Pictorial Appearing: Image Theory After Representation

Table of contents :
Table of Contents
List of illustrations
1. What is not an image (anymore)?
2. Essentialism and subjectivism: Two ways of claiming an image
3. Epistemological turns: Image as metaphor of the conditions of looking
4. The modalities of pictorial appearing: Fundamental concepts
5. Pictorial appearing as an image/ reality relation
Coda: This is not the reality

Citation preview

Krešimir Purgar Pictorial Appearing

Image  | Volume 126

To my dear colleagues, Keith Moxey, Michele Cometa and W.J.T. Mitchell

Krešimir Purgar is associate professor of visual studies and image theory at the University of Osijek, Croatia. Most recently he edited W.J.T. Mitchell’s Image Theory – Living Pictures (Routledge, 2017).

KreŠimir Purgar

Pictorial Appearing Image Theory After Representation

This book has been co-published with the Academy of Arts and Culture in Osijek and financially supported by the Ministry of Science and Education of the Republic of Croatia.

Bibliographic information published by the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek The Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the Deutsche Nationalbibliografie; detailed bibliographic data are available in the Internet at http://dnb.d-nb.de

© 2019 transcript Verlag, Bielefeld All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Cover layout by Maria Arndt, Bielefeld Proofread by Anthony Wright, Imprimatur Editing Typeset by Ana ZubiĆ, Zagreb Printed by Majuskel Medienproduktion GmbH, Wetzlar Print-ISBN 978-3-8376-4135-6 PDF-ISBN 978-3-8394-4135-0 https://doi.org/10.14361/9783839441350


This book took me many years of writing and thinking about images, although its modest length may not necessarily prove so. In spite of its parts having previously been published elsewhere in different journals and presented as lectures and invited talks in different parts of Europe, its main scope was envisioned some five years ago when it became clear to me that once again, as has been the case many times in history, the civilization of images was undergoing a profound change. But this time it is a change towards overwhelming and ever more immersive visual experiences that are not images anymore, just pure sensorial phenomena in the realm of the visual. During the maturation of my thoughts about images, many very helpful people came across my path, some of whom were very reassuring while others were critical in reshaping my insights in ways I could not have imagined were possible. I would like to thank the editors and reviewers of the different journals where the majority of the material has been published prior to (how appropriate!) appearing in this book. The earlier version of Chapter One was published as “What is not an Image (anymore)? Iconic Difference, Immersion and Iconic Simultaneity in the Age of Screens” in Phainomena. Journal of Phenomenology and Hermeneutics in 2015. Chapter Two was published as “Essentialism, Subjectivism, Visual Studies. Concerning non-Disciplinary Ontology of Images” in Revista de Comunicação e Linguagens, published by Universidade Nova de Lisboa in 2017, in a special issue on visual culture edited by Teresa Castro and Margarida Medeiros, whom I thank for the enthusiasm they showed in accepting it for publication. A rather different version of


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Chapter Three was published as “Cinematic Time in Painterly Space. Sergei Eisenstein’s Theory of Montage and Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” in the exhibition catalogue Image 2007, curated by Klaudio Štefančić in Croatia in 2008. Thank you, Klaudio, for believing in me and for following my work from the beginning. Chapter Four appeared in 2017 as “Modalities of Pictorial Appearing. Fundamental Concepts”, once again in Phainomena. Journal of Phenomenology and Hermeneutics, and I warmly thank Dean Komel, a member of the journal’s editorial staff, for his susceptibility to my ideas. Versions of Chapter Five were published previously as “Reality and Truthfulness. Abstraction, (hyper)realism and the post-pictorial condition” by the University of Bologna in their journal Piano B. Arti e culture visive in 2016 and as “The Meaning of Hyper-Realism Today. Iconic Difference and Perception of Hyper-transparent Images” in the exhibition catalogue Search for Reality. Jadranka Fatur and the Hyperreal, edited by Martina Munivrana and published by the Museum for Contemporary Art in Zagreb in 2018. I thank all the people involved in both instances for acknowledging my work. I would not be as confident in presenting my insights in this book if they had not been exchanged with live audiences, mainly students, at several European universities where I was invited to give talks on the topics discussed here. First of all, I am greatly thankful to my colleague, Luca Vargiu, for having me invited to give a guest lecture titled “Indeterminacy of Images: Pictorial Appearing from Fiedler to Wiesing” within the PRIN 2015 project – Il problema dell’indeterminatezza. Significato, conoscenza, azione at the University of Cagliari in 2018. I am also indebted to Lauro Magnani from the University of Genoa for inviting me in the same year to take part at the Summer School of the Istituto di studi superiori and to give a lecture entitled “Art and technology. The disappearance of images in contemporary visual culture”. Also contributing to my busy schedule that year, but further helping me to shape the final version of this book, was Andrea Pruchová Hruzová, who invited me to Prague to give a talk titled “Allegories of post-representation. On the future of images” as part of her great initiative: Fresh Eye – A Platform for Visual Culture


Studies. Finally, and most recently, I have discussed the introductory parts of Pictorial Appearing at the European University in Tirana where I gave a guest lecture on “How to look at pictures that mean nothing?” in the Department for Applied Arts. My wonderful hosts and invaluable interlocutors there were Marko Stamenković and Konstantinos Giakoumis to whom I express my deepest gratitude. In the long maturation of this book, there were four conferences and presentations that I gave that proved to be most valuable for giving Pictorial Appearing its final overall tone. More specifically, I am referring firstly to the international symposium Ways of Imitation held at the University of Florence in 2015, where I presented my paper “The Absolute Image. Ontological Concerns of non-Mimetic Depictions in Abstract and Conceptual Art”. Two conferences at the University Roma Tre – the first in 2016 entitled Contemporary Film and Media Aesthetics and the second in 2018 entitled From Spectacle to Entertainment. Cinema, Media and Modes of Engagement from Modernity to the Present – gave me the opportunity to test my ideas through two presentations: “Post-Pictorial Condition. Ontology of Image in the Digital Age” and “Philosophy of Image Through Motion Pictures. (Re)presentation and (Dis)appearing”. In 2017 I co-organized the conference The Revolutionary Imaginary. Visual Culture in an Age of Political Turbulences at the Lithuanian National Gallery of Art as part of the activities of the European Humanities University in Vilnius and the international network Visual Culture in Europe. It was a pleasure to work there with my dear friends Almira Ousmanova and Marquard Smith and to deepen our mutual interest in the culture of images. My special thanks go to those people who have significantly shaped my whole career in different ways and on different occasions, and whose intellectual strength and personal integrity have left an indelible imprint on all my professional endeavors. These people are Keith Moxey from Columbia University in New York, Michele Cometa from the University of Palermo and W.J.T. Mitchell from the University of Chicago. I therefore dedicate this book to them. K.P.


Table of Contents Acknowledgments  | 5 List of illustrations  | 11 Introduction — Imagining a world without images: Mimesis, simulacrum and beyond  | 17 1. What is not an image (anymore)? | 29 1.1. On the concept of image as a difference and (dis)continuity | 31 1.2. Image as not-representation-anymore and not-yet-immersion | 35 1.3. The essence of the image: Between abstraction and representation | 43 1.4. Iconic simultaneity: Signs of difference and the phenomenon of immersion | 52

2. Essentialism and subjectivism: Two ways of claiming an image | 61

2.1. Between the discursivity and materiality of images | 62 2.2. Overcoming a discursive and material concept of image | 75

3. Epistemological turns: Image as metaphor of the conditions of looking | 87 3.1. Moving and still images – an aesthetic turn | 92 3.2. The principle of montage and the painterly tableau – a temporal turn | 95 3.3. The convergence of painting and film – an ontological turn | 101 3.4. Space and time of the technosphere – a pictorial turn | 106

4. The modalities of pictorial appearing: Fundamental concepts | 121 4.1. Transhistorical images, or the limits of representation | 121 4.2. Appearing as an ontological approach to images | 128 4.2.1. Temporality: Representational, simultaneous and reciprocal images | 137 4.2.2. Transparency: Non-transparent, transparent and immersive images | 145 4.2.3. Mediality: Material, imaginary and virtual images | 151 4.2.4. Referentiality: Non-referential/self-referential, referential, inter-referential, multi-referential and meta-referential images | 155

5. Pictorial appearing as an image/reality relation | 165 5.1. Disavowal of iconic difference: Hyperrealism, hyperreality and the perception of transparent images | 165 5.1.1. Appearing as intentionality and difference | 167 5.1.2. The observer, the observed and the emancipation of the image | 171 5.2. Affirmation of iconic difference: Abstract painting and the perception of non-transparent images | 177 5.2.1. Degrees of opacity: Image, anti-image, absolute image | 177  5.2.2. Theory of painting as a theory of image: Analytical lines | 183 5.2.3. The essentialist foundations of the absolute image: Modernism and abstraction | 191 5.2.4. Definition of the absolute image: A sign of radical otherness | 196

Coda: This is not the reality  | 205 Index  | 209

List of illustrations

Denis Villeneuve, Blade Runner 2049; still images from the movie, 2017 Pete Souza, Situation Room, photograph taken in the White House at 4:06 pm on May 1, 2011 Joseph Kosuth, One and Three Shoes, leather shoe and  black and white photographs mounted on board, 1965 Homeland, still image taken from the TV series, first season, 2011 Homeland, still image taken from the TV series, third season, 2013 Christ Pantokrator of the Deesis, Byzantine mosaic, Hagia Sophia, 13th century; Istanbul, Turkey Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, oil on canvas, 1907, 243,9 x 233,7 cm; MoMA – Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA Domenico Ghirlandaio, Adoration of the Magi, tempera on panel, 1488, 285 x 243 cm; Ospedale degli innocenti Gallery, Florence, Italy Fig. 9: Valentin Serov, Portrait of Maria Yermolova, oil on canvas, 1905, 224 x 120 cm; Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia Fig. 10: Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas, oil on canvas, 1656, 318 x 276 cm; Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain Fig. 11: Pablo Picasso, Two Nudes, oil on canvas, 1906, 151x93 cm; MoMA – Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA Fig. 12: Frank Miller, Sin City, fragment from a comic book, 1991 and cinematographic adaptation by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller, 2005

Fig. 1: Fig. 2: Fig. 3: Fig. 4: Fig. 5: Fig. 6: Fig. 7: Fig. 8:

Fig. 13: Caravaggio, The Entombment of Christ, oil on canvas, 1603- 1604, 300 x 203 cm, Pinacoteca Vaticana, Rome, Italy; Eadweard Muybridge, The Horse in Motion, photographs used for animation of movement, first published in Phila delphia in 1878; Umberto Boccioni, Unique Forms of Conti- nuity in Space, 1913, 111,4 cm; Museu de Arte Contempora- nea, Sao Paulo, Brasil Fig. 14: Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, oil on canvas, 1912, 147 x 89 cm, Philadelphia Museum of Art, USA; Gerhard Richter, Woman Descending the Staircase, oil on canvas, 1965, 198 x 128 cm; The Art Institute of Chicago, USA Fig. 15: Joe Rosenthal (Associated Press), Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, photograph taken on February 23, 1945 Fig. 16: Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, advertisement for H.I.S. brand of jeans, 1990 Fig. 17: Thomas E. Franklin, A photograph of three firefighters raising the American flag on the pile of wreckage of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001; 9/11 Memorial & Museum, New York, USA Fig. 18: A scheme of the Modalities of Pictorial Appearing – Fundamental concepts, 2019 Fig. 19: Richard Estes, Supreme Hardware (detail), oil and acrylic on canvas, 101,6 x 168,2 cm, 1974; High Museum of Art, Atlanta, USA Fig. 20: Julije Knifer, No Compromise, 2015; view on the retrospective exhibition at Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb, Croatia Fig. 21: Kazimir Malevich, Suprematist Composition: White on White, oil on canvas, 1918, 79,4 x 79,4 cm; MoMA – Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA Fig. 22: Ad Reinhardt, Abstract Paintings (Black Paintings), oil on canvas, 152,4 x 152,4 cm (each), 1960-1966; installation view at David Zwirner Gallery, 2013, New York, USA

Fig. 23: Andrea Pozzo, The Triumph of St. Ignatius, 1685, fresco on stucco (detail); church Sant’Ignazio, Rome, Italy Fig. 24: Georges Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte, oil on canvas, 1884-1886, 308 x 207,6 cm (detail); The Art Institute of Chicago, USA Fig. 25: Julije Knifer, MNA, acrylic on canvas, 1970, 95,3 x 114,5 cm; Musem for Contemporary Art, Zagreb, Croatia Fig. 26: Julije Knifer, Untitled, acrylic on canvas, 1992, 200 x 179,7 cm; Mitchell–Innes & Nash Gallery, New York, USA Fig. 27: René Magritte, The Treachery of Images, oil on canvas, 1929, 60 x 81 cm; Los Angeles County Museum of Arts, USA

Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality? Westworld

Introduction Imagining a world without images: Mimesis, simulacrum and beyond

The initial task of general image theory should commence with pure visibility, however, not in the sense of visibility being an aesthetic experience, as defined in the early 20th century by German philosopher Konrad Fiedler in his notion of “reine Sichtbarkeit”, but rather of visibility as materiality. General image theory should first establish the foundational ontological presumptions of each and every pictorial experience: in what way does the image exist, what enables us to see it, why and in what way do we imagine it when it is not really present, how does the image differ from reality, what does it bring into reality, and what does it take from reality? Traditional humanistic disciplines that tackled images as their theoretical objects, such as art history and semiotics – just like the more recent disciplines like cultural or feminist studies – have not taken an excessive interest in these issues. The reason for this is, simply, that they have been focusing their interest on the meaning of what is represented in images, interpreting the latter within a framework of their own respective disciplinary priorities. In order for the meaning of forms represented in images to be of any importance – not only for scientific study, but also for the common observers – it is necessary that all of us approach the image, ontologically speaking, in a commensurate manner: as a depiction which can, but does not have to, resemble reality. And even when it does so, to the greatest possible degree, we should know that it always


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differs from reality. Therefore, the premise according to which an image is an object or a thing, a visual or light configuration that was thrown into or set in the world, provides a foundation enabling images to be discussed, praised, disputed or, sometimes, destroyed. The power of image does not consist of the image showing something for me, but in the fact that the image always depicts something to each of us, though every individual differently sees and interprets that which has been depicted. The basic issue that a general image science should solve, therefore, consists of a paradox wherein each and every individual can have a different opinion on the image only because, in ontological terms, we all understand the image in a commensurate manner – as an artifact, a produced object thrown into the world. The image cannot be a universal communication tool unless we accept that simple paradox. The ontology of pictorial experience within diverse cultures and civilizations has to go beyond art history’s aesthetic imperatives and encompass cultural history, the turns within a phenomenon that Jonathan Crary referred to as “the techniques of the observer”, as well as within technology in general. In opposition to the numerous examples of historical iconoclasm, when images disappeared due to a simple act of physical destruction, today images disappear in a civilized manner. The latter happens due to two reasons. Firstly, because of employing the technologically advanced processes of visualization that no longer necessitate the substantiality of paper, canvas, celluloid tape or any other physical base. Secondly, due to the obsoleteness of the notion of representation, i.e. because of what I call the iconic simultaneity, the possibility to get immersed in a visual experience of real events that are happening somewhere else at the same time. We shall discuss this, among other things, in the book’s first chapter. This book talks of the above-described processes that occur on the edges of pictorial experience. In this matter, the book aims at inciting a doubt, claiming that the age-old experience of the image as a difference from reality has now perhaps come to an end. However, the process of weakening the ontological basis of image as representation – that is, of the image as a generic notion by which we discern the mediated


visual information in relation to pure, unmediated visuality, that arises only through light’s impact on the eye’s retina – is not a linear process, and is more than just technologically, culturally or historically determined. This process is influenced by a complex interaction between a multitude of facts. For example, the original version of iconoclasm – which was prescribed by God’s Second Commandment from the Decalogue – prohibits the representation of God, since the belief was that a pictorial representation renders visible something that is invisible. Therefore, any act of rendering the latter visible would counterfeit the divine substance, which is not transferable by any visual media whatsoever. On the other hand, the iconoclastic discussions in the Byzantine period, during the 8th and 9th century, tackled a completely different issue. The writings of Constantine V and John of Damascus clearly reveal that the dispute did not revolve around the visible or invisible nature of divinity (since in Western monotheistic religions divinity is always invisible), but around the issue of what kind of visual information is transmitted by the image in the first place. In other words, the issue was whether the depiction of God in the image is God himself, or the representation of God. Therefore, this notably modern debate on the ontological nature of image could be regarded, in the words of Emmanuel Alloa, as “visual studies avant la lettre”. First, we shall draw attention to the fact that the early iconoclastic debates concerning images already contained the understanding of image as the intensity, and not as the permanent and unchangeable essence. In order to exist at all, the image should always unite what we wish to depict and that which we can see. Let us consider an example where we deem that pain cannot be depicted visually but can only be corporeally or spiritually sensed. Therefore, with each visual depiction, we agree to a certain extent to sensation’s metaphorical transformation into the image. Accordantly, if a dogmatic doctrine does not allow even the slightest metaphorical transformation of belief into the image – i.e. if God is non-representable – then none of the models of pictorial appearing is acceptable. However, in this case, we do not speak of some specific power or weakness of image, but of the



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characteristic of a being that complies with the absolute prohibition of representation. Consequently, it is not some specific capacity of the image that does not provide a justification for the non-depictability of divinity, inasmuch as the capacity of divinity is per se a justification for its non-depictability. On the other hand, in Byzantine iconoclastic disputes, the debate was no longer led by (merely) the question of whether God can be depicted. Now the debate included discussing the sort of depictive identity that the image can assume and whether the general feature of the image, one enabling it to represent something, is acceptable in the case of the depictions of the divine. This is no longer a refutation of the absolute impossibility to depict spiritual capacity in the image. The debate is now about what constitutes this new, special pictorial capacity of a represented being or thing – spiritual or corporeal – and in what manner these two are present in the image, that is, how do they appear. Cultural history demonstrates that images never possessed a unique ontological basis. Though Plato’s and Aristotle’s earliest reflections on the image and its representation were of a secular character, up to the Renaissance, it was religious convictions that most frequently defined what we see in images, what are we allowed to see and in which manner this should be depicted. When Western Christianity adopted the concept of mimesis, Western culture legiti­ mized the image as representation, that is, as a depiction allowing the metaphoric transformation of the visible and invisible worlds into colors, shapes, and lines upon a delimited surface. However, Aristotle’s principle of representation-as-semblance could not have existed without Plato’s concept of simulacrum as the deceptively depictive power of the image. Plato’s theory is a proof that even with the earliest visual media – drawing, painting, and sculpture – people accepted the recognition of forms and physiognomies from the real world, merely because people themselves intuitively produced “a correctional mechanism” for representation, the latter being actually a doubt of the simulacrum-like nature of the image, that is, a doubt that the image is not in itself what we see in it. In Judeo-Christian culture, God has made man in his own image, the depiction of which


was prohibited. However, in the culture of antiquity, man created the ancient pantheons in his own image(s), which underwent aesthetic changes in accord with the principles of representation. Therefore, from the position of theory and the ontology of image, only the joint action of mimesis and simulacrum enables two crucial features of all images. First, images can present anything we are able to recognize in them. Second, what we recognize in images is not what the actual images are – wooden plates, walls or screens. A dialectic principle of the image and its numerous effects consist of two preset limits. Naturally, these are not the limits of the absolute non-depictability of a being, as commanded by the Decalogue, but the limits of the image’s possibility to exist as a medium. One side of this peculiar pictorial limit is our ability to make a difference between the medium’s material basis and its content. On the other side, there is an ability to make a difference between the media’s content and the world’s content. The styles and techniques of mimesis constantly direct us to the predominance of media content. However, the understanding of the simulacrum-like nature of every pictorial experience brings us back to the content of the world. This shall be discussed in more detail in the second chapter. The notion of pictorial appearing, as introduced and described in this book, means that I understand the image as the intensity, and not as the essence. By doing this, I attempt to define the limits of the image in space, demarcated by the material basis of the media and the content of the world, between which lays the image’s content. Hence, the objection to this hypothesis could be the following: does this not crucially predefine the essence of the image? The answer could be affirmative if the pictorial ontology truly remained within the already mentioned pictorial limits, i.e. if the difference between the image and world – all the aesthetic changes in art apart – remained undeniable and permanent as they used to be, at least in Western culture, from the Altamira cave drawings to the abstractions of high Modernism. The real and metaphorical edges of new visual media became increasingly less visible. Therefore, the firm ontology of image-as-difference, with increasing frequency, began ceding its place to the mediated visual



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experiences, i.e. to the contents of the world that merge with the image’s contents. This happens exactly because the latter no longer possesses a visible material ground. A new theory of digital images has to take into account that technology already – speaking in engineering and production terms – enables much more than the creators of visual contents, artists, designers of computer games and authors of interactive experiences are capable of imagining. Since virtual reality is not a content in itself – but merely the condition for the possibilities of experiences beyond the physical reality – that which is going to take place within virtual reality will soon no longer be a problem of the technique of realization, but a problem of the production of longing. It will no longer be in accord with Microsoft’s slogan from the early Internet days, which said “where do you want to go today”, but in line with a more dramatic phrase: “who do you want to be today”. A few visually very impressive sequences from Denis Villeneuve’s futurist movie Blade Runner 2049 allow us to detect the degrees or, in accordance with terminology used here, the various intensities of transforming a classical two-dimensional tableau into three-dimensional experiences, with whose help the movie’s protagonists are capable of producing hybrid corporeal forms, made up of people and holographic pro­ jections. Beneath the story – whose narration is relatively simple – in searching for the evidence that a sexual union between robot and human can produce a real human being, the movie tackles a complex relationship between people and humanoid machines. Hence, at a certain moment, we will have a presentiment that the main character – replicant K, who is played by Ryan Gosling – is himself perhaps a product of “the technology of appearing”, born on the evasive border between human and robot. In Blade Runner 2049, human and non-human, that is, representa­ tion and simulacrum (or “pictorial limits”, as we previously termed them) are presented as the markedly unstable phenomena. To put this in more precise terms, they are presented as an interspace between two utmost limits: human and pictorial. In the traditional understanding, this rift was still clearly determinable, but in a period which Žarko Paić


refers to as the technosphere, it acquired an entirely new dynamism. Today we have totally accepted the interspaces of gender identities. In the same manner, we will have to accept the unpredictable results of a human’s transformation into a cyborg, along with the transformations of material and screen images into pure visuality. The history of arts and media, together with Mitchell’s notion of the pictorial turn, demonstrate that each period in history, just like each change in technology, is but a continual transition of one method of depiction into another, of one visualization technology into another. The third chapter will discuss the history of epistemological turns within “the conditions of looking”, which painting, photography, and movies have been confronting us with during the civilization of image. The phenomenon which this book presents as the transitive pictorial characteristic – namely, its appearing in the various technological and ontological intensities – is told by Villeneuve through a metaphor of the changeable intensity of human insight and (un)natural body. However, even with Villeneuve, everything starts with representation: the scene set in China Town shows replicant K looking at some ordinary digital photos of a location, a place potentially hiding the proofs that could change the destiny of the human race. Later on in the movie, we witness the next form of transition, manifested as “a touch” between replicant K and his holographic girlfriend Joi, that takes place on his apartment’s terrace during a rainy night. The subsequent stage is the amalgamation of holographic Joi and human Mariette, meant to enable replicant K to sense a “real” physical union, instead of a mere visual simulacrum. Following this event, K experiences disappointment, masterfully staged in a scene when Joi communicates with him through a holographic three-dimensional depiction, via classical advertisement “call to action”. At this point, K realizes that he has not fallen in love with a person, not even with a mere apparition of mirage technology. Rather, he has fallen in love with the entire species, a factory line product, a product quite like himself. The strongest metaphor of appearing is disclosed in the movie’s final sequences when old Rick Deckard and replicant K meet, the latter already developing an awareness of his potential human origins (Fig. 1).



