CONF Oct 7, 2005

Image and Imagination (New York, 13-15 Oct 05)

Bernd Huppauf


International Conference
New York University
13-15 October 2005

“What happens when one closes the eyes? One does not stop seeing. What one
now sees is not related to the eyes.” (Wittgenstein, Philos. Betr. 103)

At present, we are witnessing fundamental changes in the production and
dissemination of images. The invention of photography gave rise to a
debate about the elimination of subjectivity through its
mechanical-chemical process. Has the history of the image now reached a
point where the mechanization/imagination relationship is reversed? The
large canvas, once the most important arena for representing the world has
become marginal whereas imaging technologies have opened up the image to
indeterminacy and the image producers’ and viewers’ imagination.
Digitalization and new image creating apparatus and techniques require a
fundamental reconsideration of our theories of images. The face is a
striking case in point. Surveillance techniques concentrate on the human
face not because it is the most obvious expression of a unique individual,
but only because facial recognition techniques can be read as visual data
and electronically translated into numerical patterns that can be stored
in an the electronic memory. The electronic image of a face can then be
compared to all other images of faces fed into a flow of abstract
information. Similarly, images produced through advanced medical
technology are no longer based on a concept of mimetic representation.
Instead of using light waves or X-Rays they are based on abstract models
of cells, molecular structures and atom movements. Computer programs are
designed to determine combinations of geometrical structures and colours
which then appear on the screen where they look similar to conventional
images. These images are constructions of a reality that is invisible not
because it is too small or too fast for the anatomy of the human eye but
because it is an invention resulting from abstract theories. Yet the words
image and picture continue to be used in processes of visualization that
no longer apply techniques of analogous representation but are the product
of a combination of advanced computer technology and scientific
imagination. What are the consequences for the reading of images and our
understanding of the image?

During the last decades, an intensive debate about images has emerged. A
collection of essays entitled “What is an Image?” (ed. Gottfried
Boehm,1994) reconstructed the debate concerned with pictures and images in
Philosophy, Psychology and Art History during the second half of the 20th
Century. Ten years later, a new anthology (edited by Christa Maar and
Hubert Burda, 2004) collected recent and important contributions to this
international debate and was appropriately subtitled “The New Power of
Images”. Its title “Iconic Turn” is a reflection of the term “linguistic
turn” created by Richard Rorty which for forty years has served as a
common reference signifying a fundamental change in the conception of the
humanities that turned away from questions concerned with consciousness
and replaced them with theories of linguistic structures. This turn was
significant of the definition and self-image of the humanities for the
entire 20th century. It is not unreasonable to assume that he current turn
towards images could lead to an equally fundamental reconstitution of the
humanities and affect the foundation of all disciplines focused on the
understanding of the arts, the sciences and cultural processes.

The ongoing debate is paradigmatic for a transatlantic transfer of ideas
and, furthermore, an example of the dense network of German/American
theoretical discourse. Its origins can be traced back to the Viennese
school of history and theory of art (Alois Rigl and others) that was
instrumental for the creation of academic art history in America. During
the last twenty years, American empirical research radiated back and
became influential in German theoretical discourse. It is certainly no
coincidence that W.J.T. Mitchell (Chicago) and Gottfried Boehm (Basel)
suggested the term “iconic turn” and “pictorial turn” respectively in the
same year (1994).

Recent research in the neural-sciences both in America and Germany has
gathered rich knowledge about seeing as the physiological process of image
making in the brain. This research has contributed a great deal to the
understanding of mental images as fragments of the human consciousness. It
has put to rest many inherited speculations about the nature of images as
well as a narrow concept of images as realistic representations of
reality. Yet, philosophical questions have not become obsolete. As far as
the image/reality relationship is concerned, the functions of the
imagination for the production of images remain an unresolved issue. It
needs to be reconsidered in the light of empirical research, recent
collective experiences with photographs from wars and disaster zones, and
new high tech imaging processes in medicine and military information

There is no doubt that individual and collective images are to a
considerable degree the product of the human faculty to imagine and
fantasize. It is the conference’s contention that an understanding of the
complex process of images making cannot be reduced to physiological and
technological processes only. All three aspects of image making,
physiological, technological, and imaginative, need to be kept in focus.

Following an international conference in 2003 on the relationship of
public images and the sciences, this year’s conference is devoted to the
complementary aspect of Picture Theory, namely the role of the imagination
in the process of making and perceiving images. We are shifting attention
to the weakening of the mimetic relationship betwewen the image and the
objects reperesented and towards the sign character of the image that
places emphasis on the imagination both in the production and decoding of
images. The threefold relationship between the image, its object and
relation between the two needs to be expanded by the the contribution of
the conscious and subconscious involvement of the subject in the creation
and perception of images. The conference will focus on aspects of the
imagination in the process of creating and understanding images, both
mental images and pictures before our eyes, and their mutual relationship.
A distinction between the eye as optical and neural organ of seeing and
the gaze has proven productive in recent debates in the emerging field of
‘image theory’. The relationship between the eye and the gaze will be
addressed and questions concerning the constitutive role of the
imagination for the gaze explored. Photography and highly sophisticated
image creating technologies are experimenting with innovative techniques
such as blurring, extreme large formats or miniaturization, long term
exposures and digital manipulation that seem to give the coup de grâce to
the ideal of a true representation and make the imagination go wild. The
image seems to turn into an attack of the imagination on reality.

