts used film and visual techniques to exert influence on international child policy and institutional reform.
This article considers what time-based audio-visual media can bring to historical scholarship in science and visual culture studies. The author argues that the history and critical analysis of cinematography and other time-based optical research methods used in the social, life and physical sciences, are productively accomplished through a simultaneously theory- and practice-bound model of multimedia history. She introduces the concept and term cinehistory through analysis of her own film and video installation work, focusing specifically on her Experiments on Film project (2004–2011), a series of multisensory, filmic histories of physiologist and inventor Étienne-Jules Marey’s development of underwater chronophotography in the 1890s.
This article investigates the increasingly prevalent discourse of ‘live cinema’ as the name of a concrete practice and conceptual aspiration within contemporary media aesthetics. The author argues that this oxymoronic conjunction encapsulates certain fundamental questions recurring throughout the history of 20th-century art in its increasingly important intersection with both media technology and performance. Contrasting contemporary digital ‘interfaces’ with classical musical instruments, he asks how traditional forms of embodiment and virtuosity have been transformed within contemporary audiovisual performance. Finally, he explores ideas of speed and the cut from Sergei Eisenstein’s film theory to explore Abigail Child’s 1983 film Mutiny as a work that, while not itself ‘Live Cinema’, sheds important light on what such a future aesthetic might conceivably entail.
Top-cited authors
W. J. T. Mitchell
  • University of Chicago
Susan Murray
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Nicholas Mirzoeff
  • New York University
Christoph Cox
  • Hampshire College
Lisa Cartwright
  • University of California, San Diego