Pictorial Appearing

Replicant K is watching digital photographies in China Town

Robotic body and holographic visualization in impossible bodily touch

Physical body and holographic projection merge into unique appearance


Replicant K is looking at the advertisement for his holographic friend Joi

The confrontation of human, half-human and non-human

1. Denis Villeneuve, Blade Runner 2049; still images from the movie, 2017 What is it that Villeneuve’s imagination truly reveals in regard to the technologies of appearing and then also, indirectly, to the unstable ontology of image after the representation? It reveals, among other things, that appearing – as the unstable state of the image – is actually a glitch in representation. Just as the robot’s unstable state and his desire to be human are technological glitches. Every technical device, from the simplest to the most complex one, has its function, is programmed to do something and has to complete a given task (though these tasks do not have to produce an effect that is known in advance). Accordingly, technical devices are constructed to avoid – to the greatest possible extent – the possibility of error. If an error appears, we speak



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of an anomaly, of the impermissible state of a machine that does not behave according to the preset rules. In short, a machine is defective not if it does what we do not like, but if it does what it has not been programmed for. It is rather easy to find yet another demonstrative example from popular film culture. James Cameron’s movie Termi­ nator from 1984 begins with the premise that digital technology became so advanced that computer systems could now develop their own consciousness, becoming a threat to the survival of the human species. Though the Terminator (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) was created by the computer’s undesired deviation, he is an entirely functional machine in regard to a task he has been given, until the adverse party destroys him. This cyborg-killer possesses no moral scruples since such a thing is not expected from a machine. On the other hand, replicant K suffers from a surplus of the humane, from a peculiar humanoid glitch which makes him neither a good machine nor a bad human. K continues to exist in a rift between radically changing society and technology. If we decide to watch Blade Runner 2049 as an allegory of theory, the movie can suggest that the interspace between humans and machines is perhaps comparable with the interspace between the opacity and the transparency of the image. Therefore, the book’s fourth chapter will introduce a typology of picto­ rial interstices and discuss which modalities of pictorial appearing should be included in the “image theory after representation”. We will suggest that the analyses of both classic and technical images should be approached regarding their four fundamental dimensions of appearing: temporality, transparency, mediality, and referentiality. Finally, regardless of our view of representation in images as either desirable or objectionable, images always serve a single thing: they help something to get depicted. Accordingly, if we deem that some images depict “nothing”– which is people’s most common opinion on abstract works of art – even then we shall not deem these as non-images, or ­a car, a corkscrew or a totally unknown object whatsoever. Western civilization has taught us to approach images intuitively or culturally, to search for known objects or contents in them, or to allow images to invoke imaginary worlds within ourselves.


Following the claims put forward by Martin Seel in his book Ästhetik des Erscheinens, even if by observing images we do not recognize a single connotation that could be linked to the visible world, the abstract artworks – precisely because they are abstract – stress their own alterity in regard to the world. Ultimately, they will always possess self-referentiality, that is, they will always be able to depict themselves. The history of abstract art has confirmed that the image cannot represent nothing. However, stylistics and the historiography of art have not been given the capacity to foresee whether the image could, in some future development, simply cease to exist as the image. In other words, could the image – just like in a case of a bionic symbiosis between the holographic Joi and the human Mariette – get transformed into the very world which it was its due to depict? This has already come true from the perspective of digitally produced images. However, the latter does not imply that images have to lose their alterity in regard to the world; unlike Jacques Rancière, I do not think that the end of images is behind us, that the only thing left to us is their “silence” about what cannot be shown and that what remains is only an illusion of reality in the pictorial metaphors of the world, as this French philosopher foresees in the opening chapter of The Future of the Image. In the fifth and final chapter of this book I will bring forth a different proposition: if we did not look for anything in images and if we let them show “nothing”, only then would we notice what I am calling the absolute image – a specific kind of abstract representation that has the ability to always remind us of the existence of psychical world, for the very reason that such images will never come to represent anything else beyond themselves and will never allow us to “go” somewhere or to “be” what we are not.


1. What is not an image (anymore)?

In the very beginning I intend to examine if it is possible to establish a sustainable notion of image that would encompass, on the one hand, a classic concept of the image as (artistic) tableau – meaning all that we understand in the widest sense as representation and ima­ ge-mediated reality – and, on the other hand, depictions of reality itself as a mediated visual event, which is not representation but still retains some of the traditional characteristics of a tableau like a frame, illusion of space or the reference to known objects and persons. My point of departure is that the notion of image or Bild is not able to encompass all the phenomena within the framework of the technological and cultural construction of the visual field anymore and that contemporary forms of the transfer of visual information became complex “post-semiotic” and “post-linguistic” phenomena that may not be explained by what W.J.T. Mitchell, contemplating along the lines of deconstruction, calls the “metaphysics of pictorial presence”.1 I would like to extend some insights of philosophers and art historians who do not consider representation as a natural state of the image, but as its “additional achievement” (Martin Seel), and 1 | Mitchell’s concept of the pictorial turn is founded on the new reality of image that we cannot understand exclusively through linking images and language. On the other hand, interest for images in the age of the pictorial turn displayed by “non-visual disciplines unambiguously show that the meaning of images is now supposed to be sought in a much wider area of philo­sophy, culture, and technology”. See W.J.T. Mitchell, Picture Theory, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994, especially the chapter “The Pictorial Turn”.


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who in different formulations maintain that we recognize images and can be aware of their existence only if they possess a special kind of non-metaphysical presence, that is, if we perceive them through a discontinuity of sorts (Jean-Luc Nancy) or a difference (Gottfried Boehm).2 I would also like to argue that the radical pervasiveness of images in the contemporary culture of screens, video surveillance, and the simultaneity of images actually leads to their absence as thus the essential otherness of images is lost. Visual aspects of the image, traditionally recognized as photographs, paintings or billboards are now becoming inseparable from reality (or, according to Nancy, the ground) and blend with it. At that point we speak of the conversion of images into a coherent, indistinguishable continuum of reality. This new state of images represents a kind of transitional phase for them that precedes that which Oliver Grau calls immersion and cannot be reduced to it. However, we must first examine the nature of otherness 2 | Keith Moxey draws our attention to an aspect of images that is interesting for our discussion as well. It is the shift of the basic interest of visual disciplines from what images mean to what and how they communicate with observers and to the question of what kind of mutual interaction subjects and objects of visual communication enter. Also important here is Moxey’s mention of the formerly crucial dichotomy in film studies, which today comes back as a completely new phenomenological fact formulated by Richard Wollheim as being between “seeing-as” and “seeing-in”. Moxey says: “Art history and visual studies in Britain and the United States have tended to approach the image as a representation, a visual construct that betrays the ideological agenda of its makers and whose content is susceptible to manipulation by its receivers. By contrast, the contem­porary focus on the presence of the visual object, how it engages with the viewer in ways that stray from the cultural agendas for which it was conceived and which may indeed affect us in a manner that sign systems fail to regulate, asks us to attend to the status of the image as a presentation”. This distinction is an equivalent to the opposition between “seeing-as” and “seeing-in” suggested by Richard Wollheim in his book Art and Its Objects. An Intro­ duction to Aesthetics from 1971. See Keith Moxey, Visual Time. The Image in History, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2013, p. 55.

What is not an image (anymore)?

at hand. Can we talk at all about a full immersion into the reality of the image and, in this inability of distinction between reality and illusion, does the question what is an image still make sense?

1.1. O n the concept of image as a difference and (dis)continuity In the photograph taken on 1 May 2011 in the so-called Situation Room of the White House, we see the American President Barack Obama and the closest members of his team attentively watching an event outside of the photo-frame (Fig.2). Two figures in the background are craning their necks to see what is happening, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton covers her mouth with her hand like we usually do when we are unable to hide mixed feelings of disbelief, surprise, and fear. As the observer of this photograph cannot know what has generated this tense situation, the newspaper information explains that the figures we see are watching a live broadcast of the last phase of the operation

2. Pete Souza, Situation Room, photograph taken in the White House at 4:06 pm on May 1, 2011



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Neptune Spear – the location and execution of Osama Bin Laden.3 If we leave the political and military consequences of the bespoke event aside and if we try to explain the meaning of this photograph as artifact, we can see that its semantic center remains invisible. We do not know what the concrete cause of the reactions of the present persons is, although the reactions of the individual protagonists are that which the photograph actually thematizes or that which an iconological analysis would be focused on. On the other hand, many visual theories during the last fifty years – moving from Barthes’ Mythologies to post-structuralism and the more recent insights of visual studies – teach us that the topic of this photography is outside of it and that its real objects are the politics of the gaze and scopic regimes at the beginning of the third millennium. This photograph is not the first representation in which mechanisms of looking may seem to us to be more important than the object of representation or, more precisely, it is not the first one demonstrating that scopic regimes as such (and not a material object or an action) can be the topic of an (art) work. Caravaggio’s Medusa, Rembrandt’s Artist in His Atelier or Velázquez’s painting Las Meninas have already led us to ask questions about the reality outside of the image and the interaction of the visible and the invisible in the scopic field between that which has been exposed to the gaze and that which has been denied to it; between representation, the image-as-object and the observer. In Tom Mitchell’s terminology, the photograph of the Situation Room is a metapicture in itself, in the way that it indivisibly links the image and the reflection on its status 3 | We have since learned that the live on-screen broadcast in the Situation Room was enabled by a camera on one of the drones that hovered over Bin Laden’s house in Pakistan, but that the very act of liquidation of the terrorist leader was not shown to the spectators in the White House because there was no live broadcast from the cameras on the helmets of the marines in action. The photograph taken by the official photographer of the White House, Pete Souza, does not reveal that detail of “discontinuity”, but it suggests a simul­ ta­­neity of the events in the field and the reactions of the viewers at the White House.

What is not an image (anymore)?

as image, that is, it emphasizes the relationship between the pictorial and the extra-pictorial reality. 4 However, this photograph also speaks of the impossibility of representation: on the one hand it thematizes the moment of the simultaneity of the rendering (live streaming) and the event (commando action), but on the other it denies both to us, in our capacity as the observers of the photograph, as if suggesting that it cannot show us the image that would be the result of the continuity of the event and its observation, because that would be mere transcribed reality and not an image with all its distinctive characteristics. That is so because, as German philosopher Martin Seel has formulated it, “pictures cannot take the place of the real”. As much as some of us in the past or today fear the deceitful power of images as a hideout for idols, forbidden divinities or historical proofs (or just because of that), art history, semiotics, feminist studies and psychoanalytic theory have treated the problem of “meaning” mostly from the position of that which images communicate through the evocation of the visual context of an earlier present situation, the component of the identification of the extra-pictorial subject with the intra-pictorial object or the evaluation of the aesthetic pleasure in the viewer. There are certainly good reasons for such an orientation by the mentioned disciplines, and among the most obvious is that in all of them the image is a conveyance medium for visual information and not an object of theoretical interest as such. Image science and the philosophy of images also show other interests for visuality that do not necessarily include problems like signifying practices or the politics of identity. Along the lines of fundamental relations in the sphere of construction of visible reality today, two positions emerge as both opposed and paradigmatic, although they do not necessarily collide, because they both confirm the contingency of the image both in the material and non-material (virtual) worlds. The mentioned positions show that the status and the perception of images is today equally influenced by, on the one hand, the image as a distinctive sign, and, on the other hand, the image as a phenomenological fact. The first 4 | See Mitchell, Picture Theory, especially the chapter titled “Metapictures”.



Pictorial Appearing

stream, inspired by art history and semiotic insights, insists on that which Gottfried Boehm calls the iconic difference, i.e. the fundamental possibility of differentiation between images and non-images,5 while the other is based on the basic impossibility of that differentiation, i.e. that which Oliver Grau calls immersion that leads to the belief of the observer that what happens in images or visual installations is actually true, so that immersive images create a new dimension of reality in which we see some sense or enjoy it because it has become non-distinctive in relation to its original reality.6 The iconic difference enables us to esteem artworks and communicate through visual signs, while immersion draws us into virtual reality, i.e. the reality of that which it “depicts”, thus ceasing to be a traditional pictorial phenomenon. Lambert Wiesing’s opinion, however, is that the equalization of immersive images with virtual reality limits the notion of “immersion” into virtual worlds too much, because it happens only in a very small number of cases. He says that the notion of immersion is equally used for virtual reality in a strict sense, like a matrix or cyberspace, and for the instances of “virtual reality” that still show distinctive characteristics of images, for example in video-games, where the iconic difference is still present.7 Wiesing suggests that the concept of immersion should be further explained in order to more precisely define to which kind of virtual reality we refer: immersive virtual reality that causes “assimilation of the perception of the image object to the perception of a real thing” or non-immersive virtual reality that represents the “assimilation of the image object to the imagination”.8

5 | Gottfried Boehm, “Die Wiederkehr der Bilder”, in G. Boehm (ed.), Was ist ein Bild, Munich: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 1994. 6 | Oliver Grau, Virtual Art. From Illusion to Immersion, translated by Gloria Custance, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2003. 7 | Lambert Wiesing, Artificial Presence. Philosophical Studies in Image Theory, translated by Nils F. Schott, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010, p. 88. 8 | Ibid., p. 89.

What is not an image (anymore)?

1.2. Image as not-representation-anymore and not-yet-immersion Marie-José Mondzain explains why the question “what is an image” cannot be asked in a different way, which would not a priori express the immanence of the image, i.e. why any answer that tries to access this question from the perspective “what is not an image” is logically unsustainable. The French theorist draws our attention to the fact that even a thus formulated question contains two entirely different questions: What is | not an image? and What is not | an image? This difference is important insofar as it shows that a depiction makes sense only in the domain of visibility and “presence”: this is what you see. An image cannot say or show this is what you do not see. Unlike language, which is able to express an opposite assertion, critique or negation, “no image is opposite to another image. The images of Christ have no opposite in the image of no-Christ. So the image does not know any opposition within itself”.9 James Elkins asserts that the general theory of images is not possible, because each theory should previously solve the implicit categorical unclarity that pertains primarily to 9 | Within the five-year program of the Stone Summer Institute, in February 2008 a one-week seminar titled “What Is an Image?” was held in Chicago. The organizer of a series of seminars, James Elkins, gathered a significant group of art historians, theorists, and philosophers (among them were MarieJosé Mondzain, Gottfried Boehm, W.J.T. Mitchell, Jacqueline Lichtenstein, and Markus Klammer) in order to discuss the status of the theory of images in the context of ever-faster changes of the media reality of the world and its theo­ retical reflection, which, by establishing Anglo-American visual studies and German Bildwissenschaft, would be capable of approaching visual pheno­ mena with increased sensitivity of the image as an object of theory. On the other hand, the book of the same name, which contains the transcript of the seven-day seminar, unambiguously shows the difficulties in the attempt to provide an unambiguous answer to the question what is an image? See James Elkins and Maja Naef (eds.), What Is an Image?, University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2011, p. 26.



Pictorial Appearing

the relation of the notions of image and theory and only then their individual meanings. When we contemplate this, it is necessary to make a difference between, first, a theory of images, and second, the theory that treats the problem of the very concept of the image or particular images in different contexts.10 And finally, image theory can emerge from the insight that images create their own theory that can be applied either to themselves, so that in a kind of anti-semiotic turn of the image we could dispose of the dictate of the language, or it can point to a phenomenon external to the image, like a social occurrence or a political event.11 W.J.T. Mitchell has offered examples for both sub-variants of the third model of the theory of images when visual representations become individual discursive arguments, first within the concept of metapictures and later also in a crucial discussion on the consequences of specific visual tactics and, more generally, on the role of visual culture in the Occupy movement and the Arab Spring.12 One of the hardest tasks posed before the theory of images is the one, says Elkins, seeking explanation in what way, as it is proposed by Gottfried Boehm, “image and concept meet each other in the image itself”, i.e. can knowledge generated by images be explained by a self-referential model already introduced by conceptual art in order to liberate itself from the hermeneutic history of art canon? In order to demonstrate the insufficiency of the referential role of images in the context of modernism and the avant-garde, Gottfried Boehm has established a neo-phenomenological definition of the image from the position of philosophical art history, terming it as “iconic difference”.13 He primarily needed a theory that would determine the position of the image after the modernist schism in the politics of representation and also because of the fact that 10 | Ibid., pp. 6-7. 11 | Ibid. 12 | See Mitchell, The Pictorial Turn and W.J.T. Mitchell, M. Taussig, and Bernard E. Harcourt, Occupy. Three Inquiries in Disobedience, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2013. 13 | Boehm, “Die Wiederkehr der Bilder”, op. cit.

What is not an image (anymore)?

the image increasingly moved away from the depictional and more toward the material function, which in the philosophical sense led to the equalization of Clement Greenberg’s assumption from his famous text “Towards a Newer Laokoön” with Boehm’s insight that, at the time of the iconic turn, what generally defines images is the conversion of logos into icon, the textual-symbolic content of the image into a fully pictorial phenomenon. Viewed from the position of the criticism of abstract painting, Greenberg aimed at the same problem, maintaining that the disappearance of depth in abstract paintings led to the stressing of the picture’s meaning, its surface and plane as an authentic place where the artistic event takes place. He asserted that the surface of the picture was becoming shallower by leveling the background to the point when extra-pictorial reality and the illusion of depth in the picture would meet on the framed surface of the canvas.14 The relation between figuration and abstraction in Greenberg is comparable to the relation between icon and logos in Boehm. Both concepts refer to the separation of two different systems of meaning production, because the surface of the painting and that which it depicts are ontologically entirely different. Thus the otherness of the image is blurred unless we insist on the contrast that basically defines the image: this is about understanding the difference between linguistic structures and structures that create meanings within images. In other words, “iconic difference has to do with historically and anthropologically transformed differences between a continuum – ground, surface – and what is shown inside this continuum. This difference is constituted by elements – signs, objects, figures or figurations – and has to do with contrasts”.15 Maximally simplified, to make a picture means to create a difference between the physical continuum of the surface and that which we recognize in the picture as a specific presence of the absent object (this refers only to so-called figurative paintings). Therefore, we 14 | Clement Greenberg, “Towards a Newer Laokoön”, Partisan Review VII, No. 4/1940, pp. 296-310. 15 | Boehm in Elkins and Naef (eds.), What Is an Image?, op. cit., pp. 36-37.



Pictorial Appearing

could argue that if we cannot spot this difference or if there is no difference between that which we can see on the surface of a picture and the absent object, then we are no longer speaking either of an image or of pictorial presence, but of a phenomenon that requires a different theory. Jacques Rancière asserts that we can recognize the “alterity” of the image and that which separates it from the pure visibility of an event or object if we recognize the author’s intervention in it. In his opinion, the principal difference between, for example, film and a TV broadcast is not in the technological characteristics of the media (the direction of light, the way an image is screened and conveyed, etc.) but in the “alteration of resemblance”. The film serves the artistic transformation of reality, so that images which it consists of can never resemble the images that in some form existed before the lens of the camera. Film images must show a minimal form of the author’s manipulation in order that we can tell them apart from reality: “The image is never a simple reality. Cinematic images are primarily operations, relations between the sayable and the visible, ways of playing with the before and the after, cause and effect”.16 On the example of Robert Bresson’s discontinuous editing, Rancière shows that thinking in images does not mean establishing a connection between that which happened somewhere else (at a film set for example) and that which is happening before our eyes (while we watch a movie), but is rather a concatenation of original visual information established through different forms of manipulation, editing, and “alterations of resemblance”. If we know that pictures of modern and contemporary art generate, as Rancière says, “dissemblance to reality”, can we in that case determine the relation between images and reality only indirectly – through art – or are we capable of ascribing to them some essential property of difference? According to Rancière, one of these characteristics was present in analogue photography as well, because it still showed the element of difference between images and life, but only because it managed to reconcile the double regime of 16 | Jacques Rancière, The Future of the Image, London: Verso, 2007, p. 6.

What is not an image (anymore)?

picturality: on the one hand by being a medium of reality and on the other the medium of art.17 In other words, it was able to maintain a distinctive relation to both. The possibility of the image as a non-distinctive phenomenon, contradictory and unsustainable from the position of representation theory and iconic difference, was offered by Oliver Grau in his book Virtual Art – From Illusion to Immersion. Although Grau established his insights on immersion as an all-encompassing visual phenomenon in terms of cultural history, which makes his approach related to those of Norman Bryson, Martin Jay or Jonathan Crary,18 Grau’s basic assumption is that immersion is primarily “mentally absorbing and a process, a change, a passage from one mental state to another. It is characterized by diminishing critical distance to what is shown and 17 | Ibid., pp. 11-17. 18 | All three authors problematize that which Martin Jay calls “ocular­ centrism”, i.e. the cognition of the world as a primarily visual fact. Each of them approaches that encompassing phenomenon in a different way. For exam­ple, in the book Downcast Eyes. Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought (California University Press, 1993), Martin Jay presents the “denigration” of visuality in French philosophy of the 20 th century in the tradition opposed to the Cartesian belief in the power of visual cognizance of the world. Along the lines of the “New Art History”, Norman Bryson relocated the interest for artwork from the discourse on the historical development of styles according to their striving for differentiation between “vision” and “visuality” (see Bryson, Holly, Moxey (eds.), Visual Theory. Painting and Inter­ pretation, New York: HarperCollins, 191; also Hal Foster (ed.), Vision and Visuality, Seattle: Bay Press, 1988). On the other hand Jonathan Crary, in his book Techni­ques of the Obser ver (MIT Press, 1992), as a “post-Benjaminian” tractate of sorts explains the role of technology in the perception of images; he explains why the historical development of dispositives of reproduction is crucial to a modern understanding of art and visual perception in general. All three authors are major contributors to our understanding of epochal changes in our perception of images, which W.J.T. Mitchell theoretically subsumed into the syntagm the pictorial turn.



Pictorial Appearing

increasing emotional involvement in what is happening”.19 In spite of the fact that he places immersion into the course of art history, thus linking technical images directly to artistic ones, Grau’s approach to the artistic transcendence of the real world is never neo-Kantian modern, but techno-scientifically post-modern. Visual teleology in his case no longer serves a possibility of some other kind of the object’s presence as a pictorial object; this is about the presence of humans in the image itself, which presupposes not only the inclusion of one’s visual apparatus but also the “adaptation of illusionary information to the psychological disposition of the human senses”.20 In Grau’s words, although artists – mostly Baroque – tried to perfect the painting medium in order to create an immersive illusion of real space, it is the medium that has always been the obstacle to “entering” the represented space. Although the techniques of painterly delusion (trompe l’oeil fresco painting or oversized “panoramas” from the 19th century) were supposed to enable the transition from reality to illusion, they were at the same time an insurmountable barrier between them, an impenetrable screen of increasingly sophisticated models of representation.21 Virtual reality is not based on the perfection of illusion, i.e. on reducing the gap between reality and fantasy, but on the development of technologies that consider the possibility of immersion immanent to both humans and technology. From this we can conclude that immersion in virtual reality is not founded on the pictorial but on the palpable-perceptive experience; it goes even further than simulation (which can still be an image) in order to abandon representation and instead of presence-in-the-sign relates to presence-in-the-event. However, for our discussion it is essential that, both in the theoretical and practical sense, there is a huge space of presence between representation and immersion, the one close to real visual experience as not-any-more-representation but still not-yet-immersion. 19 | Grau, Virtual Art, p. 13. 20 | Ibid., p. 14. 21 | Ibid., p. 16.

What is not an image (anymore)?

