Media Art Explores Image Histories: New Tools for Our Field


Presentation Title:

  • Media Art Explores Image Histories: New Tools for Our Field




  • The evolution of media art cannot be fully understood without its history; “depth of field” analyses of images can play an important role in facilitating our political and aesthetic analysis of the present.


    The starting point of the following comparisons is the visual manifesto of knowledge, L’Academie des Sciences et des Beaux-Arts, Sebastien Le Clerc created in 1698; here is a print from the Göttweig Graphic Collection. L’Academie can be described as summa of the grand project of mathematizing nature as propagated by Descartes and Newton. This digitization of a print, which can be magnified some sixteen thousand times, enables new access to the ‘dead medium’ of graphic prints and allows us to discover details that are barely recognizable in the original, for, to paraphrase Wölflin, “one only looks at for what one is able to see,” in order to make new questions and answers possible. Nested against a background of magnificent architecture, Le Clerc presents the grand spectrum of arts and sciences disciplines: mathematics, mechanics, physics, astronomy, music, anatomy, and philosophy are clearly recognizable. A great deal has been written about this work; I focus on the visual media, which commentators so far have ignored. Interestingly, today as we seek to understand the revolution concerning our visual perception, it is these visual media in Le Clerc’s picture that have been picked up by artists. When we zoom into the image, we see that Le Clerc’s summa is also a collection of the optical media of his time, like in a burning mirror: the physiological basis of spatial vision is represented as well as central perspective, with which this drawing aid also refers to the vellum used by Dürer.

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Related Links:

  • The video documentation of Oliver Grau’s keynote speech Media Art Explores Image Histories: New Tools For Our Field at ISEA2011 is available online in five parts. Please click on the the following links for Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IV, and Part V.