Speakers from the USA, Germany, Switzerland and France who have made
substantial contributions to the international discourse on images will
participate. Panels will focus on three aspects of the general theme:

Theories of constructing and decoding images: Philosophical and scientific
questions of reciprocal processes of seeing as perceiving and producing.
The making of mages will be explored with particular reference to the
constitutive role of subjective and collective imagination.

Images in the (electronic) media: The modern period is characterized by a
dramatic increase in the production and consumption of images. A few hours
of TV means the exposure to tens of thousands of images. If homo sapiens
can be defined as the animal symbolicum (Cassirer) this image explosion
will have fundamental consequences for the definition and experience of

Rituals as Images: Images are produced and interpreted in and through
social practices and therefore need to be studied with particular
reference to the constitutive role of imagined institutions. While
theories of modernization were based on the assumption that rituals would
inevitably be replaced by rational processes of communication and purpose
oriented constructions of social cohesion, we are witnessing a return of
the ritual and the emergence of a new consciousness of its performative
dimension. Public rituals are not only dependent on visual representation
but can themselves be perceived as images in motion.

The conference topic makes it mandatory to extend acedemic discourse and
include contemporary art. The project of Berlin based artist Gabriele
Leidloff makes an attempt to use the means of an installation built with
most recent apparatus of medical technology to fuse scientific experiments
and artistic ways of image construction. A discussion centered around her
work will explore new interrelationships between contemporary art and
theories of the imaginative.


THURSDAY 13 October 2005

Introduction (Bernd Hüppauf and Christoph Wulf)

Theories of the Visual Imagination

- W.J.T. Mitchell: The Unimaginable and theUnspeakable
- Christoph Wulf: Mimesis, Image, and Imagination


Contemporary Art and Image Theory

Video presentation by artist Gabriele Leidloff (Berlin)
Imaging and Imagining the Face. Image Generating Techniques and What They Do
Not Generate
Round Table Discussion with Claude Ghez, Gabriele Leidloff, David Poeppel

Catered Lunch for registered conference participants at the Torch Club, 18
Waverly Place

Afternoon session at Jurow Lecture Hall, Silver Center Rm 101, 32 Waverly

Constructing Images 1

- Lisa Cartwright and Morana Alac: Affect, Identification, and Embodied
Experience: Participant Observation in MRI and Robotics
- Britta Schinzel: The body in medical imaging between reality and

FRIDAY 14 October 2005

Morning sessions at Deutsches Haus at NYU, 42 Washington Mews

Constructing Images 2

- Anthony Movshon and collaborators: Images and the Neurosciences


11:00 - 12:00
Keynote Address
Peter Sloterdijk: Image and Imagination
Followed by reception
Location: Jurow Lecture Hall, Silver Center Rm 101, 32 Waverly Place

Afternoon sessions at Deutsches Haus at NYU, 42 Washington Mews

Creating Images and the Visual Imagination

- Gabriele Brandstetter: Doodling, Scraping, and Painting Over. Erasure as
a Narrative Technique

- Dieter Mersch: Imagination and Creativity


15:45 -17:15
Rituals as Images

- Michael Taussig: Ritual Aspects of Vision as in Abu Gharaib and the
Colors of the "Fascination of the Abomination"

- Rebecca Schneider: A Small History of Images as Ritual: Reenactment and
the Optical Unconsciousness


Imagining Moving Images

- Gertrud Koch: Moving and Removing Images: The Cinematic Construction

- Erika Fischer-Lichte: Performative Spaces and Imagined Spaces

Conference Dinner

SATURDAY 15 October 2005
Location: Deutsches Haus at NYU, 42 Washington Mews

Signs, Perception and the Senses

- Gunter Gebauer: Language games and Imagination

- Roland Posner: Synaesthesia. Physiological Diagnosis, Practice of
Perception, Art Program - A Semiotic Re-analysis


The Images' Fuzzy Logic

- Gottfried Boehm: The Logic of the Indeterminate

- Bernd Hüppauf: Blurring Lines and Creating Spaces for the Imagination

Catered Lunch for registered conference participants

Imaging and the Intuitive Self

- Karlheinz Kohl: Popular Images and the Conception of Self

- Ludger Schwarte: Intuition and Imagination. How to see something that
isn't there


Entertaining the Imagination with Images

- Ludwig Pfeiffer: Sport Rituals, Media Images, and the Imaginary

- Martin Puchner: Kierkegaards Shadow Figures and the Ethics of Squinting

Final Discussion, chaired by Marvin Carlson


Deutsches Haus at New York University
42 Washington Mews
New York, NY 10003

Prof. Dr. Bernd Hüppauf (New York University)
Prof. Dr. Christoph Wulf

Sponsored by Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD); The Humanities
Council; Department of German; Deutsches Haus; The Center for European
Studies; Sonderforschungsbereich "Kulturen des Performativen", Freie
Universität Berlin

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