Along the lines of what I consider a new kind of pictorial presence, I would emphasize the importance of Martin Seel’s insight, who rightly remarks that a constituent part of an image is not that it makes visible something which is not there,22 but that something becomes image through the function of relation of one situation with another situation.23 I recognize Seel’s proposal that we would encounter the least amount of obstacles if we were to penetrate the ontology of the image from two opposite directions as extremely important: from the direction of materiality and the essence of abstract painting and from the direction of reality external to the image, actual life itself. Thus in due course I shall try to show that the iconic difference is the central point of the discussion about images as historical constructs and that contemporary media images require an extension of the iconic difference theory or even a new terminological distinction that would define them as individual visual phenomena with the key quality that I shall call iconic simultaneity. In his book The Aesthetics of Appearing, Martin Seel brings “thirteen statements on the picture” with whose aid he tries to establish a plausible theory of images from the position of a hybrid semioticpheno­menological analysis, i.e. to determine the specific characteristics of iconic representation in relation to the experience of the material aspect of the image as object. Seel puts forward a seemingly trivial, but for this discussion crucial, assumption that “the space of a picture is not part of the real space of its appearance; it emerges solely from the difference between pictorial object and pictorial presentation”.24 The basic problem of the image is its relation to reality or, more precisely, to the experience of the viewer’s reality, who at the point of looking constitutes his own understanding of the image surface as the relation between presence and absence in pictorial representation, as a kind of 22 | Martin Seel, The Aesthetics of Appearing, translated by John Farell, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005 [Ästhetik des Erscheinens, Munich and Vienna: Carl Hansen Verlag, 2000], p. 170. 23 | Ibid., p. 164. 24 | Ibid., p. 162.



Pictorial Appearing

presence of an absent object, immanent only to the image. Seel gives a paradigmatic example of the transformation of representation theory into art discourse in conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth’s One and Three Umbrellas (or, similarly, One and Three Shoes, Fig. 3) in which the artist shows an ontological separation of representation and perception, as well as between the semiotic and phenomenological theory of depictions through images. Kosuth’s work is a visual and philosophical tractate along the lines of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s insights and Magritte’s painting This Is Not a Pipe, but in the spirit of a sort of pictorial-analytical philosophy of language which, during the period of conceptual art, was the key motif of a mutual approaching of the visual and the textual.

3. Joseph Kosuth, One and Three Shoes, leather shoe and black and white photographs mounted on board, 1965 As we know, Kosuth’s three-part installation consists of a real shoe (an umbrella, a chair, etc.), a photograph of that same shoe (umbrella, chair, etc.), and the textual explanation of the meaning of the word shoe (umbrella, chair, etc.). Thus the work consists of the image, the object, and concept of the same thing, so that “if we recognized what

What is not an image (anymore)?

distinguishes and connects these three, we would recognize how pictorial objects are in the space of a linguistically disclosed world”. In other words, “every theory of the picture has to explain on the one hand how the pictorial object relates to the pictorial presentation and on the other how pictorial presentation relates to other (for instance, linguistic) representations”.25 However, the notion of representation in any case complicates what the image as such is, because it is evident that representation is primarily the relation between the presence of what is depicted and its absent object of reference. For this reason, speaking of non-figurative pictures, Seel asserts that the so-called abstract painting “proves to be the most concrete and therefore the paradigmatic case of the picture”.26

1.3. The essence of the image: Between abstraction and representation If we accept the postulate that with every form of iconic and symbolic connection evoked by the image we come further away from the set aim of determining the difference between an image and non-image, Boehm’s concept of iconic difference, explained in the view of Greenberg’s theory of the painterly surface in abstract painting, will perhaps enable us to make a clearer distinction. For Clement Greenberg the fundamental characteristic of painting in its entire history until modernism was its subjection to a “literary” principle, a lasting attempt to use an essentially visual medium for different forms of narration. The modernist turnover of this historical principle set in at the moment when the avant-garde started to perceive art as a method and not as an effect anymore.27 His crucial insight was the understanding of a picture as a distinctive surface and abstract painting as a practice that enabled its medium to become its own narrative. In his seminal essay “Modernist Painting”, this American theorist asserts that the only 25 | Ibid., p. 163. 26 | Ibid., p. 161. 27 | Greenberg, “Towards a Newer Laokoön”, op. cit.



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thing that can preserve art from becoming equal to all other forms of experience is to show in which way a particular artistic genre offers its specific forms of experience. Avant-garde painting and music have indicated the fundamental self-referential nature of modernism with their possibilities of showing “non-literary” competences, thus also pointing to the possibility of a self-referential understanding of the image.28 According to Greenberg’s interpretation, realist and illusionist art saw their own mediums as limitations in the attempt of a visual narrativization of textual patterns. The painting techniques of Old Masters and their virtuosity in the use of color were supposed to conceal the fact that canvas is just a non-transparent surface, a plane of limited dimensions and not a simulacrum of reality. Their interventions on canvas were founded on a “dialectical tension” between retaining “the integrity of the picture plane” and as spectacular an “illusion of three-dimensional space” as possible. On the other hand, modernist painters have noticed a fundamental difference between the picture plane and its two-dimensionality as a specific feature of art, characteristic only of the limited area of the picture plane. In spite of the fact that they have not solved this contradiction, they “reversed its terms”: “[in modernist painting] one is made aware of the flatness of their pictures before, instead of after, being made aware of what the flatness contains. Whereas one tends to see what is in an Old Master before seeing it as a picture, one sees a Modernist painting as a picture first. This is, of course, the best way of seeing any kind of picture”.29 28 | Clement Greenberg, “Modernist Painting”, Art & Literature, No. 4, Summer 1960, pp. 193-201. 29 | Ibid. Unlike Greenberg in his radically formalist approach to the phenome­ non of surface, contemporary revisions of his theories on modernist painting shift the problem area of ‘two-dimensionality’ and ‘depth’ from the formalist into the psychological or gestalt discourse, which is able to connect the di­ scussion on the foundations of modernism to the post-modernist conversion of the surface into a screen and spectacle. One such approach is demonstrated by David Joselit: “in my view the ‘flatness’ of modernism is not merely an

What is not an image (anymore)?

Although I do not limit this discussion only to artworks, I do not think that we have any reason to believe that the essential feature of any kind of painting would be different from the essential feature of the art painting under the condition that we, for now, presume that the limiting criterion is the materiality or objectness of the painting itself. I shall return to this criterion a bit later. Now I would like to define the connection between Boehm’s universalist concept of iconic difference and Greenberg’s concept of two-dimensionality. In his essay “After Abstract Expressionism”, this American critic says that practice has shown that most characteristics considered typical of modernism are actually “non-essential”, apart from two “constitutive conventions or norms”, namely “flatness” and “delimitation of flatness”. For him, just perceiving these two norms is “sufficient to experience an object as a picture”.30 This very inclusive definition has made some room for different theories of pictorial representation, as well as countless philosophical speculations on the nature of visual experience and the relations of this experience to the phenomenon of the image. It is especially interesting that Gottfried Boehm’s art historical and phenomenological analysis on the basic nature of the iconic does not optical event: the emergence of the flat painting marks a transformation in spectatorship in which mimetic identification with the picture is displaced by the private kinesthetic experience of the viewer. The event, as it were, moves from the conscious to the unconscious. To put it schematically, abstraction functions as a machine for recording psychological responses of the artist in order to produce (perhaps dramatically different) psychological respon­ses in the viewer. (...) There is a great deal at stake in acknowledging that the flatness or depthlessness we experience in our globalized world is more than an optical effect. I will argue that flatness may serve as a powerful metaphor for the price we pay in transforming ourselves into images – a compulsory self-spectacularization which is the necessary condition of entering the public sphere in the world of late capitalism”. (David Joselit, “Notes on Surface: towards a genealogy of flatness”, Art History, Vol. 23, No. 1/2000, p. 20). 30 | Clement Greenberg, “After Abstract Expressionism”, Art International, October 1962, p. 131.



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essentially differ from Greenberg’s when the minimal conditions necessary for a visual effect to be considered an image are taken into account. Commenting on the theoretical achievements of the iconic difference, Martin Seel has put forward the assumption that this is a concept able to reconcile two different paradigms. He actually permits that they dialectically complement each other, because “there is no real conflict between the phenomenological and the semiotic theory of the picture. Pictures are surveyable surfaces that make something visible; both sides could agree on this basic formula”.31 As we have already found out, the essence of Boehm’s theory is based on the relatively simple concept that an image can be all that which can be found “between a surveyable total surface”. We can discern this surface through a visual contrast with everything outside the measurable total surface. Seel acknowledges the phenomenological foundation of this assertion, but adds that the iconic difference means that the image is always a priori a sign, if of nothing else than of itself as a sign of difference. When a picture is displayed, that which appears in the field of the image surface is always displayed simultaneously to the surface itself: “the picture not only contains certain appearances (of color and form), it refers to its own internal references. It is through this reference to its appearing that it first becomes a picture”.32 I would now like to focus a little bit more on the hypothesis that the difference between image and non-image is maybe more of a phenomenological then of a semiotic nature. I shall use the function of two kinds of images within the fictional narrative context of the TV series Homeland. Closer watchers of the series will have been able to spot two pictorial ontologies which, although they constitute parts of the same plot and lead to the same resolution within the world of the series, belong to incomparable visual worlds in which one maybe heralds a paradoxical future of total visuality in a world without ima­ ges. The first visual world consists of traditional photographs, maps, newspaper clippings, drawings, and so forth; in other words, pictorial 31 | Seel, Aesthetics of Appearing, op. cit., p. 177. 32 | Ibid., p. 178.

What is not an image (anymore)?

4. Homeland, still image taken from the TV series, first season, 2011 representations, material objects, and artifacts. The main character in the series, Carrie Mathison, a CIA agent, keeps them pinned to the wall of her apartment. We occasionally find her standing before this spectacle of analogous images, trying to connect them into a whole that would make some sense and enable her to locate and organize a possible execution of Bin Laden’s fictitious successor – Abu Nazir. The scene in which photographs and newspaper clippings hang on the wall is known to us from a large number of thrillers where photographs serve as proof that some act has caused a material consequence leaving palpable evidence, or that an image’s medium is a direct consequence of an act that preceded the picture (Fig. 4). All visual artifacts in front of which Carrie Mathison is standing have two common features: first, they are all images in the sense envisaged by the iconic difference and, second, they had all come to exist before Carrie put them on the wall or could attach them to it. With this assertion I not only lean towards the validity of Boehm’s theory, but I have also added another differentiating element to it – the one of the temporal condition of each representation. First, visual representation of a picture always precedes visual perception of that picture and second, visual representation can never be simultaneous to the event it re­­



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pre­sents.33 This phenomenologically precise positioning of visual representation is important for the understanding of the other image ontology in Homeland: a long time before the former CIA computer expert and military counterintelligence officer Edward Snowden exposed the global surveillance system conducted by the American National Security Agency, this series discovered the surveillance methodologies for potential terrorists (and, as a consequence, for all those who, either by the CIA’s design or accidentally, came into the non-discriminating viewfinder of satellite cameras). Shall we continue to call these methods images only because we are not yet ready to face the new visual reality of the world? At the CIA headquarters or in secret locations that can be outside of Langley in Virginia, whether in the Near East or anywhere else on the planet, there are surveillance hubs equipped with many monitors that broadcast footage in real time from a large number of satellites, which are strategically placed in the Earth’s orbit, so that they can cover all the points of a respective surveillance area. Carrie Mathison, Saul Berenson and other operatives of the American intelligence agency can choose not only which one of the simultaneous screenings they want to see, but they also have the possibility of influencing events taking place thousands of kilometers away, as if they were in immediate interaction with field operatives, because they hear and see everything others can see and hear. During the third season of the series we have seen what multiple simultaneity directed by the Langley crew looks like, realized with a little help from drones and geo-stationary satellites. In order to retaliate against al-Qaeda’s largest terrorist action since 9/11, the demolition of its Langley headquarters, CIA agents conduct the action of the simultaneous liquidation of several terrorists in different parts of 33 | Even in the case of taking a digital photograph, which appears as a photo on the camera screen (i.e. representation), it always follows after the photographed situation took place before the lens, even if the shortest technically possible exposition is used. In accordance with that which I am arguing in this book, what we see in the viewfinder of the camera before the moment of shooting – simultaneous to the event we are photographing – cannot be considered representation.

What is not an image (anymore)?

the world. They observe the ongoing events on screens, zoom in on frames to see details, redirect drones dependent on the situation’s development, and give orders to field operatives (Fig. 5). We could infer that, thanks to images, Carrie and Saul are entirely immersed in the real events; as if they belonged to them in a special, but no less credible way; as if they participated in the “presence of the absent object”; as if they looked at “surveyable surfaces that make something visible”; as if they looked at images, somewhat different and more real, but anyhow – images. But are we sure that these are still images and what tells us that they are maybe not?

5. Homeland, still image taken from the TV series, third season, 2013 Before I am ready to offer an answer to this question, I shall take some crucial aspects of the phenomenological nature of the image into consideration in order to show in what way we perceive images outside of the semiotic signifying theory, aside from the seemingly unavoidable connection between the signifier and the referent. In his introductory essay to the book Au fond des images, Jean-Luc Nancy proposes an interesting concept regarding the connection of the image and the notion of the sacred. For Nancy, sacred is not what we usually understand in the sense of the religious (on the contrary, for him the religious and the sacred are counterposed), but he means detachment



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and severance, separation and loss of connection. In order to additionally stress the loss of contact with things humans cannot establish contact with anymore and which always stay away from them, Nancy links a notion directly connected with the image to the notion of the sacred; it is le distinct – the distinct. Difference can be established either through the lack of connection or the lack of identity relation. That is, says Nancy, the characteristic of the image: “it does not touch” and “it is dissimilar”. The image “must be detached, placed outside and before one’s eyes... and it must be different from the thing. The image is a thing that is not the thing: it distinguishes itself from it, essentially”.34 What makes an image distinctive is its detachment, but this detachment at the same time points to the difference between the image and the thing. Although it is founded on detachment, the image influences the observer, but more in the sense of relation (rapport) than conveyance (transport). Unlike the image as discontinuity between itself and the thing, continuity is established where there are no images that could introduce elements of severance into the experience of the whole: continuity is established in the “homogeneous space of things and of the operations that bind them together”. On the other hand, “the distinct is always the heterogeneous, that is, the unbound – the unbindable”.35 The semiotic theory suggests that images contribute to the closeness to things, that they establish a special sort of existence of that which actually does not exist, in the sense of replacement or simulacral presence as referentiality, signs and their relations. Contrary to that, Martin Seel’s theory as well as Nancy’s, as we shall see, say that images are sign events which are not just objects about the world, which is presumed by the semiotic theory of representation, but they are also perceived as independent objects in the world. “The picture refers not just to something; it is in a special way present”.36 The perception of abstract pictures as objects in the world does not follow a mechanism 34 | Jean-Luc Nancy, The Image – the Distinct, translated by Jeff Fort, New York: Fordham University Press, 2005, p. 2. 35 | Ibid., p. 3. 36 | Seel, Aesthetics of Appearing, p. 175.

What is not an image (anymore)?

that would be different from figurative pictures. We cannot say that abstract pictures limit the status of the picture, but we can say that figurative pictures expand that status: “They present their appearing in order to refer to other appearances. By virtue of the phenomenal features they possess, figurative pictures refer to objects or imaginative projections outside the picture”.37 Representation or imitation in realistic depictions are therefore not immanent to pictures as such, but must be understood as “additional achievement”. In Nancy this “additional achievement” (or referentiality) robs the picture of the element of difference. The French philosopher quotes a well-known theoretical problem evoked by Magritte’s painting This Is Not a Pipe. He says that with this sentence written on canvas Magritte simply states a banal “paradox of representation as imitation”. However, the truth of this picture is not in the fact that the depicted pipe is not a real pipe, which the sentence implies, but in the fact that “a thing presents itself only inasmuch as it resembles itself and says (mutely) of itself: I am this thing”. But the image of “this thing” as sameness with the thing itself is, says Nancy, “an other sameness than that of language and the concept, a sameness that does not belong to identification or signification (that of a ‘pipe’, for example), but that is supported only by itself in the image and as an image”.38 With such explanation Nancy concurs with Mitchell’s interpretation of Magritte’s work as a metapicture, because, as suggested by the American theorist, of the meta-fictional use of both image and text within the integral realm of the artwork like in a closed circle; the pictorial constantly points to the textual and vice versa. Lastly, and somewhat paradoxically, it is not at all necessary to talk about metapictures, because they do it for us. This is especially true of pictures which in themselves, through a specific interplay of the textual and the visual, comment on their status (like Magritte’s work). Interesting is the way in which Nancy describes the materiality of the picture, insisting on the “ground” from which the picture is 37 | Ibid., p. 172. 38 | Nancy, The Image – the Distinct, op. cit., pp. 8-9.



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“detached”, but is at the same time “cut out” of it. We detach the picture from the ground by pulling it away and clipping it: “the pulling away raises it and brings it forward: makes it a ‘fore’, a separate frontal surface; [...] the cutout or clipping creates edges in which the image is framed”.39 It is indicative for our discussion that the French philosopher thinks that images, if they possess the necessary difference/distinctiveness, do not lead us into immersion; we do not perceive them as “networks” or “screens”. Actually the double detachment of images (pulling away and clipping out of the ground) serves as a kind of protection from total immersion and drowning in the non-distinctive reality of images which we would not recognize as pictures anymore. 40 We could say that what in Nancy is clipped from the ground and has margins that constitute the frame of the picture resembles Boehm’s “surveyable total surface”, while the distinctive (le distinct) is conceptually similar to that which in Boehm makes a visual contrast – the iconic difference. For both authors, the picture does not exist where we are unable to spot discontinuity in the levels of visual perception anymore, no matter what an image represents and what its possible status is as sign and meaning. This equally applies to maximally illusionist images and the ones that do not represent “anything”; the image remains phenomenologically present no matter what we see in it as long as we can ontologically “pull it away” or “clip it” from the continuity of some imagined ground.

1.4. Iconic simultaneity: Signs of difference and the phenomenon of immersion Now we are already able to more clearly see the path we need to take in the attempt to theoretically define the difference between an image-tableau on the one hand and a visual event on the other, i.e. between iconic difference and iconic simultaneity. Along the lines of the previously described theories, we could come to the general 39 | Ibid., p. 7. 40 | Ibid., p. 13.

What is not an image (anymore)?

conclusion that a picture is characterized by the notions of difference, distinctiveness and separation. This difference is actually not equally reflected in the semiotic and phenomenological sense: in the semiotic respect, it is established as a difference in relation to other pictures as signs, while in the phenomenological sense we speak of a difference towards any object we do not perceive as a picture. Jean-Luc Nancy maintains that we cannot recognize a picture there where we spot continuity between things and occurrences, where the image and the event are connected into one whole. In contrast to this, a picture exists there where this whole is dissipated and where the depiction and the event show discontinuity; one has been or has happened before and the other after. Let us remind ourselves that Rancière also mentions film as a paradigmatic picture, because in film (especially in editing interventions) it is possible to clearly distinguish the stage of production and the stage of execution – the “alterity” of the film image is built into the medium itself, while this is not the case with TV simultaneity. 41 I would propose that the other, “continuous” kind of images is the one watched as a satellite stream by Carrie Mathison, Saul Berenson and other CIA operatives, simultaneous to events (actions of field troops, drone bombings, executions of Islamists, etc.) at the moment when they actually take place in different parts of the world. This is an example from the Homeland TV series, but it illustrates the principle of iconic simultaneity present on the screens at any surveillance center of shopping malls, public institutions, commercial buildings, etc. The screens conveying events in real time are not pictures in the traditional sense anymore, not because of sophisticated technological solutions that enable immersion into real events and active forms of communication, i.e. an influence on real events, but because for the first time they make us lose the awareness of the medium as a conveyor of information. 42 If we are not yet ready to 41 | Rancière, The Future of the Image, op. cit., pp. 3-8. 42 | If screens were large enough and if they could concavely encompass the field of vision before the observer (which is technically already possible), the frame that divides the continuum of reality from the image surface, the “meta­



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completely renounce the picture – because the observer and the event can be thousands of kilometers apart, so we could consider that Peirce’s semiotic principle of iconic-indexical connection is still valid – then maybe we would be ready to renounce the iconic difference, because, as we have seen, there is no more discontinuity in the perception of the visible world. The model of phenomenological differentiation of two reality levels presents itself at this moment as superimposed to the semiotic one, although this is more about an intertwining in which the priority of the bodily and perceptive aspects constantly interchange with sign-related and iconic aspects. When we stand before a screen that can simulate the actual size of objects and when by zooming into/out of the image we can move closer or further away from the object as we would do with our physical movements, the question of iconic difference becomes the question of the perception of difference. Because we know that we are standing before a screen as a fundamentally visual fact and that we are not threatened by immediate physical danger from what we see on it, what we at that moment perceive as an interrelation of difference and immersion is what I call iconic simultaneity. If we use the phenomenological concept of the image of Jean-Paul Sartre from his book L’Imaginaire, we can say that in iconic simultaneity what primarily disappears is the “illusion of immanence” – that which crucially defines the possibility of the differentiation of different ontological levels in visual cognizance. Sartre asserted that the illusion of immanence worked by making a connection between the act of perception and objects we perceive in the picture naturally, i.e. that the picture initially comes about in accordance with the model of perception in the way that, through different automatic mechanisms of knowledge and convention, perception is turned into images. In that way, a “picturized object” would be first constructed in the world of things and only then would it be pulled away from that world. However, in Sartre’s opinion, this postulate does not correspond to physical” element in the presence of the picture, would be gone, because it would turn into real physical presence in the observed event.

What is not an image (anymore)?

actual phenomenological facts: “if perception and image are not by nature distinct, if their objects are not given to consciousness as sui generis, there will not remain any means for us to distinguish these two ways in which objects are given”. By its inner nature, a picture must have an “element of radical distinction”. 43 On the other hand, says Sartre, the illusion of immanence is based on psychological models that abolish the difference, i.e. radical heterogeneity, between awareness and images so that we could think in images and with the help of images. The illusion of immanence is necessary in a communication system where awareness operates on a different level than that of physical objects, even when these objects are in a certain way built into awareness and make a continuum with it. The illusion of immanence enables the continuum not to disclose itself in some kind of metapictorial turn, because in that case awareness would cease to be transparent in itself and its integrity would be destroyed by a multitude of opaque screens that would assume a place between awareness and the world. 44 Commenting on the importance of Sartre’s theses for the understanding of the relation between old and new media, John Lechte draws our attention to the fact that in Sartre’s theory an image is never a thing in itself but always only a “means of contact” with that which is depicted. For Sartre, a picture is just a means of making that which it shows as present; at the moment when we recognize the picture as a (material) object, for example in a painted portrait, then it ceases to be a picture. How is that possible? Sartre makes a distinction between two kinds of existence of the pictorial in our awareness: the first is, as already stated, the illusion of immanence, which with the help of reflective consciousness connects inner (mental) images with real objects. The other is the evocation that functions as imagining consciousness and enables us to understand that the image consists of signs someone has created for us and addressed to us through the 43 | Jean-Paul Sartre, The Imaginary. A Phenomenological Psychology of the Imagination, London: Routledge, 2004 (1940), p. 12. 44 | Ibid., p. 6.



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image. A visual sign is in principle evocation. 45 Interpreted in this way, neither of the two models of generating images in our mind is more real than the other. The material aspect of the image’s object does not emerge here as crucial. The question “does a picture primarily exist as an object in the world or does its primary incarnation happen in the consciousness” becomes irrelevant. Lechte draws a parallel with new media theorists like Lev Manovich and Friedrich Kittler, who he asserts insist on the concept of the digital image as the illusion of immanence, because they believe that the image used to be real and possessed the quality of a phenomenological artifact, but today it has turned into something non-material and virtual, into pure information. Lechte asserts that for Sartre the image has never been real, so with the help of the French philosopher’s postulates it would perhaps be easier to access the concept of fully virtual images of our time than seems to be the case. 46 Now the fundamental question is if we can speak of pictures as something that is not real, because virtual space is maybe not real in relation to physical aspects of “human” space, but it is real in relation to images appearing in virtual space. If we assume that virtual space consists of virtual nature, virtual people, and everything else virtual, then are all relations within such a space virtually real? I think that this question is also crucial for the understanding of iconic simultaneity, because the notion of the simultaneity of the image and the event can equally explain the two most important problems of image theory today: on the one hand the continuity of the presented and represented image in virtual space, and on the other the traditional concept of the picture as “discontinuity” and difference between the “ground” and the “surveyable total surface”. The notion of iconic difference should be extended by the temporal dimension of simultaneity so that we can better understand contemporary versions of image planes/screens, whose representations surround us in real life. In order to declare 45 | John Lechte, “Some Fallacies and Truths Concerning the Image in Old and New Media”, Journal of Visual Culture, Vol. 10, No. 3, 2011, pp. 357-358. 46 | Ibid., p. 362.

What is not an image (anymore)?

an event simultaneous in iconic terms, it is necessary to observe five distinctive iconic and phenomenological levels in it: 1) A picture representing an event is a surveyable surface with a perceptible frame. The event cannot be visually unlimited and the consciousness of the difference between here and there must be retained. 2) Although the events we see in the picture/on-screen are real, we do not attend an event but an image, i.e. we witness pictorial pre­ sence. Digital photography is not a phenomenon of iconic simulta­ neity, because although it draws the event and the picture maximally close together, it ultimately produces an effect of discontinuity/diffe­ rence. 3) With the help of telecommunication connections our presence at the event is active and we can influence the events in the picture, i.e. we can influence the real event (abort the action, redefine its aims or re-direct its focus). 4) However, active, simultaneous experience of the picture is not interactive. If it were interactive, we could no longer speak of the experience of the image, because that image, strictly speaking, does not enable a tactile experience. For example, tactile effects in IMAX 4D are not (only) pictorial. 5) Considering the simultaneity of that which we see on-screen and the real event, and also considering the possibility of active intervention, the observer assumes a special kind of ethical responsibility for his own view and the consequences of his actions. In my concept of iconic simultaneity, as a point of departure I take the assumption that the notions of difference and immersion define the status of pictoriality through two extreme instances – pure visibility and pure invisibility. However, the technological development of the systems of depiction and manipulation has established a new pragmatics of pictorial presence. If we do not want to abandon the notion of the image in general, we have to consider the possibility of the existence of an “interstice of presence” and the development



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of new tools for the perception of the difference between particular pictorial phenomena. As such, images as televisual facts under the direct control of the observer no longer have traditional distinctive characteristics that even some all-encompassing image science could cope with for the simple reason that every interpretation of an image is based on the difference between a sign and a phenomenon. In accordance with that, in the case of full immersion the difference vanishes, and for that reason there can be no image anymore (in that case we would witness a visual continuum of virtual reality). In his Aesthetics of Appearing, Martin Seel disputes Lambert Wiesing’s argument that there is a logical development sequence from figurative paintings on canvas to video-clips and cyber-space. 47 Seel thinks that the image is a phenomenon of surface that cannot be turned into (real or imaginable) spatial relations or, in other words, that an image cannot overcome its own ontological givens defined by a radical cut. In the virtual space of simulation, this cut does not take place anymore: in cyber-space the medium becomes invisible for the first time, because it becomes equal in categorial terms to that which it is supposed to (re)present. “Here the medium is a program and an apparatus that together produce independent sensuous appearances. The iconic difference disappears”. 48 The German philosopher thinks that the 47 | In his book Artificial Presence Wiesing speaks of four phases in the deve­lopment of image media: 1) the fixed image object of the easel picture; 2) the moving, yet determined, image object of film; 3) the freely manipulable image object of animation; and 4) the interactive image object of simulation. However, Wiesing explicitly says that the course of this development is not perfectioning or progress: “An animation is not a better film, and a simu­lation is not a better easel picture. [...] Immersion is a property that can appear in all four kinds of pictorial visibility” (Ibid., p. 100). I think therefore that Wiesing’s chronology cannot be considered causal and historical like Seel does, opposing the continuity of medial image development, but rather as comparative and analytical, which, instead of history, stresses the methods of pictorial presence. 48 | Seel, Aesthetics of Appearing, op. cit., p. 181.

What is not an image (anymore)?

so-called “flood of images” in the contemporary society of spectacle is actually not a flood of images but of pure visual information, which we do not experience as signs of something else in a semiotic sense anymore: “Without the difference between external occurrences and their imaginative comprehension, there would be no pictorial occurrence there. We are ‘in the picture’ only if we believe we are not in the picture”. 49 The problem of the perception of difference thus becomes a firstrate political question: is it still possible to retain an awareness about the fundamental discontinuity of image and reality? If we cannot do this through difference anymore, we must accept that the perception of pictorial phenomena (which was already noticed by Sartre) always already has its object – which is not perception as such, but the object of the image itself – and that the otherness of the image in the age of screen culture is necessarily recognized in the maybe paradoxical and, in the traditional notion of the image, untypical temporal continuum between presentation and representation. The mentioned five theses on iconic simultaneity are not opposed to the extremes of difference and immersion. They just try to make visible the vast area of the impact of images formed in the interstices in an increasingly dramatic manner and with unforeseeable consequences.

49 | Ibid., p. 184.


2. Essentialism and subjectivism: Two ways of claiming an image

All disputes about the ontological nature of images emerge from two basic, counterposed viewpoints: essentialist and subjectivist. Whenever we want to talk about the issue of what an image repre­sents, in what way we do or do not understand it – regardless of our possible intention to assess the ontological questions of the images’ constitution philosophically or, more commonly, only to refer critically to particular concrete image examples from the vast area of visual culture – we always ask ourselves if the analyzed image object contains a value in itself or if it has been provided by the viewer. Of course, in everyday critical discussions about art, images or popular films, we do not feel the obligation to examine the image ontology of the particular work in question, but by pointing to the opposition between the essential and the personal (subjective) in our approach to images we always contribute to something new; not so much to the description of what images are (because every approach has its own demands and methods), but, much more importantly, what they might become. Humanistic disciplines like semiotics and iconology, and to the same extent also phenomenology and psychoanalytical theory, are concerned with the essentialist approach to images on the assumption that visual representations should be analyzed in regard to the manner in which an object is represented in the image (semiotics and iconology, for instance) or in regard to their interest in which way the represented object generates visual effects in the mind (phenomenology and psychoanalysis, for instance). Irrespective of these disciplines considering


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that visual experience, and thus the fundamental constitution of the image, takes place in entirely different places – as symbols on canvas or the screen, as opposed to perception as bodily experience – they all suppose that there is a universal set of rules applicable either to the reading of the image (semiotics) or the experience of the image (phenomenology), whose implementation brings us closer to the essence and sense of all pictorial representations. The purpose of this dialectical confrontation is not to rule out all the interpretive nuances that exist in either of them or to discourage further insights into their specificities. When it comes to the theory of images, the purpose of this discussion is to turn our focus to the possibilities of the pictorial in-betweenness and contingency, or disciplinary becoming, instead of defining. Apparently, this approach will first of all require shifting our focus from the ideological to the material concerns of images, for only then will we be able to start comprehending them in a different light.

2.1. Between the discursivity and materiality of images If at the very beginning I postulate that the answer to the question what is an image? is always indeterminable in advance, because it is constantly delineated by the boundaries of the essentialist and subjectivist understanding of images, this does not mean that I do not consider that question worthy of discussion, rather, I propose that it should be addressed in a different way. In order to explain what kind of difference this is, it is helpful to remember Charles Sanders Peirce’s icon-index-symbol image concept on the one hand and the phenomenological idea of Edmund Husserl’s pictorial consciousness on the other. In Peirce, the image is either in direct relation to the object (indexical sign) or it is explained through a relation of similarity with the represented object (iconic sign) or it is a result of certain conventions of representation (symbolic sign).50 In each of these sign 50 | For more on this and numerous other typologies of symbols that served for the foundation of semiotics as a scholarly discipline, see: Charles Sanders Peirce,

Essentialism and subjectivism: Two ways of claiming an image

variants the source of the image is outside of the observer: in the represented object, in a picture as a physical object, or within social codes that define meanings. Nevertheless, although he also shapes the experience of the image through the triadic principle of the cognition process, the moment of perception as the effect of visibility is essential for Husserl. Thus, unlike Peirce or Nelson Goodman, for example, who consider the image more or less a material consequence of impulses coming from the extra-pictorial reality, Husserl thinks that the image’s object is not substance present in the image, but appearance that only prompts the relation with something absent. This is best seen in the difference established between the material carrier (Bildträger), i.e. the paper or canvas of the picture, and the image’s object (Bildobjekt), i.e. the immaterial likeness made of shapes or paint (that which we really see in the picture). The pictorial consciousness emerges between the observer’s visual perception, the material carrier, on the one hand, and the imaginative relation towards the pictorial object on the other; it is prompted by each individual’s capability of imagination.51 When in his Imaginary Signifier Christian Metz speaks of the immersive effect of film and the ability of the observer to experience film images as real, we could think that film is the best example of the phenomenological theory of the image. Nonetheless, semiotician Metz is closer to the film sign theory: the perception of film as fiction does not happen because the viewer is capable of activating his pictorial consciousness as a difference between his perception of the movie screen and his imagination of the film’s image (which would be the consequence of Husserl’s theory), but only because the film signifier is in itself – that is, structurally – imaginary.52 “The Icon, Index, and Symbol”, in Peirce, Collected Works, 1931-58, ed. Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss, Vol. 2, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960. 51 | Edmund Husserl, Phantasie, Bildbewusstsein, Erinnerung: Zur Phänome­ nologie der anschaulichen Vergegenwärtigung (1898 – 1925), Den Haag: Nijhoff, 1980. English edition: Phantasy, Image Consciousness, and Memory (1998 – 1925), translated by John B. Brough, Dordrecht: Springer, 2005. 52 | On the specific meaning of the semiotic-psychoanalytic notion of the imagi­nary signifier see: Christian Metz, Imaginary Signifier: Psychoanalysis



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Unlike the mentioned essentialist approaches, which treat the image as an object to which both the sense and the meaning are immanent (the so-called “metaphysics of pictorial presence”53), subjecti­v ist approaches are based on the functions and interpretations of images in relation to (or by) the individual viewer or a group of viewers within different and often incomparable social contexts of visual culture. Certainly the best known among them are the disciplines that emerged from post-structuralism and cultural studies, which are today mostly encompassed by generic notions like “visual culture” and “politics of identity”. In opposition to Jonathan Crary and his insistence on technologies of observation as being most essential for the turn in ways of looking,54 Irit Rogoff maintains that “in visual culture the history becomes that of the viewer or that of the authorizing discourse rather than that of the object. By necessity this shift in turn determines a change in the very subject of the discussion or analysis, a shift in which the necessity for having it in a particular mode and at a particular time becomes part of the very discussion”.55 Keith Moxey comments on the shift of the focus of scholarly interest from universal disciplinary insights towards the practical observer as follows: In contrast to poststructuralist theory, language is no longer regarded as the privileged medium through which we come to know both ourselves and the world. Rather than and the Cinema, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1982 [1977]. 53 | In his text “Pictorial Turn”, W.J.T. Mitchell derives the notion of the metaphysics of pictorial presence from Derrida’s deconstruction of the “metaphysics of presence”: if the text cannot be reduced to the meaning present in the language, then the image can also not be reduced to the meaning present in or deduced from any of its media incarnations. See: W.J.T. Mitchell, Pictu­r e Theory. Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation, op. cit. 54 | Jonathan Crary, Techniques of the Obser ver, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT University Press, 1992. 55 | Irit Rogoff, “Studying Visual Culture”, in Nicholas Mirzoeff (ed.), The Visual Culture Reader, London: Routledge, 1998, pp. 14-26, 20.

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interposing itself between us and what we experience, language is regarded as part of an experiential continuum. Instead of offering varying but commensurable approaches to the same world, language produces incommensurate accounts of different worlds. It is not a reflection of being so much as an agent in its constitution; that is, language has a performative status in the production of meaning.56

According to Moxey, Mitchell’s concept of the pictorial turn is one of the most important proofs that image objects have developed the ability to withstand the meanings ascribed to them by entire generations of their interpreters.57 Therefore, the discipline of visual studies not only undermines the idea of epistemological universality, but it explicitly excludes it in some of its theoretical options. For example, Mitchell’s famous question “what do pictures want?” disables a (mono)disciplinary approach to images, because the assumption is that images themselves will impose ad hoc theoretical or practical positions from which they “want” to be viewed and that these need not necessarily be the positions intended for them within the framework of semiotics, traditional iconology, psychoanalysis, phenomenology or a sort of politics of identity. Belting’s concept of “living medium” is close to Mitchell’s concept of “living pictures”, but it is at the same time opposed to it. In order to explain one’s role in the production of images, not as physical objects but as objects in the mind, Belting states that in the German language there is a difference between memory (Gedächtnis), which means image archive, and remembrance (Erinnerung), which is the activity of collecting images. He discovers that one simultaneously owns and produces images. This German theorist says that in both cases our body and our brain serve as a “living medium” that enables us to perceive, send, and recall images in the memory, just as our body enables our imagination to reshape and censor them.58 56 | Keith Moxey, Visual Time. The Image in History, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2013, p. 56. 57 | Ibid, p. 62. 58 | Hans Belting, “Image, Medium, Body: A New Approach to Iconology”, Critical Inquiry, No. 31/2005, p. 306.



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However, from the standpoint of a possible “general” ontology of the image, the differences between these two approaches are smaller than they seem to be, although the gap, as we have seen, between semiotic concentration on pictorial representation and phenomenological insistence on the imaginative potential of the image consciousness seems to be the largest possible. In his Aesthetics of Appearing, Martin Seel argues that there is no clash between the phenomenological and semiotic theory of images, because both disciplines are in principle concerned with “surveyable surfaces that make something visible”.59 Seel sees the ontology of the image as philosophically superimposed onto different disciplinary approaches, because the latter ones offer us the possibility of discussing images only after we are sure that the phenomenon or the object we would like to discuss is actually an image. Therefore we can consider Seel’s “Thirteen Statements on the Picture” from the aforementioned book as an introduction to the version of the image science constituted as a dialectic relation between the perceptual and the imaginative image – two basic directions in the contemporary theory of images.60 However, although Lambert Wiesing attempts to prove that these two directions also need to be supplemented by the anthropological one, based on the insights of Hans Jonas and Hans Belting, it will become clear from the following theses that in the ensuing argumentation I am rather inclined to view Belting’s and Mitchell’s “animist” version of anthropology and icono­logy outside of the context of subjectivist approaches. One of several arguments that I shall try to have developed by the end of this book will lead towards a proposal to supplement pictorial dialectics with a new method, equally inspired by Seel’s hybrid philosophy of images, W.J.T. Mitchell’s disciplinary “deconstruction” of the image, Hans Belting’s pictorial 59 | For more about Seel’s “Thirteen Statements on the Picture”, see his Aesthe­t ics of Appearing, op. cit. 60 | This division has also been adopted by Lambert Wiesing in Artificial Presence. Philosophical Studies in Image Theory, translated by Nils F. Schott, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009, pp. 8-23 [Artifizielle Präsenz. Studien zur Philosophie des Bildes, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt/M, 2005].

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anthropology, and the reference to the concept of mediality and the logic of iconic structures by Dieter Mersch. Finally, I shall try to derive that which will be termed a “non-disciplinary ontology” of the image. As we can see, subjectivist approaches can be related to groups of subjectivities connected by common interests in the affirmation of political, gender, sexual, national or other values. As in a kind of “animistic turn”, these approaches can be related to images themselves or the individual production of images in the mind through their enlivenment by means of mental operations that only humans can perform. The comment of English theorist Janet Wolff applies to all those approaches which still maintain that there exists something called “the magic of the image”, impossible to be explained with the help of individual disciplines as discursive practices within a humanistic theory. She states that we have recently witnessed a series of attempts by members of the humanistic scholarly community to prove that the ideological positions of cultural studies have become insufficient to encompass the new technological and post-humanistic reality of images and visual representations. Instead of focusing attention on the social and historical conditioning of scopic regimes, today, she says, the deflection from long-surviving analytical methods is increasingly visible. It is reflected, for example, in the concepts of presence or immediacy of the image, like David Freedberg’s “power of images”, W.J.T. Mitchell’s “living pictures”, Georges Didi-Huberman’s favoring of phenomenology as against semiotics, in the resistance of images to discursive interpretation, or in the theory of affects, the aesthetic of reception and neurosciences applied in order to interpret artworks – all that which cultural theory has traditionally neglected.61 In her plaidoyer for the detachment of the image from hermeneutics based on the effect, presence, and sensory nature of pictorial expe­rien­ 61 | Janet Wolff, “After Cultural Theory: The Power of Images, the Lure of Immediacy”, Journal of Visual Culture, No. 11:3, 2012, p. 9. It is interesting that Wolff is one of the founders of visual studies. Her work on establishing the first visual studies program at the University of Rochester in 1992 is highly esteemed.



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ce, Janet Wolff proposes a return to the affirmation of social insights into the status of artworks and images in general, although she admits that “emotional and affective sides of private and social life have been fully neglected in critical theory, cultural theory, and aesthetics”.62 What exactly is the English theorist’s grudge against approaches of “new subjectivists”, and is her proposal for the overcoming of essentialist master-science in combination with the abandonment of the mysticism of the image really the right way towards the understanding of the ontology of the image in our time? If images have power, she says, then this is because people have yielded them that power in circumstances which images could not have activated and made themselves alive: “We can recognize the power of the image, while understanding full well that that power is (socially, culturally, perhaps politically) given to it”.63 If we build upon this last assertion and if we accept that it is possible to give power to images, then it is reasonable to assume that this power can be controlled and at a certain point even denied. However, some of the basic disputes in the Judeo-Christian image culture have been motivated by the conviction that it is not possible to control the power of images, so that in certain periods, or even more lastingly, physical traces of their existence were erased. Unlike the radical iconoclasm of the Jewish or Muslim tradition, which did not allow the representation of God as a human likeness – therefore resorting to entirely different pictorial options – the difference between Eastern and Western Christianity is primarily the difference in the intensity of the power of images. French theorist Marie-José Mondzain says that the Byzantine tradition saw a full assimilation with the depicted likeness of Jesus in the icon and not a representation of his imagined appearance. This is not about the fundamental clash of the Platonic iconoclastic version of the image as simulacrum and the Aristotelian iconophile concept of the image as mimesis, which defined the historical schism between iconoclasts and iconophiles. Here we have a certain inner confrontation of two iconophile groups that represent different “politics of the image”, 62 | Ibid, p. 10. 63 | Ibid, p. 6.

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that is, opposed interpretations of that which an image can represent. The Eastern model of the image, when we speak of depicting deities in icons, referred to a “consubstantiality”64 of the image and the actual model (the so-called natural image), while the Western model – adopted after the intervention of the patriarch Nikephoros at the Second Council of Nicaea in 787 – established the image through “relational economy”, inherent, it was perceived, to all images.65 The clash between the consubstantiality and the relational eco­ nomy of the image did not, of course, just have consequences related to religion, nor did it just influence a different development of visual representations in the art history of the West and the Byzantine Empire. It showed, first, that the difference in the intensity of the pictorial experience is probably a more complex problem than an ideological clash between those who approved of the depiction of God in man’s likeness and those who did not; and second, that transparency of the image can be and had been achieved centuries before Leon 64 | The term consubstantiality refers to the sameness in substance between the natural model (the deity) and the depiction (the icon), but with possible differences in aspect between the two. 65 | Marie-José Mondzain, Image, Icon, Economy. The Byzantine Origins of the Contemporary Imaginary, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005, pp. 71-75. Mondzain states that Constantine V (741-75), the official representative of state iconoclasm, presented four basic reasons for the invective against the depiction of God in human shape: “1. If the icon is like the model, it must be of the same essence and nature as it. However the icon is material and the model is spiritual, therefore this is impossible. 2. If the icon claims to resemble only the physical and perceptible form of the model, it necessarily divides it by separating its perceptible form from its invisible essence. The icon is therefore impious because it divides the indivisible. 3. If the icon draws the figure of the divine, it encloses the infinite within its line, which is impossible; therefore it only encloses nothing or falsehood, which forces it to renounce all homonymy. 4. If the icon is only vene­rated in what it shows, it is therefore its matter that is venerated. It is therefore an idol, and the iconophiles are idolaters”. Also see: M.-J. Mondzain, “What Does Seeing an Image Mean?”, Journal of Visual Culture, No. 9: 307, 2010.



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Battista Alberti defined Renaissance paintings as “open windows”. Mondzain suggests that the difference between the (Eastern Christian) icon and the (Western Christian) picture is that the former shows the presence of Jesus as a permanent form of meaning, while the latter shows its absence through a referential sign detachable from meaning. Although they can use comparable models of representation – color, form, compositional organization of the picture surface, etc. – the icon cannot be the same as the picture because it incarnates presence, while a picture imitates it. However, the principle of immanence applies to both types: with the icon it is absolute and with the picture it is relative.66 From the principle of absolute immanence follows also the mostly fixed depiction of Christ Pantokrator in Byzantine art history: because Christ is incarnated in the icon in accordance to his natural shape (natural image), there is no theologically justified need to change this form (Fig. 6). In the West the representations of Jesus have been considered formally arbitrary since the first Romanesque reliefs as visual and semiotic adaptations of the Biblical textual model, which in the following centuries would depend on changeable conventions of style rather than corrections of Christian dogma.67 The dispute over the nature of images in the 8th and 9th centuries can rightfully be considered the first systematic theoretical discussion on the nature of pictorial representation in history,68 a kind of practical ontology that from the center of the theological dilemmas of medieval man repositioned the issue of the image to the theoretical line that had 66 | Ibid, p. 77. 67 | One of the exceptions to such a Hegelian interpretation of the deve­ lopment of art history was certainly the Nineteenth Ecumenic Council of the Catholic Church, which, supported by counter-reformation tendencies in the south of Europe, was held from 1545 to 1563 in the Italian town of Trento (i.e., the Council of Trent). Decrees were issued to confirm the role of basic Christian dogmas, which, among other things, once again stressed the theolo­ gical justification of pictorial representations. 68 | See Emmanuel Alloa, “Visual Studies in Byzantium. A Pictorial Turn avant la Lettre”, Journal of Visual Culture, No. 12:3, 2013.

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6. Christ Pantokrator of the Deesis, Byzantine mosaic, Hagia Sophia, 13th century; Istanbul, Turkey begun with the Platonic and Aristotelian complex of simulacrum and mimesis. It has been continued – but not finished – in contemporary interpretations of media, virtuality and immersion. What the history of the theory of images suggests to us is that the problem of incarnation in the picture, and visuality in general, cannot be resolved in metaphysical philosophy, although, as we have seen, it can be inspired by it. Gottfried Boehm even asserts that the contemporary ontology of images is not an essentialist question of the general status of the image



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at all, but that the current terminology can only refer to “this picture and this drawing”, that is, the status of a concrete phenomenon.69 Boehm’s anti-metaphysical argumentation of sorts follows from his specific “logic of the image” characterized by hybrid “iconic logos”. The understanding of the image as an entity with its own logic and sense is unambiguously essentialist-motivated, but, unlike most disciplinary practices developed during the 20th century, Boehm’s approach does not strive towards a set of rules, signifier dogmas or perceptual and affective agencies of the image, although he often refers to them.70 With his concept of iconic difference, and the attempt to answer the question what does the logic of images mean?, he primarily tries to detach himself equally from essentialist and subjectivist approaches and to come closer to the immanence of images of sorts, not in the sense of the hermeneutics of the individual artwork by Hans Georg Gadamer, but rather by pointing at: 1) the characteristic of the image surface that makes it detachable from the continuum of reality as a surface where not only something “happens”, but where something is “shown”; and 2) one’s ability to see something in something else, that is, to see something “in the light of the other”. It is clear from these two basic postulates that the notion of iconic difference must necessarily be viewed from a hybrid, semiotic-phenomenological position. This becomes clearer insofar as Boehm’s iconic difference is related to the image as a different category that contains a “surplus of the imaginary” and provides a “context for visual differentiation”.71 69 | See the transcript of the discussion between Gottfried Boehm and other participants held within the framework of several years of seminars under the title “The Stone Art Theory Institutes” in Chicago in 2008, published in J. Elkins and M. Naef (eds.), What Is an Image?, op. cit. 70 | On Boehm’s ontological construction of the image, explained as a paradigmatic deflection from logos to icon, see Gottfried Boehm, “Wiederkehr der Bilder”, in G. Boehm, Was ist ein Bild?, Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 1994. 71 | Gottfried Boehm, “Jenseits der Sprache: Anmerkungen zur Logik der Bilder”, in H. Burda and Ch. Maar (eds.), Iconic Turn. Die neue Macht der Bilder, Cologne: DuMont Verlag, 2004.

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Following the proposal made by Gottfried Boehm, the whole essentialist idea that we believed existed around the secret of the image may fall apart should we come to an understanding that “iconicity is not a question of essence, but of degree”.72 By the same token, if the ontology of the image still burdens visual studies, might we then envision image science too in terms of degree rather than essence? First and foremost, this would signify the definitive failure of disciplinary knowledge to provide an answer to what we believed were the essential pillars of every traditional visual theory. Moreover, “intensity”, as a theoretical presumption, has already begun appearing in one form or another in new art history, “new iconology” and visual studies; if, following Mitchell, we just take the pictorial turn as an example of different levels of “urgency” in our relation to images, the whole epistemology of turns (linguistic turn, pictorial turn, spatial turn and so on) can already be understood as a matter of intensity due to the fact that, for instance, images have always been present, to some extent, within language and literary texts in the form of metaphors or ekphrastic descriptions. Intensity, in this case, may be a consequence of two necessarily related phenomena that were part of the fundamental “evidence” of the occurrence of the pictorial turn: first, of our increased interest, as a society as a whole, in visual matters (literature and cultural “texts” included), and second, of the increasingly prominent actual presence of visually motivated concepts. This shifted sensitivity to visual impulses provoked both by changes in the material world and our recently acquired susceptibility to the neuro-cognitivist construction of the visual field – mental images, matrixes, virtual realities – could also be explained precisely in terms of the reborn popularity of phenomenological reasoning. Following 72 | Gottfried Boehm, “Unbestimmtheit: Zur Logik des Bildes”, in Bernd Hüppauf and Christoph Wulf (eds.), Bild und Einbildungskraft, Munich: W. Fink, p. 248. I refer to the Boehm problem of the intensity of the image in my text “Coming to Terms with Images: Visual Studies and Beyond” in Žarko Paić and Krešimir Purgar (eds.), Theorizing Images, Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016.



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the trail marked by Gottfried Boehm, Emmanuel Alloa is among those authors who have pointed to interesting developments in the field of visual/image studies, especially when he observes that the phenomenological tradition, from Husserl and Sartre to Merleau-Ponty, must be credited with the important insight that iconicity is not a quality of the object, but of a way of looking at the world which not only implies that any object can possibly become an image, but also – inversely – that every image we are looking at can only be seen as an image because it is rooted in a pervasive iconicity which serves as a matrix for potential images to come. 73

If this is true, Alloa adds, then the classical distinction that ruled Western ontology, the distinction between a difference in degree and a difference in essence, will effectively collapse. From the point of view of such a “phenomenological turn”, this would not raise just the problem of philosophy losing its foundation and firm theoretical ground – the whole modern project of images, informed by functions, meanings and concepts of representation, would then lose its specificity, its “sovereign realm”, a domain where the rules of iconicity alone once governed and where the idea of a universal science of images once existed.74 73 | Emmanuel Alloa, “Intensive, not Extensive”, in J. Elkins and M. Naef (eds.), What is an Image?, op. cit., p. 149. 74 | Alloa has subsequently elaborated more on his thesis on “intensities” in an article where this new theoretical urgency is explained in the continua­tion of a discourse about three possible impulses inherent to the iconic turn: archaeological, poetical and epistemic. In this way, he suggests that the need for the re-working of traditional concepts of the image has to be part of the parallel process of the re-working of image theories as well. According to Alloa, such a process may consist of the redefinition of iconology as “symptomatology”, and analysis based on the disciplinary “extensity” of visual phenomena may become an exercise in “intensities”, while firm indications and values may be better explained as contingencies, as in the relation of “indicative” and “subjunctive” (see Alloa, “Iconic Turn. Alcune chiavi di svolta”, Lebenswelt No. 2, pp. 144–159).

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Valuing images by degree instead of essence, or, to put it differently, by how we come to see and not to see the realities of everyday life, instead of according to their ontological ground, would bring us closer to the reason why it is more promising to look at when and how images take place instead of what they are. Because “images have no domain nor realm of their own, they are fundamentally pervasive and always essentially out of their place [...] so the fundamental ‘atopia’ of the image relation dismantles a logic of localization and opens up perspective of an iconic force field”.75 Thinking in intensities would mean that, for example, images of art should not be judged in terms of belonging exclusively to the aesthetic domain, just as images of non-art would not be excluded from participating in aesthetic domain. While in this case it might be more difficult to discern the demarcation lines on which the ontogenetical difference between art and other is based, thinking in intensities would certainly not erase them, just, perhaps, pose questions of aesthetics more urgently in the discussion of art today.

2.2. Overcoming a discursive and material concept of image In a clear reference to Boehm, Dieter Mersch states that, from the outset, the definition that assumes that seeing an image primarily means seeing something like an image and only then seeing something that it depicts requires from us the acceptance of the duplicity of pictorial ontology: namely a picture can be interpreted as image, but also as a mere object that makes something visible. Mersch considers the difference between the matter and the phenomenon, i.e. the pictoriality and making visible the key point of the ontology of the image.76 Mersch’s acceptance and then also overcoming of the iconic difference can be recognized in his assertion that images speak less 75 | Ibid., p. 150-151. 76 | Dieter Mersch, “Pictorial Thinking. On the Logic of Iconic Structures”, in Žarko Paić and Krešimir Purgar (eds.), Theorizing Images, Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016.



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and communicate less to their viewer than they show him. How they show is not connected to either observation or understanding, but to some new ontology. Again we find here an inherent logic of the image. Along the lines of this argumentation we can infer that any visual difference must be recognizable as a distinctive visual symbol, but it does not necessarily need to be semiotically relevant; it can be mere evidence or a cognitive fact. Insight into these differences can be established through narrative or figurative image strategies, but also apart from them. We can recognize them through a multitude of referential effects of images, equally through their relation to nature and their relation to themselves. We can recognize them, for example, as an ontology of materiality or ontology of time. The pictorial turn as a terminological determination of the moment of transition from a linguistic to a pictorial paradigm did not happen, as it would be reasonable to think, at the moment of its proclamation in famous texts by W.J.T. Mitchell and Gottfried Boehm,77 nor after its somewhat later institutional acceptance by the academic community. The first significant theoretical contribution that attempted to relativize the discursive models of interpreting images was Mitchell’s Iconology, published in 1986, which especially refers to the often mentioned chart of the “image family” from the very beginning of this book.78 It is interesting that a few years after publishing Iconology, Mitchell derived his Pictorial Turn from an entirely different position, as a kind of a new “image urgency” at the end of the 20th century, and not as a proposal for a non-discursive ontology of the image, which the aforementioned chart and its appertaining commentary already contained as indication. If we ask the question why Mitchell has not reverted to ontological 77 | The texts in question are the aforementioned “Pictorial Turn”, specifically is worth of mentioning the introductory chapter to Mitchell’s collection of essays titled Picture Theory op. cit. and “Wiederkehr der Bilder”, also an introductory chapter, this time to Boehm’s collection Was ist ein Bild (Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 1994). 78 | W.J.T. Mitchell, Iconology, Image, Text, Ideology, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1986.

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questions related to the image since then, one of the possible reasons we can offer are the general differences between visual studies and Bildwissenschaft – a topic that has on different occasions been addressed by Keith Moxey, Matthew Rampley, and Jason Gaiger. They all referred to the gap existing between the primary social and ideological interest in the image in the Anglo-American school on the one hand and the interest in the nature and functioning of the image as such in the German school on the other.79 The gap in the understanding of the nature of images is very conspicuous between, for example, the “late” Mitchell and Dieter Mersch or Klaus Sachs-Hombach, but the already mentioned grapheme of the “family of images” already contains some essential elements of non-disciplinary ontology that, as this became evident, would be more characteristic of the German school.80 This school 79 | Keith Moxey, op.cit.; Matthew Rampley, “Bildwissenschaft: Theories of the Image in German-Language Scholarship”, in Rampley, Lenain, Locher, Pinotti, Schoell-Glass, Zijlmans (eds.), Art History and Visual Studies in Europe, Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2012; Jason Gaiger, “The Idea of a Universal Bildwissenschaft”, Estetika: The Central European Journal of Aesthetics, LI/VII, 2014, No. 2/50. 80 | The fact that visual studies is gradually getting its disciplinary shape – although apparently in a “non-disciplinary” way – is proved by the contributions of various scholars who not only try to demarcate the new field but, at the same time, try to answer the still enigmatic questions regarding the ontolo­g y of images, the social role of artwork, the relationship between vernacular and learned styles of visual communication, and so forth. The literature on these topics has been growing steadily in the last two decades and it still is. Beside the mentioned books and authors, let us here refer only to the seminal work by Klaus Sachs-Hombach (Das Bild als kommunikatives Medium. Elemente einer allgemeinen Bildwissenschaft, Cologne: Herbert von Halem, 2003), and more recent extraordinarily broad account of what visual studies might be offered by Whitney Davis in A General Theory of Visual Culture (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011), in addition to Sunil Manghani’s valuable Image Critique and the Fall of the Berlin Wall (London: Routledge, 2012) in which he presents a sort of twofold agency of images: both as a theory and artifacts capable of exerting institutional critique.



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would finally be more inclined than the American to sacrifice both the essentialist approaches inherited from semiotics and phenomenology and the subjectivist politics of identity that emerged along the lines of post-structuralist interventions into social sciences.81 What could, therefore, be so revolutionary in the introductory chapter of Mitchell’s Iconology? The links between the arts and other areas of visual culture (popular magazines, movies) have already been problematized by Aby Warburg and German art history of the first half of the 20th century, as has been convincingly demonstrated by Horst Bredekamp.82 We can witness the shift of the scholarly interest from stylistic and historical to cultural topics within the Western history of 81 | It is worth mentioning that Moxey has been accredited with having conveyed the first ever comparison between Anglo-American visual studies and the German Bildwissenschaft in his article “Visual Studies and the Iconic Turn”, published in the Journal for Visual Culture (August 2008, Vol. 7, No. 2, pp. 131146). This already seminal piece was a revised version of his presentation given at the international conference “Visual Construction of Culture”, organized by the Center for Visual Studies in Zagreb in 2007. This and other related disciplinary questions raised by him on these occasions were eventually developed in different directions by Matthew Rampley and Jason Gaiger, for instance. Rampley states that there is a difference between Bildwissenschaft “proper”, like the one performed by Klaus Sachs-Hombach and the stream represented by authors like Gottfried Boehm and Gernot Böhme, where the latter “comes to a strikingly similar conclusion to writers such as Nicholas Mirzoeff or Guy Debord”, although “Böhme avoids taking up such socio-political threads” (op.cit, pp. 125-126). Moreover, Gaiger asks whether we need at all something like a universal science of images to which Bildwissenschaft apparently makes a claim (p. 208) and concludes somewhat ambiguously that “the permissive conception of universality that underpins the project of a universal Bildwissenschaft falls short of the more demanding, normative conception of universality required by philosophy, but it has the advantage of keeping the question open” (p. 227). 82 | On the art historical foundations of German image science, see Horst Bredekamp, “A Neglected Tradition: Art History as Bildwissenschaft?”, Criti­ cal Inquiry, No. 29/2003.

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art in Michael Baxandall’s and Svetlana Alpers’ “new art history”, for example.83 Mitchell’s point of departure was that visual insights could exist in a very wide area, delineated by images as objects on the one hand and images as pure perceptual phenomena on the other. The reali­ ty of each image is constituted in the ability of the viewer to be aware of the possibilities of pictorial evidence at any moment. Therefore, the decisive question for Mitchell is not the one of discipline that we might choose and apply to individual pictures. It is also not decisive what kind of images we focus on (artistic, scholarly or fashion-related); for him, even then, the crucial element was the shifting modality of pictorial appearing – that which was later developed in more detail by Martin Seel in the aforementioned “Thirteen Statements on the Picture” or Dieter Mersch in his “Logic of Iconic Structures”, which, as we have seen, is the fundamental preoccupation of German image science.84 Mitchell has spotted a conspicuous problem with the semiotic typology insofar as Peirce classified his sign system only in relation to the physical world in order to re-systematize it within signs as physical objects. According to this concept, physical images are signs whose connection to the denoted object can be established in various ways. However, images that dwell in the language as non-material signs, that is, the ones that create the imaginative potential in the mind of the reader, demand a different approach. In order to also classify the kind of images that can be perceived outside the established semiotic systems, it is necessary to detach oneself from the division in only those categories or notions that point to other categories or notions with 83 | See the two well-known studies by Michael Baxandall, Painting and Expe­ rience in Fifteenth-Century Italy. A Primer in the Social History of Pictorial Style (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972) and Patterns of Intention. On the Historical Explanation of Pictures (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1985), as well as Svetlana Alpers, The Art of Describing. Dutch Art in the Seventeenth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983). Also instructive is the overview of new art history by Jonathan Harris, who focuses on its social-critical role in The New Art History. A Critical Introduction (London and New York: Routledge, 2001). 84 | Seel and Mersch, op. cit.



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which the former ones are in a more or less direct relation. Insisting on the image as a referent of some initial event always leads us to concepts like sign, simulacrum or substitute for the original experience. The semiotic discourse on the image is actually a discussion on the possibilities and conditions for a certain medium to show the physical world and not a discussion on that world itself. Mitchell attempted to approach images in an anti-semiotic fashion by classifying them according to their way of appearing, unlike the semiotic division of images according to the manner of their reproduction of actual events, objective reality and the like. In his Iconology we find a division into five basic kinds of images: graphic, optic, perception-related, mental, and verbal.85 It is interesting that each of these types, according to Mitchell’s explanation, belongs to a different scholarly discipline: we consider graphic images pictures in the narrowest sense of the word. They encompass the entire art production, all kinds of printed reproductions and traditional multiplying media. They are, of course, covered by the history of art. Optic images are characterized by the modality of visibility, immanent only to them; that is, they become observable only through the mediation of particular laws of physics or with the help of specific technology. For example, all electronically screened images belong here, as do mirrored images or physical optic phenomena. These would belong to the realm of physics and electronics applied to the products of the entertainment industry. Mitchell has placed perceptual images somewhere between the physically knowable world and sensations: these are “phantasms” and all kinds of sensory phenomena at the border between reality and imagination, between that which we have (maybe) once seen and the momentary impression – simulated or real – that we indeed see it. The best specialists for this area are psychologists and neurologists because they can show the real, measured data that indicate the brain’s activity has actually “produced” an image, but they cannot confirm its objective status, content or appearance. Mental images and verbal images belong to the realm of the “invisible” and therefore we should maybe 85 | Mitchell, Iconology, op. cit., pp. 9-14.

Essentialism and subjectivism: Two ways of claiming an image

not call them images at all: why should we call something an image if we are unable to see it or, more accurately, if we cannot prove that we have seen precisely that and not something else? This concept is significantly opposed to Boehm’s determination of the image brought to realization as iconic difference. Understanding Boehm’s achievements – but also limitations – Mersch adopts the phenomenon of difference, but he adds the assertion that the concept of difference – or “framework” as he calls it – is necessarily defined by two characteristics: primarily by the ability of the image to detach itself from the rest of reality and then also by its characteristic to make something visible as a depiction on itself of something else.86 It is interesting that Mitchell’s early concept of image ontology does not approach that problem from the standpoint of the general definition of what an image is, but approaches it as something ontologically indeterminable, recognizing images through different modalities within which different kinds of pictorial experience can be grouped. He compares them to that which Foucault calls “figures of knowledge”. In spite of that, Mitchell also thinks that there is something like the authentic concept of the image “as such”, but this concept should rather be a subject of institutionalized discourses of philosophy and theology.87 Is not the German Bildwissenschaft primarily (or at least among other things) a philosophy of image? Is that the philosophical foundation recognized by Mitchell as a path towards the ontology of the image? In any case, if, on the basis of the earlier mentioned comparative insights by Moxey, Rampley, and Gaiger, we assess image science (especially the practice of its most important German representatives) as the most relevant place of the contemporary ontology of the image, we can also say that ontological questions of pictorial appearing were present much earlier than the pictorial or iconic turn. Mersch supports Mitchell’s original idea that the essence of the existence of images can be established only through the application of different but in principle non-disciplinary theories when he says that 86 | Mersch, op. cit., pp. 163-165. 87 | Mitchell, Iconology, p. 10.



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all attempts to reduce visual strategies to the rhetorical and semiotic, to language allegories and figures like ekphrasis and metaphor, have proved unsuccessful. He insists that we start from the principle of the irreducibility of the image to discursive practices, of the fundamental incommensurability which insists on the intuition that “the relationship between image and gaze defines the specific format of the medium”, thus requiring “other means than those borrowed from sign theory or literary studies and linguistics”.88 One of these targeted, universal principles of understanding images is, for Mersch, the phenomenon of the chiastic structure of the look, i.e. the ability of the image to make something visible by a constant provoking of the interchange of the observer’s view between three ontological extremes: a) image and non-image; b) iconic difference and immersion; and c) framing and de-framing. Here we see that for pictorial evidence or appearing, the medial basis and the depicted (not necessarily represented) content are equally important. The medium allows for a certain fracture in perspective so that we can recognize something like an image on the one hand, while the image itself demands refraction in order for it to be able to be recognized as a medium.89 The German author asserts, first, that the image cannot exist without a medium, and second, that a medium cannot exist without the image, but they keep obliterating each other. This is a paradoxical strategy, because it shows that the image cannot show – apart from showing itself – that which also makes it visible. In other words, the image and the medium can exist in parallel, but one of them must become invisible so that the other may become visible: “The image withdraws its own mediality. It keeps its mediality in the sphere of the invisible. This invisibility corresponds to the “dialectics of mediality”, which consists of the medium’s peculiar quality to conceal itself in its appearance”.90 However, for such an operation it is necessary that we have a non-discursive concept of the image, because some of the 88 | Mersch, op. cit., pp. 167-168. 89 | Ibid. 90 | Ibid, pp. 173-175.

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textual models – like traditional iconology, semiotics or gender and Marxist theory – would always lead us only towards the image and its hermeneutics, and we would not take the mediality of the image into consideration, i.e. that to which Mitchell and Mersch direct us and which we may call modalities of pictorial appearing. When we compare, for example, graphic and optic images (a portrait and the image of the portrayed person in the mirror, for example), it will be much more difficult to determine the fracture in the point of view in one and the other image type than if we compare a graphic and a mental image. Between a photograph and a mirror image of a person, the difference does not have to be large in a hermeneutical sense (it can even be unrecognizable), but in the ontological sense this difference is decisive. It can, on the one hand, be so tiny that we are often not aware if something is a representation or a mirror image, while on the other it opens a large area of non-discursive sense that no semiotic or phenomenological analyses can resolve. Some art practices, like hyperrealism or closed-circuit video installations, are focused precisely on this phenomenon. This tells us that image ontology based on discursiveness and narrativity – the classic, gender or psychoanalytical history of art, for example – always feels the need for a symbolic marking of the difference, while the areas of the image between the ontological extremes about which Mersch speaks will always remain empty because disciplinary theories of meaning have a different purpose and methods. On the other hand, Mitchell’s non-disciplinary family of images can become one of the ways in which Mersch’s fracture in looking, such as the dialectics of the image and mediality, can be fully taken into account. If now we return to the dichotomy we began this text with, to the essentialist and subjectivist understanding of reality, that is, disciplinary theories and politics of identity, we can observe that the mentioned approaches by Mitchell and Mersch do not belong to either of them. The postulate I am putting forward here is that this is because visual studies and Bildwissenschaft are basically non-disciplinary practices, which, as we have seen, remain open for the questions of identity (especially the ones inspired by Nicholas Mirzoeff’s visual culture), but these questions are not considered epistemologically



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relevant as an answer to the question of what images want, but rather to what observers want. The theoretical positions I call essentialism and subjectivism are not new and are reduced to the viewer’s choice if he/she wants to ensure the exclusive approach to the artwork as a theoretical object or as a legitimation of his or her specific, personal/ minority worldview. In other words, this is about the question of if, on the one hand, a theory can stay “pure” if it abandons the demand for full objectivity and also, on the other, if we can come closer to the essence of the artwork if we do not have that which Lessing called bequemes Verhältnis (convenient relation) to it. The classic discussion by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing from 1766, titled Laokoön oder Über die Grenzen der Malerei und Poesie 91 in many of its elements anticipates some of the most important points of the current discussion about the boundaries of media forms because it attempts to establish what makes some artistic genre specific, in order that we would not “inconveniently” demand from it that which it is unable to give us. In the humanities we are well aware of Lessing’s choice that openly ascribes to poetry a superior role in spiritual crea­ tion, while painting is for him a “medium” or visual prosthesis that has a communicative function, but is unable to reach the imaginative potential of poetry. Paradoxically, Lessing’s theses also prove to be vital for the considerations of mutual interactions of contemporary media, because a large part of image studies today is based on the marking of the transition between idea, imagination, and intuition on the one side (“poetry”) and a series of artistic and media signifiers on the other (“painting”). Lessing’s essay is therefore not only a discourse on the ontological differences between poetry and painting, but also a demand for the application of non-uniform, but in principle exclusive, approaches adapted to any art form. I think that Lessing’s essay on the delineation of artistic media anticipates the contemporary boundaries between essentialist and subjectivist approaches to the image. 91 | English translation under the title Laocoön: An Essay upon the Limits of Poetry and Painting. Translated by Ellen Frotingham, New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1969.

Essentialism and subjectivism: Two ways of claiming an image

In his brilliant study Archaeologies of Vision: Foucault and Nietzsche on Seeing and Saying, Gary Shapiro put forward the assertion that what in Lessing looks like a search for the “metaphysics of genre”, i.e. the essence of different art types, actually masks the “politics of genre”, i.e. the determination of how a particular art genre needs to be understood in relation to its function and possibilities.92 If we accept Shapiro’s assertion, we can see that ideological questions have determined the boundaries of the interpretation of images, even if cloaked in the metaphysics of genre or, more commonly today, the metaphysics of presence. The historical avant-gardes have already shown that interpretations of artworks and the proliferation of images escape all kinds of essentialist-subjectivist demands: during the time of modernist hermeneutics that demand was put forward again, primarily in Clement Greenberg’s text “Towards a Newer Laocoön” and Michael Fried’s “Art and Objecthood”.93 Shapiro thinks that the connecting line between the two Laocoöns – Lessing’s and the equally “puristic” Greenberg’s – actually represents the universal fear of the unlimited potential of art and the fact that its effect cannot be limited in any way, no matter if we refer to exclusive areas of poetry and painting in Lessing or to the transparency and opaqueness of the image surface in Greenberg. In the former approach, ekphrastic poetry could never be viewed as a mental image sui generis, and in the latter the immersive experience of the image as an increasingly present characteristic of contemporary visual representations could never be included. Shapiro pointed to Friedrich Nietzsche as a “post-modern” author who, already by his Birth of the Tragedy, in several places pleads for an 92 | Gary Shapiro, Archaeologies of Vision: Foucault and Nietzsche on Seeing and Saying, Chicago: The University Press of Chicago, 2003, p. 72. 93 | I have written at length about the importance of these two texts for the understanding of contemporary theory in my article “What is not an image (anymore)? Iconic Difference, Immersion, and Iconic Simultaneity in the Age of Screens” (Phainomena – Journal of Phenomenology and Hermeneutics, No. 92-93/2015).



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active interrelationship between poetry and painting, because only a blend of opposed principles of logic and intuition can lead to a Wagne­ rian Gesamtkunstwerk – a spectacle of words, images, and sounds: We shall have gained much for the science of aesthetics, once we perceive not merely by logical inference, but with the immediate certainty of intuitive vision [unmittelbaren Sicherheit der Anschauung], that the continuous development of art is bound up with Apollonian and Dyonisian duality – just as procreation depends on the duality of the sexes, involving perpetual strife with only periodically intervening reconciliations. 94

Shapiro adds that it was Nietzsche who pointed out that the theory of art demanded that we understand both the creation and the reception of art as a wholesome work of human beings in their entirety. In this “post-modern” perspective, the theories of genre and media would be replaced by the constant blending of art forms and theoretical approaches, which would open to us new areas of the visible in the images of our time and of times gone by.95 For this reason, we must once again remind ourselves that Wagner’s and Nietzsche’s romantic Gesamtkunstwerk today needs its equally romantic Gesamtbildtheorie that will overcome the division into Apollonian and Dionysian principles or essentialist and subjectivist approaches, so that visual studies and Bildwissenschaft, as two “neo-Nietzschean” theories, could adopt new modalities of pictorial appearing.

94 | Friedrich Nietzsche, quoted after Shapiro, Archaeologies of Vision, p. 73. 95 | Ibid.

3. Epistemological turns: Image as metaphor of the conditions of looking

Commonly it is thought that what makes pictures visible is inseparable from the technological conditions of the production of pictures, and that pictures are primarily dependent on their own media base simply because it is reasonable to expect that we cannot see something unless we have previously created the conditions for what is seen to be exposed to the look at all. Unlike the psychology of the spirit, optical laws and the physiology of looking can be explained as rational mechanisms of the functioning of the human mind and also by the material nature of the pictures themselves. For instance, a photographic image is made possible by the interdependence of a lens and chemical reactions; a cinematographic image has added kinetic aspects and a much more complex mechanics to this interdependence; the television picture has replaced the chemical reactions and the mechanical parts of the reproduction device with electronic impulses and radio waves of a certain frequency. If the conditions of the creation of new kinds of pictures were to depend only on the technologies of visualization and reproduction, i.e. if each new technological advance were to be seen at once in the picture produced by some new device, then technology would be able to give us answers to all the changes that have been vigo­ rously at work within the individual media for almost two centuries now. Long before the “digital determinism” of the technosphere, one of the basic features of artworks, particularly those of the avant-garde period of the early 20th century, was precisely an anticipation of many new techniques of visualization, and adverting to new conditions


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of perception, new ways of looking. For our discussion it is of great importance to recognize in what way paintings make visible what also makes themselves at a given moment specific phenomena in the sphere of the visible. As I shall endeavor to show in this chapter, the kind of existence of the pictorial, and the appearing of the picture itself, depends on noticing the cut between the reality of the picture and the picture as reality. Somewhat paradoxically, we notice the cut most clearly where it is itself the fundamental problem of pictorial representation, not in that it is ever more visible, but in its gradually being lost and vanishing in a whole series of turns: aesthetic, temporal and ontological, or simply, a pictorial turn. Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon is one of the metapictures of the cut heralding the era of moving pictures and a totally new regime of looking (Fig. 7). Some theorists, with regard to Picasso’s radical volte-face in the depiction of the human figure, precisely recognized in his Demoiselles a specific representation of the mechanics of human motion. In his picture Picasso created movement through a kind of concentrated “time of the picture”, earlier considered not capable of being shown, or that ought not to be shown, in the format of a static two-dimensional tableau.96 However, authors like Robert Rosenblum identify the most significant innovation not in the temporality or in some other symptom untypical of a two-dimensional tableau, but in 96 | The theoretical issue that opens up here might be explained as follows: are the narrative “constraints” of static images the consequences of conventions of representation or are the conventions conditioned by the realistic insufficiency of painting (or photography) qua medium of complex narrations? The representation of temporally successive events within a single picture was not a rarity in Renaissance painting, and yet this “iconic simultaneity” did not become an ordi­ nary manner of pictorial narration. Wendy Steiner calls this “internal narrativity” and cites as examples paintings like Benozzo Gozzoli’s Salome’s Dance and the Decapitation of St. John the Baptist of 1462, the Annunciation of Giovanni da Paolo of 1435 and Sassetta’s Encounter of St. Anthony and St. Paul, created in about 1440. The characteristic these paintings have in common is that the “recurring subject”, the main determinant of narrativity in static paintings, appears

Epistemological turns: Image as metaphor of the conditions of looking

7. Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, oil on canvas, 1907, 243,9 x 233,7 cm; MoMA – Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA here in a simultaneous depiction of several temporally distinct units (W. Steiner, “Pictorial Narrativity”, in M.-L. Ryan (ed.), Narrative Across Media. Languages of Storytelling, Lincoln: Nebraska University Press, 2004). Unlike these examples of the temporalization of the image, Picasso treated the female figu­res in the Des­ moiselles in such a way that we can equally convincingly explain that they exist in a non-unique time in a unique place or that they occupy a non-unique space in a unique time. For more about intermedial narratology and the relationship of space and time, see: Krešimir Purgar, Slike u tekstu. Talijanska i američka književnost u perspektivi vizualnih studija, [Images in Text. Italian and American Literature in the Perspective of Visual Studies], Zagreb: HS AICA and Durieux, 2013.



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Picasso’s toying with masses and voids, and the consequential merging of the bodies of the female figures with the surrounding space.97 In other words, these authors see innovativeness in a new solution to a traditional painterly problem, not in the addressing of a new problem of representation with which painting had up to that date not bothered itself at all. Edward Fry also thinks that the treatment of space is by far the most important aspect of this picture, particularly because the problem of space was to lead Picasso to reconfigure the whole system of three-dimensionality, which would no longer be dependent on the convention of the illusionist central perspective.98 On the other hand, one of the most original interpreters of the Demoiselles, Leo Steinberg, claims that in the examples of the theoreticians mentioned we are faced with a formalist criticism that neglects both the substantive aspect of the picture and also its formal features that cannot be quite so simply reduced to the sounding maxim of the “first Cubist painting”.99 Steinberg is of the opinion that the Demoiselles owes its visual strength above all to the juxtaposition of two opposed narrative principles. On the one hand, in the tradition of the Italian Baroque dramatic, the figures seem to have been amazed by the unexpected entry onto the scene of one more figure, which, particularly importantly, stays outside the pictured scene; on the other hand, the figures presented do not share the common space and do not interact with each other, rather, they individually turn to the spectator and depend on their subjective reaction. True, we can still think the theme of the painting is the actual event, the epiphany, the unexpected entry of an unknown person, but only on the condition that we include in the action both the turn of the figures and their addressing of the observer.100 Naturally, neither of these two principles is unknown in the history of painting. For 97 | Robert Rosenblum, Cubism and Twentieth-Century Art, New York: H. Abrams, 1960, p. 25. 98 | Edward Fry, Cubism, New York: McGraw Hill, 1966, pp. 13-14. 99 | Leo Steiner, “The Philosophical Brothel”, October, Vol. 44, Spring 1988, pp. 9-12. 100 | Ibid., p. 13.

Epistemological turns: Image as metaphor of the conditions of looking

8. Domenico Ghirlandaio, Adoration of the Magi, tempera on panel, 1488, 285 x 243 cm; Ospedale degli innocenti Gallery, Florence, Italy instance, The Adoration of the Magi of Domenico Ghirlandaio of 1488 (Fig. 8) shows several temporally disparate events that preceded the adoration that is the main theme of the painting – the flock of sheep and the shepherds above whom an angel floats in the upper right hand corner of the painting symbolize the birth of Jesus while the battle in the lower left part shows Herod’s Slaughter of the Innocents, which stems from and temporally follows the previous event, the Nativity,



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and precedes the main event, the adoration of the magi. When we talk about Baroque dramatic representation of a unique moment in time (we might today call it a snapshot), some of the most renowned examples are, without a doubt, Caravaggio’s Calling of St. Matthew of 1600 and Rubens’ Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus of 1618. However, unlike these historical examples which approach the transgression of space and time of the picture separately, Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon does this at the same time, testing out the discontinuity of time in space and vice versa. In what does he do this, and are we dealing only with Picasso’s radical experimentation with conventions of representation inherited from art history or is it about the problematization of some specific experience of the time and space of the painting, for example, triggered by the techniques of cinematography that had started to spread at this time? In order to answer these questions, we shall first have to deal with the universal theoretical issues of the relation between static and moving pictures, first posed at the dawn of the 20th century. Since these questions will turn out to be crucial to the understanding of paintings in the age of the technosphere as well, we shall soon return to Picasso’s Demoiselles and expand the insights put forward so far with the thesis concerning the convergence of the painting and film mediums at the beginning of the 20th century.

3.1. Moving and still images – an aesthetic turn The invention of cinematographic filming and reproduction of the picture at the beginning of the 20th century, i.e. the creation of the technical preconditions for the art of the film, opened up a new and previously non-existent artistic-theoretical problem: should moving images be considered art at all and what relation do they have to traditional artistic disciplines such as painting, architecture, theatre and music? In principle it might be said that a technical invention, the mechanical and chemical reproduction of a visual record, unexpectedly opened up an aesthetic dispute that in the years to come would disturb the existing relationships between the branches of art and would,

Epistemological turns: Image as metaphor of the conditions of looking

in a kind of neo-Kantian spirit, enable the ultimate separation of the world of art. In the disquisitions of Ricciotto Canudo and Hugo Münsterberg we can already observe the articulation of two ostensibly unconnected problems of the practice and theory of the seventh art. On the one hand they split film off from other representational disciplines, thus acknowledging its immanent and autonomous artistic potential, while on the other hand they are aware that the ability of film to imitate reality par excellence is at the same time the greatest danger that threatens art as an activity irreducible to the imitation of reality.101 Early film theory ranged between predicting the immense possibilities of the development of a new film language and the knowledge of the threat of the instrumentalization of pictures for the simple reproduction of objective reality. One of the ways in which we can compare a specific cinematic manner of artistic transcendence to the specificities of film technique can be found in the attempt to define the special position of filmic language as against another art, primarily in a comparison with painting and theatre; in addition to the authors mentioned already, in 1919 101 | On the problem of truth in film and other arts, Ricciotto Canudo speaks with unconcealed irony: “As in other domains of the spirit, in film, the art consists of imposing feelings and not of expounding facts. Certainly, there is a great temptation to show everything via ‘truthful pictures’. Because of this it is believed that on the screen we see so much ‘truth’, although rarely is a deep and real aesthetic feeling sensed. The word ‘truth’ that in this case should be replaced with the phrase ‘awkward and superficiality’ does not belong to any artistic genre. What painter ever wanted to ‘depict’ in the way that our cinematographic creators do? Perhaps Leonardo through truthful poses of his hermaphrodites? Or the painters of the Nativity with their ideal compositions of persons and ani­mals around the manger? Perhaps Michelangelo with his predetermined magnitudes or Watteau with his depictions of petrified elegance so popular in his time? Few screenists have understood that filmic truth can correspond to lite­rary truth, painterly truth, i.e. an essential truth that it is impossible to define” (R. Canudo, quoted after D. Stojanović, Teorija filma [Film Theory], Nolit, Belgrade, p. 62).



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Walter Ruttmann ascribed to film a key role in the epistemological turn from the painterly production of pictures to a more contemporary model that he called “painting in time” (Malerei mit Zeit).102 For in his understanding of the artwork as event, Ruttmann, at the beginning of the 20th century, had already anticipated the temporal component of the picture, that which was opposed to the tradition of the Renaissance tableau and, through the physical time of moving pictures, it became a worthy rival to the world of life, approximating to the world of art. He says of this: We do not need a new style or anything similar; rather, to convey into artistic form the possibilities of expression different for all the known arts, a totally new feeling of life, ‘painting in time’. An art for the eye, which differs from painting in that it takes place temporally (like music) and in that the centre of gravity of the art is not (as it is in the painting) in reducing (the real or formal process) to a single moment, but precisely in the temporal development of the formal. Since this art takes place in time, one of its most important elements is the temporal rhythm of optical events. This will create a totally new type of artist, who is now somewhere between painting and music... The technique of the execution will be the technique of cinematography. 103

For Ruttmann, then, a picture can be the vehicle of an artistic message, but not as a static, extra-temporal icon of halted being, rather only as an animated painting enriched with the new dimension of cinematic duration in time. In this interpretation, differences in the space-time continuum between painting and film are not just proof of an irreducible “hardware” gap between two media, but of a profound and ontological schism that the art of the 20th century brings with it. In the first half of the 20th century the relation of film and painting was 102 | Walter Ruttmann, “Malerei mit Zeit”, 1919, in Birgit Hein and Wulf Herzogenrath (eds.), Film als Film, 1910 bis Heute, Stuttgart: Gerd Hatje Verlag, 1977, pp. 63-64. Quoted after Branko Vučičević (ed.), Avangardni film [Avantgarde Movie], 1895-1939, Belgrade: Radionica Sic, 1984, pp. 25-27. 103 | Ibid.

Epistemological turns: Image as metaphor of the conditions of looking

still contentious, irrespective of whether those in the debates opted for a totally separate approach to the two media in order to legitimize the technological and representational superiority of cinematography or to take film out of the domain of artistic discourse in the strict sense and, like Walter Benjamin, to emphasize the medial aspect of the artwork. From the examples that we have stated, it can be seen that film and painting do not come from the same time, not only from neither the same chronological nor historical time, but are also not capable of reproducing time in its extensiveness in an identical way. When such a standpoint about art theory was dominant, the idea of Sergei Eisenstein that film was the “contemporary phase of painting”104 had to sound very dissonant, for it not only assumes that film inherited the same problems of representation known from the whole history of Western painting, from Giotto to Picasso, but it also assumes that contemporary painting will accept the challenge of the technical advance of moving pictures, and will attempt to match, for example, the spectacular principle of the film camera or the possibilities of organizing recorded material through montage. The importance of Eisenstein’s theory of montage lies precisely in its going beyond the traditional division into film as a dynamic art of time and painting as a static depiction of the moment, in order to come closer to what Ruttmann calls “painting in time”.

3.2. The principle of montage and the painterly tableau – a temporal turn Although cinematic historiography puts Eisenstein in what is called the Russian montage school, his theoretical and practical contribution along these lines departs from the problem area of montage as primarily the organization of film material into a meaningful narrative or symbolic 104 | This thesis of Eisenstein is taken from Pietro Montani “The Uncrossable Threshold: The Relation of Painting and Cinema in Eisenstein”, in Angela dalle Vacche (ed.), The Visual Turn – Classical Film Theory and Art History, New Brunswick, New Jersey and London: Rutgers University Press, 2003, pp. 206-217.



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sequence, and, leaving behind the precise and propaedeutic instructions of Vladimir Kuleshov and Vsevolod Pudovkin, approaches montage as a cognitive process that requires the intellectual participation of the spectator. Eisenstein, in his division of montage principles, is close to conceptual thinking and abstract models of development, as can be seen at the nominal level. While, for example, Pudovkin’s “relational editing” is divided into five types – contrast, parallelism, symbolism, simultaneity and leitmotif – each type with its very name indicates the characteristic of this procedure and the effect that it produces. Eisenstein calls his types rhythmic, metric, intellectual, tonal, overtonal and vertical, the last of which does not relate to the organization of sequences from selected filmed parts but suggests a thinking process, the objective of which is an ultimate sequence of image, color and sound. Tudor and Eberwein describe overtonal and vertical editing as a general procedure in which the film as a whole is considerably different from the sum of the parts that take part in its formation105 and through the interaction of image, sound and colour to which Eisenstein arrived with the help of a composer Sergei Prokofiev.106 It is interesting that the theoretical model of the move out into the fourth dimension of film led Eisenstein precisely over painting, the medium whose figurative reconstructions of physical space seem inferior to the cinematographic approach, a medium that is not capable of representing this new, and specifically edited, filmic time. It is quite certain that the Russian auteur in the coming era of moving pictures approached issues of representation as a universal problem of the representational arts, irrespective of kind, style or period, and so Antonio Costa is right to observe that the study of film time and the manner 105 | Andrew Tudor, Theories of Film, London: Secker & Warburg and the British Film Institute, 1924, p 42. Many years later, same insights are extended by Robert T. Eberwein (see next note). 106 | Robert T. Eberwein, A Viewer’s Guide to Film Theory and Criticism, Metuchen, New York and London: The Scarecrow Press, 1979; This was particularly the case in Einsenstein’s filming of Aleksandar Nevski in which both image and sound were created with the help of Prokofiev, p. 44.

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in which it is given shape through editing puts the representation of time at the two-dimensional level of traditional painting in an entirely new perspective. Eisenstein approaches the problems of painting as if it were cinematographic, and seeks analogues to film sequences in art history; since his theory of editing is actually a general theory of art, he sees the two areas as interchangeable, and picks out the principle of representation as the central problem of all visual arts.107 Numerous analyses of concrete artworks show that his theoretical model derived from the actual essence of representational practices that he calls putting in-image, and on a broader level they create a dialectical history of art that, almost like intellectual and vertical editing, is much more than just the sum of chronological facts or the reconstruction of a historiographic sequence. Pietro Montani says of this: For Eisenstein, a history of art can be formed as a description of paths of this kind of problematic tradition of representation whose course would therefore be marked by the more or less well-chosen inventions with which the different figurative cultures have gradually articulated and exemplified “in-image” the essential questions of representation. The fact that among these inventions there are several that are immediately technical in character, such as cinema, is largely secondary. For Eisenstein an invention makes sense only when it makes the formulation of good answers to the old problems of representation possible, or when it can make us grasp the existence of a problem where we have not seen one before. 108

We might claim that for the Russian author, an innovative film or artwork is one that manages to picture, or represent-in-picture, material that is in principle not pictorial, i.e. to transfer feelings like fear, love and hatred onto the cinematographic reel, or some immanently temporal sensation, such as continued movement, onto the painted canvas. Eisenstein calls the moment in which this happens 107 | Antonio Costa, Il cinema e le arti visive, Milan: Einaudi, 2002, pp. 252-253. 108 | Montani, op. cit., pp. 206-207.



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“the ecstasy of representation” (ek-stasis, to stand outside of oneself); this is a concept whose meaning is comparable with the much more often used term “artistic transcendence”, that is, the general property of the work of art to be able to step outside of the limited nature of its own representational capabilities, i.e. by a symbolic turn inside itself as an artistic product to “get out of itself” and to show the unshowable. He demonstrates exceptional trust in the ability of painting to transcend its own representative principles, “to get out of itself” and to be transformed into cinematographic movement. In his opinion, the technique of this painterly-filmic turn is enabled precisely by editing, the extempore but by no means hit-or-miss selection of bits of reality that in a concerted synchronous sequence create a specific cinematographic narration. Although film history has revealed to us the primacy of place of editing among the early Russian auteurs, the question that nevertheless occurs to us is this: what kind of role can what is called easel painting, which has for centuries been reduced to just a single frozen frame, have in the editing system of moving images? Particularly given that the greatest Impressionist or post-Impressionist innovators, like Manet and Cézanne, were still not dealing with time, but only with space in their painting. In what way can a sequence of differently framed pictures – which is the basic principle of editing – coexist at all at the same time as filmic and painting time, as continuity of time, and as just one excerpt from it? Eisenstein gives an answer to this question with a minute analy­sis of the form and composition of the Portrait of Maria Yermolova by Valentin Serov of 1905 (Fig. 9), suggesting that the perspective excesses in the painting are a consequence of the variable points of view that are shown on the canvas as being simultaneously present. Eisenstein’s analysis is summed up by Pietro Montani: The constructive principle to which is attributed this effect of meaning is a principle of composition and specifically a phenomenon of montage. Serov, in fact, would have used intuitively, but with extreme skill, a procedure that cinema would eventually sanction: the portrait of Yermolova is in fact constructed as an actual montage of four “takes”, in which not only the

Epistemological turns: Image as metaphor of the conditions of looking

9. Valentin Serov, Portrait of Maria Yermolova, oil on canvas, 1905, 224 x 120 cm; Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia



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size of the image changes, but also – and this is the most important and unexpected point – the angle of the “shot” is changed. Starting from the “whole” of the first “take” (shot “from above”, since we see the floor on which the figure rests) to the “first level” of the last “take” (decidedly shot “from below”).109

Here we are faced with a kind of intellectual editing, since the suggested “camera” movements, i.e. the various angles from which the figure is shown, do not represent a real movement but, rather, activate our empirical knowledge of the effect of perspective and in this manner let it be known that the angle of vision changes. In the portrait of the actress Maria Yermolova, movement is culturally conditioned.110 Conversely, the movement shown in Pablo Picasso’s painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon of 1907 does not pick up from the existing epistemology of art history, but changes it from the ground up, and gives a completely new meaning to film as a “contemporary phase of painting” as well as to painting as an “earlier phase of film”. 109 | Ibid., p. 211. 110 | Cultural conditioning, like perspective and other conventions of painting, shows that models of representation, and the attempts to overcome the temporal dimension, are some of the key problems in the history of painting. “The occupation of several points of view in a perspective definition of a space is not unknown to art criticism and was as method often used in the painting of the Late Renaissance and Mannerism. Speaking in general, this procedure was used so that the subject of the painting was shown in their most emphatic motion. In our case (the Yermolova portrait) the procedure is used to bring dynamics into what is otherwise the very static pose of the subject of the painting; so this principle here functions as pure form, like some secrete structure that permeates the painting. Reading the painting, the viewer activates its temporal dimension and liberates movement, and the four different perspectives that the painting offers also put the viewer into four different observer positions. We discover the details of the painting one after another, with the logic of successiveness that links the time of reading with the time of representation” (Costa, op. cit., p. 258).

Epistemological turns: Image as metaphor of the conditions of looking

3.3. The convergence of painting and film – an ontological turn Where, then, do we find this filmic time in a composition created by the celebrated figures of Picasso’s prostitutes? A well-supported confirmation that this is a painting in motion can be found in Leo Steinberg’s above-mentioned “The Philosophical Brothel”, referring to the research of Alois Riegl about the Dutch group portrait and the definition according to which the absence of psychological links among the figures in the painting is a sign of a specifically Northern stylistic will [Kunstwollen]:111 the figures are detached, they do not communicate with each other, each of them in her own way is related to the spectator and in a different way each pulls him or her into the space and time of the painting.112 Drawing on Riegl’s text, which was written just five years before Picasso created this painting, Steinberg claims that it is precisely the divergent views directed out of the painting that break up its unity, endorsing the anti-narrative principle. For, as we have seen above, the psychological effect of the Demoiselles derives, according to Steinberg, not so much from the Cubist innovations of painterly form, but rather from the juxtaposition of two fundamentally different traditions: on the one hand, Italian Baroque drama with its typically overemphatic reaction of the figures to the entry into the scene of a visible or invisible outside participant, and, on the other hand, the Dutch tradition of the group portrait that Riegl proves isolates the figures into detached entities that have no intercommunication. Indeed, if we look at each one of the demoiselles, we see that they neither look in the same direction nor correspond to a united vision of space that is logically possible to encompass with a gaze from a single place. Steinberg draws our attention from the demoiselles, owing to its distinctly striking communication with the observer, to one more ex111 | This refers to Riegl’s text “Das Holländische Gruppenportrait” of 1931, originally published in 1902 in the Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlun­gen des allerhöchsten Kaiserhauses in Wien, XXIII. 112 | Steinberg, op. cit., p. 13.



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ceptional painting out of art history – Velázquez’s Las Meninas (Fig. 10). He claims that this Spanish Baroque painting had already combined the Mediterranean and the Northern traditions in an origi­nal manner, in that it had totally drawn the spectator into the scene and induced him/her to communicate with each figure separately. In other words, not a single one of the pairs of figures is cut out from communication with the observer. In Velázquez, indeed, the painting, the figures in the background, and little Margaret Theresa and her court retinue still occupy the unique space of the realistically portrayed interior and at least some of them pay no attention to the reality “outside” the painting. But in Picasso, the Cubist abolition of the single angle of vision creates a disunited space in which each of the figures demands an autonomous time of communication with the viewer, i.e. asks for us to pay attention only to it/her. The absence of psychological profiling in their mutual relations inside the picture itself, and the fact that the demoiselles return the gaze, underlie our next argument. In the Portrait of Maria Yermolova of 1905, Eisenstein also recogni­ zes “framing”, but, it seems, the kind that is close to the traditions of the classical Renaissance and the Baroque. On the other hand, the principle according to which the surfaces within the painting are treated poly-perspectively, in a unique temporal section, in Picasso is developed in two directions: synchronically and in just one separate moment, that is, conceptually similarly to the Serov painting; and also diachronically, in full film time, cutting in the editing from several angles, so as to define the space with the movement of the “camera”. With this paradox the space-time simultaneities of the Demoiselles d’Avignon at the very beginning of the 20th century were the first to anticipate, and in painterly terms came the very closest to, the possibilities of film language and therefore their importance rises above intersemiotic comparisons, however much in this case they might be interesting in themselves. We have seen that even the very rudimentary division of film as the medium of motion and painting as the medium of the halted moment can be called into question by a simple switch of the regime of looking: if we look at film as the painting of the new time, as Eisenstein suggests, we shall necessarily

Epistemological turns: Image as metaphor of the conditions of looking

10. Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas, oil on canvas, 1656, 318 x 276 cm; Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain have to take on some constructive elements proper to it alone, such as editing, framing, rhythm and so on, and attempt to incorporate them into looking at the painting. Picasso’s work is considerably in advance of his time in that it does not rely on theoretical reflections about the nature of the film medium and its possible influence on painting practice. Rather, he intuitively recognizes the “weak points of painting” – its restriction to the classical tableau, geometrical



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perspective and the like – and actually the style of analytical Cubism, just like Eisenstein in the domain of cinematic editing and general art theory, turns into an invention that enables “us to formulate answers to the questions of representation and to note problems where earlier we had not even noticed them”. One of them is the simultaneity in the unfolding of different movements of the same figure or the multiplication of individual synchronic moments that are shown either by the picture as a whole or the individual parts of it. But does this figure too have his own precursor, i.e. was the new Cubist diachronic time of the painting, shown through the one single figure in different intervals of time, really shown for the first time precisely in the Demoiselles d’Avignon? Steinberg claims that the much better known work of Picasso was conceptually immediately preceded by a painting done a year earlier, in 1906, showing two female figures that we see from a slightly diagonal axis turned towards each other. He thinks that the figures in Two Nudes (Fig. 11) can be interpreted as a single person shown in immediately successive temporal intervals and, more importantly, from a different “camera angle”. They are employed in the action of drawing a curtain. In cinematographic vocabulary, the scene is so consistently directed that in this picture there is a direct continuity between the foreground and the background; the figure with its back turned raises the left arm, and in the next “frame” is shown from the opposite angle, moving the curtain with her left hand. Although Steinberg says that such an interpretation is a little strained, for in the picture we do not see the frames of the film reel, he nevertheless suggests that the Two Nudes is a direct precursor of the film editing principle of shot and countershot, which Picasso employs very convincingly in the Demoiselles. 113 In agreement with this proposition is the Croatian art historian Vera Horvat Pintarić, who says that Picasso’s “abolition of the passage/transition”, as she defines it, is a way in which the static painting on canvas transgresses the necessity of its own unique moment in time and reacts to the diachronic time of the cinematographic 113 | Ibid, p. 52.

Epistemological turns: Image as metaphor of the conditions of looking

11. Pablo Picasso, Two Nudes, oil on canvas, 1906, 151 x 93 cm; MoMA – Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA



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image.114 Cubism addressed this problem with the depiction of a sequence of movements as a series of “frames”, during which, in the given case, changes in the “camera angle” enable the female figure to be seen from behind, as well as show part of the face frontally and the nose in half-profile. In a film, for such a physical description of the character, we might make use of editing cuts and successive changes of close-ups and mid shots; the Cubist space and time of the picture brings in framing in layers that are all visible at the same time. In his other works Picasso mainly uses the technique of the juxtaposition of “takes” from different perspectives analytically, that is, he has broken down the parts of the body so as to add his own time to each of them. In the Demoiselles he has gone a step further and presented diachronic time inside the picture, synthesizing movement in a much more lavish editing sequence. We see five female figures presented through four camera angles and three mises-en-scène: is it possible that this is the self-same figure “edited” into a film story? For if we accept the interpretation of Horvat Pintarić that in the painting we are dealing with the “same type of woman who is shown in [the act of ] transformation” and that the artist leads us in a direction we are not used to so as “to induce us to see in a single picture in an abbreviated interval that what we know happens in a temporal sequence”,115 then the Demoiselles, because it was painted only two years after the Portrait of Maria Yermolova, could be held with much more justice to be the key evidence for Eisenstein’s thesis of the convergence of the painterly and the filmic medium.

3.4. Space and time of the technosphere – a pictorial turn The issue of the similarity or perhaps the separateness of the pictorial as against the linguistic or textual experience (just like the much later relationship of painting, photography and film), as we saw in the previous chapter, was not raised for the first time only in the avant-garde 114 | Vera Horvat Pintarić, Svjedok u slici [A Witness in the Picture], Zagreb: Matica hrvatska, 2001, p. 130. 115 | Ibid., pp. 160-161.

Epistemological turns: Image as metaphor of the conditions of looking

era. Philostratus’ texts, in which he gives ekphrastic descriptions of myths on the basis of their pictorial models, Leonardo’s phrase “ut pictura poesis” and Lessing’s delimitations of text as art of time and painting as art of space show us that the problem of finding a universal communications code (or of the resolute rejection of one) existed as an essential theoretical problem even when the ontological differences between picture and language were much more perceptible than they are today. For example, Giotto’s cycle of frescoes about the life of St. Francis in the Basilica di San Francesco in Assisi is based on a New Testament textual prototype, but was entirely created with exclusively visual means. Giotto’s “visual text” speaks explicitly with pictures for those who do not know the Scriptural narrative, and implicitly with the text for those who are capable of translating verbal to visual. Motif sequences, the deployment of the figures, and their gesticulations and communication with each other produce in a semantic sense an effect that is set a priori and thus legitimizes the artist’s work. That is, the narrative basis of the frescoes existed before the actual story was incarnated in pictures. The artist’s genius consists of his integrating the textual and the pictorial into an indivisible whole that sets up the new value of the pictorial-textual hybrid. Although it does not refer to Giotto but to the Romantic poet and painter William Blake, I think that, together with W.J.T. Mitchell, we can call this principle of the inseparability of the media and ontological basis of the visual and verbal imagetext. How did Mitchell turn our attention to the essence of the so-called “composite” artworks and to the essential relation between texts and images? In his Picture Theory Mitchell proposes this: I will employ the typographic convention of the slash to designate “image/ text” as a problematic gap, cleavage, or rupture in representation. The term “imagetext” designates composite, synthetic works (or concepts) that combine image and text. “Image-text”, with a hyphen, designates relations of the visual and the verbal. 116 116 | W.J.T. Mitchell, Picture Theory, op. cit., p. 89 (note 9). For Mitchell’s views of the relations between text and image see the chapters “Beyond Com-



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If we follow Mitchell’s proposal, the triadic relationship of image and text, and the multitude of intermediate levels that can be achieved in this relationship, a completely new view of the celebrated preRenaissance “pictorial turn” of Giotto can open up before our eyes. The concept of imagetext will induce us to go much further than the classical art history (stylistic) thesis, according to which Giotto’s figures, for the first time since antiquity, really did look like pictured reality, as if they really could independently represent visually complex spaces and narratively layered characters, without the use of mytholo­ gical tales of exegetic and theological texts.117 Insofar as our discussion parison: Picture, Text and Method” and “Visible Language: Blake’s Art of Writing” in the same volume. 117 | In order to get away from the dominantly textual analysis of the artwork, German art historian Max Imdahl says that “the formal qualities of a painting cannot be separated from its substantive. In other words, syntax and semantics condition each other” (Max Imdahl, “Iconics. Image and Observation” [1995], quoted after Sonja Briski Uzelac (ed.), Slika i riječ. [Image and Word] Gadamer, Boehm, Bätschmann, Imdahl; Institute of Art History, 1997, pp. 199-200). Imdahl thinks that art images, particularly those created on the basis of a Biblical prototype, should always first be analyzed by taking into account their textual component, most concisely formulated by Erwin Panofsky in the division into the pre-iconographic, iconographic and the iconological level of the image. But, Imdahl says, there is also the iconic sense of the image. Its content being observed as consideration of the scopic aspect of the image and as consideration of the pictorially possible. This iconic manner of observing, which concentrates on the actual visibility of the image, can be called the iconic (iconic from eikon, as logic is from logos or ethics is from ethos) (p. 204). According to Imdahl, one of the specifically iconic attributes of an image is the compression and simultaneity of all events in the image. Language does not possess this simultaneity, for it can always interpret even the most temporally condensed situations as successiveness. Thus “language as narration (the Scriptures, for example) is set for the picture in advance, on the other hand the image is a task for linguistic – inescapably linguistic – explication. However what the painting is in itself cannot be sub-

Epistemological turns: Image as metaphor of the conditions of looking

is concerned, the “stylistic thesis” has to direct us toward an “ontolo­ gical thesis”, i.e. toward the meaning of pictures outside the area of art and visual communications. In order to be able to consider this concrete problem, then, from a more general point of view of the relation between (art) image and (art) text – as the imagetext, image-text and image/text relation, as suggested by Mitchell – it has to be seen that the juxtaposition of the visual and the verbal in some artifact can take us much further away not only from the iconological method of Erwin Panofsky on which traditional art history is based but even further from the discussion about art in general.118 The direction in which art historical interpretation can go when it is not based on some previously existing text but rather when it is literally inscribed in the painting was shown in the early 1980s by Svetlana Alpers in connection with Dutch Baroque painting. She does not, in fact, interpret the examples she adduces, in which Pieter Saenredam and Gabriel Metsu incorporate parts of texts inside the space of the pictorial narrative, as historical precursors of modernist experiments with the painting medium (as were, for example, Magritte’s This Is Not a Pipe or Klee’s Einst dem Grau der Nacht), but rather as an “admonition” to those who still believe that the deconstruction of the picture is a product exclusively of our time.119 stituted for by any language. [...] The vividly present scenic simultaneity cannot be established with linguistic means” (p. 208). Imdahl states that Giotto was able to express in a specifically iconic manner, with expressions of faces and condensations of scenes, ignoring the iconographic and narrative original – everything that only a visual depiction can give. 118 | Gottfried Boehm asks the question “can it be just taken for granted that in the language of interpretation proper substitutes for pictoriality can be found?” and supplies the answer that it is indeed possible if we establish in what way and to what extent images participate in language and vice versa “in some common plane of pictoriality” (Gottfried Boehm, “The hermeneutics of the image”, in Sonja Briski Uzelac (ed.), Slika i riječ, op. cit., p. 67). 119 | Svetlana Alpers, The Art of Describing. Dutch Art in the Seventeenth Century; The University of Chicago Press, 1983. For the relationship between



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We should certainly add to this claim that the deconstruction of the image really is not a product of our time, but the theoretical awareness of it is a fruit of a specific visual and medial construction of reality that is characteristic precisely of our age. In this case, we would no longer interpret Saenredam’s inscriptions only as a specific kind of realism of northern painting – as Alpers suggests, after all – but, more importantly, as a historical legitimation of some other kinds of pictorial reality that are still to come, the nature of which we cannot know. However, still more instructive for this theme are the insights of Gottfried Boehm from his text “Zu einer Hermeneutik des Bildes” published in Germany in 1978. From today’s viewpoint this article looks like a theoretical preparation for his much better known work published in 1994, Die Wiederkehr der Bilder, in which for the first time Boehm puts forward his well-known phrase of the “iconic turn”.120 How did criticism of art historical hermeneutics lead Boehm to the iconic turn and why is the ontological difference of text and image still crucial for the understanding of such an “iconophile” theory as the modalities of pictorial appearing that I propose in this book? He claims that hermeneutic criticism, which is based on the interpretation of the narrative content of the picture, “conceals the matrix of pictoriality” and that “there is almost no methodological model that has managed to shake off this false interpretation”. However, the task of hermeneutics, he thinks, should be “to make visible that which without the image, independent of it, would not be visible”.121 picture and text see particularly the chapter “Looking at Words. The Representation of Texts in Dutch Art”, pp. 169-221. 120 | The text “On the hermeneutics of the image” was originally published as “Zu einer Hermeneutik des Bildes” in Hans-Georg Gadamer and Gottfried Boehm (eds.), Seminar: Die Hermeneutik und die Wissenschaften, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1978. 121 | Boehm, “On the hermeneutics of the image”, pp. 78-79. As we saw a little earlier, “that without which the picture would not be visible” Max Imdahl calls die Ikonik – the iconic as such, the pictorial without the textual, the visual without the iconographic.

Epistemological turns: Image as metaphor of the conditions of looking

In the first text we can discern Boehm’s distancing of himself from both Rorty’s phrase the “linguistic turn” and from that part of the post-structuralist heritage that was inspired by the philosophy of language and by language as philosophy and, most importantly for us, from the art historical hermeneutics based on the extraction of textual contents from artistic works. He then claimed that the “context of the translation of image and language is the basic hermeneutic problem”, because it was assumed that the “content” of the image is linguistically explained and “extracted” from the image with the help of a verbal language. As long as logocentric premises were privileged in the interpretation of visual artifacts, it was impossible to get into the essence of the image, inaccessible to language and accessible only to its own particular logic.122 On the way to the finding of the specifically “iconic”, this insight of Boehm’s is particularly significant: “If there is something that in principle holds true for the image then it is the intolerability of separating abstract signs from the sense that is transcendent to them. Pictoriality appears before the metaphysical differentiation of sign and signified, internal and external, sensible and conceptual, form and content”.123 If then the image always precedes interpretation and if text and image are not just different modalities of the appearing of some content but different kinds of appearing, then every interpretation is in fact an act of converting incomparable and in principle incommensurable ontological entities. What is expressed in an image, in this thesis, cannot be expressed without a residue of meaning and value by language. Boehm explains this in a Saussurian manner of language, enabling us to separate the identity of some thing from the being of that same thing. With its predicativeness, language is capable of combining general, special and essential parts of some thing while the diversity, identity or meaning of the individual thing has been preserved. For example, the word tree is always connected to the concept of tree, irrespective of any concrete tree meant. Conversely, in the image of 122 | Op. cit., pp. 66-67. 123 | Ibid., p. 69.



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some tree, it is always about only this depicted tree and not any other. The image, then, “is inseparable from the conditions of its appearing” and so the “inseparability of being and appearing”124 is one of the foundations not only of Boehm’s early ontology of the picture but, as we shall see later, the foundation for the differentiation of the most recent pictorial entities that have, thanks to digital codes, entered the area of post-representation and accordingly have faced the ontology of visual representations with entirely new dilemmas. The indivisibility of essence and appearing is particularly significant for our discussion for, in such an understanding of the image, the problem of value is put aside, opening up the possibility for us to pick out two fundamental kinds of pictorial appearing: one that is inseparable from the content of the image and is equally characteristic of essentialist and subjectivist approaches, and the other that is appearing as image, i.e. the image as a kind of phenomenal appearance, for which we shall endeavor here to offer support. If we recall the Mitchell grapheme of the “family of images” from his Iconology mentioned earlier, we not only see that his division of graphic, optical, perceptual, mental and verbal images rejects the semiotic-linguistic models of interpretation but also that in him, as in Boehm, pictures are above all shown in their mediality for only after having being embedded in some media form are they capable of “meaning” or “representing” anything whatsoever. The fact that Mitchell did not later on get into an elaboration of the concept of the general ontology of the image based on these mentioned modalities of appearing perhaps tells us that each kind of appearing is an independent pictorial-ontological entity. Boehm’s claim that it “is senseless to talk about the essence of the image at all”, that is, “independently of its actual appearance in some work”125 also tends to confirm this thesis. In 1994, independently of each other, in different languages and on different continents, Mitchell and Boehm announced their turn to the image. Although we might expect that the pictorial turn and 124 | Ibid., p. 70. 125 | Ibid., p. 72.

Epistemological turns: Image as metaphor of the conditions of looking

the ikonische Wendung would be derived from what both of them had been urging in the years before the turn, that is, the particularity of the pictorial appearing or perhaps from some clearer reference to Debord’s society of the spectacle, or even from the wider deconstruction of Western metaphysics, they derived it in fact from the pictorial turn within the philosophy of language. With the help of the early theses of Wittgenstein, they concluded, among other things, that images had always dwelled in language and that the pictorial turn presented in fact a sanctioning of the iconicity of linguistic-textual communication, and not an essential change in the pictoriality of the world. From this it follows that the pictorial turn could not have happened in the sphere of images, but primarily where images are considered an alien element: in the sphere of language. Irrespective of Mitchell’s statement that the pictorial turn was a reversible phenomenon that occurred every time some pictorial phenomenon, device or technology innovates on the existing visual paradigm of society, it is interesting that both of them interpret this “contemporary” pictorial turn of ours as a change from the paradigm of language to the paradigm of image; much earlier than they defined them in their seminal texts of 1994, in Boehm the about-turn was visible as early as his critique of Panofsky in his 1978 text, and in Mitchell it was in his criticism of the semiotic theory of the sign of 1986. The iconic and the pictorial turns that then followed were based, accordingly, on their earlier insights concerning the unsustainable and out of place linguistic theories about the nature of pictorial experience. From this it follows that in neither one nor the other author was the turn towards the modalities of pictorial appearing looked at primarily as the consequence of a change in the social, technological or artistic conditions of the production and distribution of images, but as a kind of advocacy for a scientific method capable of extracting from images what was iconic and not textual, and accordingly capable of anticipating and theoretically describing the changes that were to happen (only) in the near future in the technological structure of images. These changes, as we know, took place ten years after the pictorial turn: today we call them the digital age, the technosphere.



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In his book The Posthuman Condition, the Croatian philosopher Žarko Paić puts forward the idea that the entry of art (and of course of painting in general) into the technosphere was not a one-off event but a process that we have been witness to throughout the whole of the 20th century. This process was marked by the transition from the iconological sphere as the content of art into the technosphere as the form of art. The body of the human – the technologically advanced cyborg – in such circumstances itself became the form, for it increasingly often got into the space of virtual reality in which its human presence was also of necessity virtual. The “post-human” for Paić is the “not-human”, but not necessarily the monstrous that scares and disturbs people, but a new condition in which humans have replaced the vacated space of the content of art (and the image, we would add) with the presence of their own body as form: “The non-human as the monstrous does not refer to the presentation of monstrosity and the awful as something alien to people... The non-human is that which is constructed with the aid of technical and scientific experiments in the creation of artificial life and artificial intelligence...”.126 Here, then, it is not about technology being an apocalyptic threat to mankind, but it “just” indicates the end of metaphysics and the humanist tradition of enlightenment. The non-human therefore is not some degraded version of the human, but a new paradigm for the production of images, media and reality in general. Paić sees the reasons why the discussion about the non-human character of the technosphere today cannot have an only negative tone in contemporary philosophical debates – including those of Heidegger, McLuhan, Baudrillard, the techno-futurists, the techno-determinists, and the whole horizon of traditional anthropology and humanism – as it is no longer possible to understand the technical only as the instrument of changes; it has to be grasped as the autonomous medium of changes. As a result, contemporary art too will adopt the media image of the world into its own visual language.127 126 | Žarko Paić, Posthumano stanje [The Post-Human Condition], Zagreb: Litteris, 2011, pp. 65-68. 127 | Op. cit., p. 73.

Epistemological turns: Image as metaphor of the conditions of looking

The technosphere presents an understanding of the being from the perspective of the symbiosis of the human and the “non-human”, i.e. of man and technology as an epochal change that leads to the new period of post-humanism. It is of utmost importance for the understanding of contemporary art and the new paradigms of communication that general image science should be capable of determining the ontological border between the analogue and the digital image: here it is not just about the ability to distinguish, for example, an original Rembrandt from a digital reproduction on a screen (although not even this kind of differentiation today can be taken for granted), rather, above all, that the digital sphere is a totally new form of reality within which concepts such as originality, copy, reproduction or representation no longer possess their own original meanings. These concepts need reconstituting today from a virtual position created in computer code. Paić explains this very vividly by saying that it is a mistake to interpret cyberspace as a place or space in which some previous or “real presence” is simply switched into a new visual sphere of “apparent reality”.128 In the simulated space of cyberspace, the feeling of physical reality is lost not because reality and virtuality become one and the same, but because the border between one and the other is increasingly imperceptible. In virtual reality and in images generated with the use of digital code, one older reality is not simply being reproduced with the aid of new media technology – just as the two dimensional photograph once replaced the two dimensional fresco painting or in the same way the moving image replaced the static – but rather it is to do with incomparable ontological levels, which the theory of the image has to take into account. If “other worlds derived from the technosphere lead to the ground slipping from beneath the feet of classical metaphysics of reality and illusion”129 then not even the Platonic concept of image as simulacrum can credibly reflect the difference between presentation and represen128 | Žarko Paić, Treća zemlja. Tehnosfera i umjetnost [The Third Country. Technosphere and Art], Zagreb: Litteris, 2015, p. 11. 129 | Op. cit., p. 13.



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tation. An image as simulacrum – the one that imitates some reality, creates a mental illusion of it or technically reproduces it – can exist only if we are capable of defining the originating reality to which this pictorial simulacrum refers. When the difference between reality and appearance or illusion vanishes, the simulated reality can no longer be considered to be simulated, because now this is its only cognizable dimension within which every form of visual appearing is equivalent to another (that is, a digital “original” is identical to a digital “copy”). The same thing applies to pictures: the difference between the cave paintings of Lascaux and Raphael’s Sistine Madonna is smaller than, for example, the difference between two neo-noir works of Frank Miller – his comic strip Sin City of 1991 and the Miller cinematographic adaptation of the same name of 2014 (Fig. 12). This is not only because the comic strip presupposes the classic handmade drawing and a static image while the film is created by the optical refraction of beams of light and the (subsequent chemical and mechanical or digital) creation of the illusion of movement, but also, and primarily, because the comic strip is a series of analogue images while the film is a digitally generated file, the filmic dimension of which is just one form of its pictorial appearing. Lascaux and Raphael are divided only by a span of time, while the two Miller works fundamentally define differences in pictorial appearing. For this reason, not a single humanist discipline based primarily on diachronic analysis can explain the essential changes that are happening in the age of the digital turn, and so it seems that the historical “revisionism” of the new sciences of the image is much more the consequence of an awareness of radical changes in communication technologies than of a deliberate attempt to call into question the methods and objects of older disciplines such as semiotics and art history. Still, how is it possible to proclaim a totally ahistorical link, unsustainable in terms of art and style, between the first pictorial traces of human culture with the peaks of the classical tradition of the cinquecento that is stronger than that between two contemporary works, visually and formally very similar to each other, by the same visual artist? In our case it is possible because digital technology, unlike the classic comic strip, makes possible the experience of a

Epistemological turns: Image as metaphor of the conditions of looking

12. Frank Miller, Sin City, fragment from a comic book (above), 1991 and cinematographic adaptation by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller (below), 2005 totally different kind of reality, without getting into metaphysical debates that have marked the whole of the European traditions of philosophy and art. A comparison of a comic strip and a film by the same author, Frank Miller, indicates not only the specific features of the medial ground of static and moving images (which film and painting theories were dealing with at the beginning of the 20th century) but even more so with regard to what we met earlier with



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Dieter Mersch: the ontological gap between analogue and digital media. This is particularly visible in this case, when the same visual narrative is presented in incomparable realities of the image – the analogue and the digital. The leading figure, the cop John Hartigan, is always connected in his analogue incarnation to the modality of the picture as iconic difference. On the other hand, the digital John (Bruce Willis) can appear through the iconic difference as a flat surface, if we watch him on an ordinary LCD TV; then as a 3D visualization in a technologically advanced cinema; and finally as virtual reality, if we use appropriate VR equipment. The digital John Hartigan, unlike the analogue, can appear at several levels of visual experience, in a wide range from image to appearing, i.e. from the experience of language to the experience of immersion. In other words, “the technosphere additionally enables the transformation of the world from the experience of language to the experience of the telepresent image. The result of this change is a change of the status of experience. The technical conditions of experience are more important than direct communication”.130 Following up Vilém Flusser’s points, Paić claims that the technosphere represents “a resolution of the metaphysical dispute between reality and illusion” because technical communication has always been “the only purpose of human existence beyond the need for the preservation of mere life”.131 Accordingly, all the historical changes in style in art and the culture of images were primarily dependent on the technical capacities of creation, reproduction and – particularly today – imagination. But it is no longer that kind of human imagination that produces illusion with the activities of the human mind (through the imagining or creating of mental images), rather, it is that which is produced in the virtual image that erases the borders between reality and illusion or appearing, like the experience that is provided by Oculus Rift headsets. These technoimages were created with technoimagination, and although we still look at them in the same way as traditional 130 | Ibid., pp. 35-36. 131 | Ibid., p. 37.

Epistemological turns: Image as metaphor of the conditions of looking

material pictures (the awareness of perception changes much more slowly than the perception itself), they are nevertheless “qua images” shown to us in a different way in their new non-material appearing and in their new beauty, which shows up beyond metaphysical thinking. Paić says of this: What in Greek philosophy since Plato was called the reflection of reality (eikon) is now the unity of the look of the appearing of a thing (eidos) and the illusion of appearing itself (eidolon). In the digital setting of computer created reality appearance as the phenomenon of some being with its properties of object, thing, becomes at the same time the illusion of what appearing enables for the non-materiality of appearing is precisely that illusion [Schein]. And so we can no longer talk about beauty as transcendence of the being. The beautiful no longer appears in the sensible figure of the appearance, and the essence of beauty is not beyond appearing and appearance. An aesthetic generation of the world in the digital age overcomes these barriers. Beauty is embodied in the disembodying of appearing itself. And so appearance is always illusory. In the appearance the speciousness of reality leads to the vanishing of the difference between appearance and illusion, truth and illusion. The technosphere enables the aesthetic in the age of digital communication the productive power of designing the world. 132

If, after this insight of Paić’s, we agree with the earlier adduced thesis of Boehm, that “pictoriality appears before the metaphysical distinction of sign and signified”, then it necessarily derives that the technical conditions of visual representations have to occur before the discourse of the value and beauty of art is at all possible. New conditions of pictorial appearing in the technosphere – virtual reality, global visibility, iconic simultaneity, live-streaming and so on – in this way become the basic preconditions for any kind of debate about images and their aesthetic and communicational attributes. The technosphere is the new space and time of the image in which the 132 | Ibid., pp. 42-43.



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digital construction of reality does not have the objective of creating a new utopia or a new model for representing the world, rather it is itself now this new world. Accordingly, reality in the technosphere cannot refer to an image outside the technosphere, and the inverse holds true as well: an image created outside the technosphere cannot picture the reality in the technosphere. After it has become clear to us that the pictorial turn occasionally but persistently destabilizes the difference between words and images, we have to adjust to the space and time of the technosphere: in it we shall no longer deal with the dominion of the linguistic over the visual or vice versa, but instead with the possibility of a fundamental differentiation of analogue image and digital image – reality and illusion. This, in truth, will not be possible if we do not very clearly set up not only the perceptual borders between the traditional concept of the image as flat surface on one hand and the concept of the image as event and immersive experience on the other, but also a border of theoretical discourse. I shall occupy myself with the latter by expounding the model of “the transhistorical image” of Paul Crowther in detail, for I think that this author, in his book of the same name of 2002, gave one of the most complete categorizations of the two-dimensionally represented image that art history and semiotics have traditionally engaged with. After this it will be easier to understand the fundamentally different, post-representational model of pictorial appearing in the technosphere.

4. The modalities of pictorial appearing: Fundamental concepts

4.1. Transhistorical images, or the limits of representation In the central and longest part of his book The Transhistorical Image, Paul Crowther endeavors to construct a system with the help of which it would be possible to describe all those pictures that were created during the course of history, which we call artistic today, and which we are inclined to give privileged status, not only within the social value system but also by the way in which we observe and analyze them individually. Crowther’s analysis would not be anything like so stimulating if it had not started off from a kind of paradox. This author does not derive his very meticulously constructed system of pictorial representation primarily from Riegl’s Kunstwollen, from Wölfflin’s proto-semiotic “fundamental concepts” or even from the later Panofsky interpretation of Kunstwollen as a kind of metaphysical intervention into art history, but from what preceded them, which is actually essentially different: from Kant’s concept of the “productive imagination”.133 This insight is interesting to us in many ways, for it shows that the traditional idea of the image as representation does not have to be related only to the Aristotelian tradition of nature as model, to the imitation and interpretation of the visible world, but is just as much under the influence of all those impulses that are not directly given to the view by looking but rather are known by creatively imagining. 133 | Paul Crowther, The Transhistorical Image, Cambridge: Cambridge Univer­ sity Press, 2002, pp. 69-73.


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Kunstwollen – or “artistic will” – in Alois Riegl can be interpreted in two ways: either as a programmatic category of the discipline of art history that at the end of the 19th century took the first steps to establish on metaphysical foundations its own philosophical-cum-value judgment system, or as a creatively imaginative power of the individual, which actually knew its maximum endorsement in Kant. What we are concerned with here, then, is again a kind of conflict between the essentialist and the subjectivist views of art in which, according to Crowther, Kant’s concept of the productive imagination has the priority simply because, unlike art history, it is not motivated either disciplinarily or by interest. As is very well known, Kant’s thesis of “a disinterested pleasure” refers to the perception of art as pure sensibility independent of reason;134 however, the contemporary expansion of the concept of “disinterestedness” could take us further, in the direction of a kind of “theory without a purpose”, independent of any essentialist-subjectivist aporias (discussed at the very beginning). I think that Paul Crowther with his proposal suggests the possibility of just such a new Kunstwissenschaft. He thinks that the basic problem with the implementation of the Kantian principle of imagination by the earlier art historians is that all of them – although they themselves aspired to the discovery of something that was found in common in all works of art – interpreted the (art) picture as the product of a specific artistic will that appears in the circumstances of the universal visual culture of the given time. Thus artistic will as a historical-theoretical principle, in whatever way we interpret it, is always only the belated reaction of theory to what has already occurred, not a universally applicable principle independent of the concrete work.135 In other words, artistic will in this case does not refer to the creative transformation of existing canons, but instead derives from them. Crowther’s critique addressed to the essentialist model of art history proposed by its creators still can134 | Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgement [Kritik der Urteils­k raft, 1790], Trans. by James Creed Meredith, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007 (1952). 135 | Ibid., p. 71.

The modalities of pictorial appearing: Fundamental concepts

not be considered that kind of historical revisionism of which visual studies, for example, have often been (and still are being) accused.136 In Crowther, above all we have an attempt at the structural development of the Wölfflin and Panovsky methodologies of art history with the aid of more precise interdisciplinary insights, paying attention to changes that happened in the understanding of art in the contemporary civilization of the image.137 136 | The study of images with the presumption that all visual phenomena are to be treated as simultaneously present, and trying to come to terms with our contemporary visual culture “as it takes place” (Marquard Smith) in an everchanging global context, has attached to visual studies not just the proverbial accusation of its neglect of the historical context in which art was produced (as presented in the “Questionnaire on visual culture” in the magazine Octo­ ber, No. 77, 1996); recently, the list has been updated with an accusation of “ontogenetic fallacy” – an even more dangerous neglect that visual studies has supposedly been promoting: neglect of the artwork as such. Nicholas Davey’s concept of the “ontogeny of the visual” should, in his opinion, be fundamentally accounted for in the “turn to the ontological which causes problems for the methodological inclusivity of visual studies” (N. Davey, “Hermeneutical Aesthetics and an Ontogeny of the Visual”, in Ian Heywood and Barry Sandywell (eds.), A Handbook of Visual Culture, London: Berg, 2013, p. 132). While acknowledging visual studies for its “clear strength” in the demystification of artwork, looking for dialogical interactions with it and striving towards “a wider consensus of judgmental norms”, Davey claims that visual studies “has neglected a fundamental distinction between the ontogenetic characteristics of the designed object and the artwork”, which is a failure that “not only threatens the variety of study within visual culture but also disrupts the possibility of radical critique within aesthe­tic experience” (p. 132). For more on this, see Krešimir Purgar, “Coming to Terms with Images. Visual Studies and Beyond”, in Ž. Paić and K. Purgar, Theorizing Images, op. cit., pp. 63-65. 137 | In his division of pictorial categories, in crucial places Crowther directly invokes the great structuralists of art history, primarily Wölfflin and Panofsky. What Crowther takes from them relates above all to their common wish for the understanding of the structural effects of pictures, much less to method



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The ensuing problem with the concept of artistic will is that it attempts to explain works of art with the use of the same parameters that enabled (or helped) the work itself to be created. Artistic will is “embedded” in early art history as a metaphysical given of the artwork – as a kind of a priori – and the actual work is presented as a historical-stylistic concretization of a universal metaphysical fact in a given time and space. And then, Crowther’s criticism is addressed to an excessively narrow interpretation of Kant’s “productive imagination”; that is, in conditions of the origin of the artwork that assume the Kunstwollen, the productive imagination is limited to the and lapidariness. The Irish theoretician creates a much more extensive picto­ rial typology that goes far beyond the tasks that early art history set itself, since Crowther ascribes equal importance to iconographic, formal, semiotic, historical and even psychological aspects of pictorial representations. A special feature of his approach is that, in the concept of structure, it covers both formal and compositional and semantic and syntactic categories. Thereby he puts forward the clear stance that he does not consider the semantic aspects of paintings more important than their ontological status. What paintings use to communicate their meanings derives not from their structure but from, as he says, their instrumental properties, among which he counts deno­ ta­­tion, connotation, metonymy and metaphor – concepts from Barthesian semiotics. On the other hand, Crowther’s category of the historical links the iconographic and the iconological of Panofsky, but he calls them synchrony and diachrony and accordingly uses Panofsky’s categories of meaning to explain how the artwork is positioned in a historical context. From such a complex structure comes Crowther’s clear divergence from traditional art history (as well as his connection with it), for his aims are clearly much closer to the method of the general image science. In order to make his typology a universal tool for pictorial analysis, Crowther attempts to describe everything that is potentially visible in pictures, which individual disciplines – because of their methodological restrictions – are not able to register. Finally, he attempts to structure the different phenomena of visibility to make them closer to the immanent possibility of pictures themselves to produce various categories of visual knowledge (Crowther, op. cit., pp. 78-112).

The modalities of pictorial appearing: Fundamental concepts

conditions of the production of a work that derive from already existing models of pictorial representation.138 Crowther thinks that it is equally necessary to understand the mechanism of the genesis of the painting outside the essentialist framework of European metaphysics, as well as outside the discourses of style and form characteristic of art history. For Crowther, it is actually the picture, the image, that is the area of the productive imagination that surmounts the purposefulness and utilitarian nature of the images as mere means of communication. What characterizes them is not just their ability to convince us of something, show us something or teach us something, but primarily in their enabling an intuitive understanding and opening up of still non-existent forms of sensory experience: “[t]he productive imagination is not some timeless ‘essence’ but an active functional constant, a formative power that can be realized in an infinite number of different ways in the myriad number of different historical, cultural and personal circumstances”.139 His division consists of four fundamental categories: structural, instrumental, historical and psychological. The first and most important is the structural, because it enables us to understand the basic transhistorical and transcultural function of the image. And then, this category describes which levels of information an image can possess to produce some sensory experience in us. It is interesting that Crowther uses “structural” to refer not only to those aspects of the image that make it a distinctive pictorial entity in the sphere of the visible (what is called the “iconic difference” in Gottfried Boehm), but also those related to its content (semantic and syntactical) as well as to the purely formal and compositional. For him, then, the fundamental constitutive element of the image – its structure – is all that we are capable of seeing as a configuration of colors, forms, the distribution of individual parts, the relation between top and bottom, right and left, and, a bit unexpectedly, everything that we are capable of recognizing as the narrative content of the image. This latter he explains by – and which will turn out to be crucial for 138 | Ibid. 139 | Ibid., p. 76.



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our discussion – the recognition of some narrative content not being a kind of special ontological category of painterly experience, but part of a general visual competence of observation that enables every average observer to recognize an image as an image, and to recognize in it the presence or absence of some narrative content. For example, for us to recognize a depiction in which we see a man nailed to a cross as a painting, it is not necessary for us to know it concerns Jesus Christ, it is enough to know that this is a man, that he is nailed to the cross, and that it is a pictorial representation. Naturally, our ability to decipher any deeper meaning of the depiction depends on our knowing the context of the story (Crowther calls this the instrumental category), but a possibility of understanding the pictorial representation is not the same as recognizing its instrumental, i.e., narrative, figurative or some other content. The instrumental properties of an image are those with which we deal most in everyday situations, for the conventions of pictorial representations mainly refer to meeting the communicational and functional objectives of visual representations. And so the instrumental in images is for Crowther very close to semiotic figures like denotation, connotation, metonym, allegory and irony. In art history these functional objectives had a cult, religious and – a bit later – narra­ tive and documentary nature; today they satisfy very wide interests, from the trivial contents of the entertainment industry to medical and neuroscientific visualizations. The problem is not, however, that pictorial representations have now taken on a much greater number of instrumental functions during their historical development – from the magical substitute for life “before the age of art” as Hans Belting claims, to the contemporary medium of communication, which is how Klaus Sachs-Hombach sees it – but rather that the image, as a transhistorical concept in the time of the technosphere, has changed its ontological being. It has become a different kind of thing, still at an indeterminable border between analogue representation and digital post-representation. Crowther’s division into four basic pictorial categories is much more useful for universal image theory than Wölfflin’s Grundbegriffe or Panofsky’s pre-iconographic, iconographic

The modalities of pictorial appearing: Fundamental concepts

and iconological levels of interpretation; not, indeed, because it is methodologically more correct, but because it is categorially more inclusive.140 Put simply, Crowther endeavors to encompass all the possi­bilities of pictorial representation, although he uses only examples from older pictorial art. This insight has brought us much closer to the principal thesis of this book. Crowther was able to set up a general transhistorical theory of the image and at the same time use only examples of artistic pictorial representations created before the 20th century because he bore it in mind that the ontology of the image-as-representation is independent of the structural, instrumental, historical and psychological status of the image. In other words, what the image is as image – its essential difference to all other objects of material culture, what Max Imdahl calls the iconic – is not dependent on what the image means or what its value is. If we look at its ontological status as compared to its instrumental purpose, that is, if we categorially equate the essence and function of the image, we shall not be able to comprehend the consequences of the technological turn from the represented to the virtual image, and from iconic difference to post-pictorial immersion. But this is also the limit of Crowther’s transhistorical enterprise: he offers no relevant insights for general picture theory and ontology going further than mere representation, irrespective of whether we mean the supreme achievements of classical mimetic art or radical modernist abstraction. 140 | In his seminal text “A Neglected Tradition. Art History as Bildwissen­ schaft”, Horst Bredekamp puts forward the thesis that the problem of inclusiveness at an early phase of art history would probably have been solved in a different manner if Panofsky had applied his triadic system to all forms of visual communication and not only to the fine arts: “Recently it has been argued that art history had failed as Bildwissenschaft because it never confronted modern media; iconology would have become a Bildwissenschaft if Erwin Panofsky had not encapsulated this method into an analysis of Renaissan­ce allegory. Therefore, following the tradition of the nineteenth century, art history has been forced to neglect the media arts and deal only with works of ‘high’ art” (Critical Inquiry, No. 29, Spring 2003, p. 419).



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Reference to Crowther’s considerations was necessary for our debate for two reasons: firstly, in order to see the way in which the historical thesaurus of images could become not only a source of aesthetic pleasure but also the basis of a much wider theory of pictorial representation; and secondly, and more importantly, so that we can see at what moment pictorial representation can no longer possess that key status within the ontology of the image. In other words, analytical models of understanding transhistorical images can be applied only up to the moment that the “kind” of history these images apply to continues to exist. When in the time and space of the technosphere a new age of digitally generated images makes its appearance, we shall need new epistemological tools. Now we are in a period of transition when not only are the existing technologies being reconfigured but also the philosophical paradigms upon which the modern world is founded are being adjusted to the new technical and digital images. These images no longer represent anything from the domain of the visible world, but construct their own world; they do not depict, they appear, creating emotions, conditions and attitudes.

4.2. Appearing as an ontological approach to images My point of departure thesis in the theory of pictorial appearing is that Boehm’s concept of iconic difference – like the Crowther categorization of transhistorical images just outlined – is sufficiently comprehensive a concept for the differentiation of the image from what was not the image for all visual artifacts that were created during the several-millennia-long era of pictorial representation. That era started in the first Palaeolithic drawings and covered the whole of the visual production in the period “before art” and all those visual representations that were created in the new age outside the needs of the religious cult, eventually being changed by the technosphere. However, since the technosphere is characterized by increasingly developed systems of pictorial transparency, from the OLED screens and IMAX cinemas available to everyone to totally immersive experiences that recreate synaesthetic visual and tactile

The modalities of pictorial appearing: Fundamental concepts

impressions, the ontological differentiation of the pictorial plane itself from extra-pictorial reality can no longer be put in place with only the help of the idea of difference. The concept of difference can only serve as a qualificative for the definition of the relations between separate categories of object – in our case, pictorial and all those others that are not pictorial – if the realities in which they are found are equal or comparable. For example, nobody calls into question the clear ontological separation of the two-dimensional represented reality that is set up within film fiction from the non-represented, i.e. real reality that exists outside the fiction of film. Many films and artworks actually count on this assumed separation and so many of them test out the borders between one reality and the other, primarily to call them into question within a strictly artistic discourse. Boehm’s theory of iconic difference, like Nancy’s concept of cut, established semiotic-phenomenological criteria for the theoretical delimitation of precisely those experiences that are innate to the human experience of the world. In other words, the difference or ontological cut between image and non-image can exist only because every averagely capable individual can understand these two categories from experience. However, the iconic difference turns out to be an inadequate concept of this ontological cut not only because in the time and space of the technosphere human experiences radically change their status and capacities, but also because this new kind of experience is not yet normalized within the process that Flint Schier once called “natural generativity”.141 141 | Generativity is a term in linguistics describing the creation of grammati­ cal forms not from an a priori limited structure of a language system, as is the case in structural linguistics, but from the assumption that a person has a grammatical competence that enables him/her to find intuitive constructions and create language variants outside the existing grammatical corpus of the given language. In other words, generativity means that persons are capable by themselves of creating as yet non-existent language constructions, and of understanding such constructions by other people. Analogously to this, Schier’s thesis is that understanding pictorial representations derives



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The time and space of the technosphere, as we have seen, require us to approach pictures no longer as the ancient Greek eikon, i.e. reflection or representation, but as experiences, events and a special kind of phenomena. We can recognize modalities of pictorial appearing in the technosphere as symptoms of the most recent pictorial turn, in any case the first in the 21st century, i.e. that which no longer occurs in the clash of image and language, as described in a masterly manner by Mitchell and Boehm, but rather in the clash of analogue and digital images, representation and post-representation, reality and virtuality, semiotics and phenomenology. Although they are still used as signifiers in the uninterrupted chain of semiosis, images today mean increasingly little and even less seldom do they represent. The availability of digital coding led to the manner of their appearing, that is, the ontological level of pictorial cognition, being more important in terms of information and communication than the iconological and from people’s innate visual competence. Particularly connected with generative linguistics is the name of Noam Chomsky and his explanation of language as the original site of creation of the free-thinking individual: “the generative approach is connected with the concept of grammatical competence. This is the model of the speaker’s knowledge of their own language. Grammatical competence expresses the speaker’s productive and creative capacity to construct (organise) and understand an endless number of sentences of their own language, including those that they have previously not come upon. Coining the terms competence (language knowledge) and performance (language use) Chomsky reinterpreted Saussure’s constructs langue and parole, where competence is not an inventory of elements, like Saussure’s langue, but a system of generative rules.” (http://www.enciklopedija.hr/natuknica. aspx?ID=21594, trans. by K. P.). Unlike in the case of Flint Schier, who in his book Deeper into Pictures. An Essay on Pictorial Representation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986) did not get into the political repercussions of visual competence, that is, of natural generativity, language in Chomsky’s interpretation ceased to be just a means of immediate communication, but also became a metaphorical and real place for the permanent revolutionizing of societal relations and a potential for political emancipation.

The modalities of pictorial appearing: Fundamental concepts

semiotic level of pictorial cognition. The very appearing in someone’s mind of some sensorily discernible object, irrespective of content, form or the virtuosity of the artist, becomes a distinct object of beauty. Having already indicated this in basic lines through a reference to Paić’s concept of the technosphere, we shall now consider in more detail this new kind of phenomenologically founded interpretation of art and pictures, which Martin Seel calls the “aesthetics of appearing” (Ästhetik des Erscheinens). Seel’s concept is designed, above all for the sake of an aesthetic analysis of systematically new phenomena of beauty that, in the age of the technosphere, are realized no more as signifiers of the classic European metaphysical tradition but as visual phenomena that are realized aesthetically and artistically through their own mechanisms of sensoriness. An aesthetics of appearing can at first sight pose two main, very serious, restrictions for our analysis of pictorial phenomena: 1) Seel, in the phenomenon of appearing, sees above all the possibility of the perception of aesthetic objects, while in this book we are dealing with pictorial phenomena in general, without requirements directed towards a specifically aesthetic reflection; 2) a focus on the perception of aesthetic objects restricts the phenomena of appearing to the class of objects that we call artistic and thus puts outside the compass of theory all those forms of appearing that cannot be covered by aesthetic criteria. However, what seems the most important contribution of the aesthetics of appearing is precisely the omission of criteria based on historical and theoretical canons of beauty, as well as the relativization of art historical topoi. This does not mean that classical artworks have ceased to be peaks of the humanist tradition; it does mean that their appearing, like the appearing of any other object, has to be comprehended in the light of the new paradigms of becoming, emergence and event. Whether the object in its appearing will be constituted as an aesthetic object or a common-or-garden thing depends on the observer’s capacities of intuition and imagination. Seel says of this: In principle, anything that can be perceived sensuously can also be perceived aesthetically. Among possible aesthetic objects, there are not



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only perceivable things and their constellations, but also events and their sequences – in short, all states or occurrences of which we can say that we saw, heard, felt or otherwise sensed them. Nevertheless, the concept of aesthetic object does not coincide with the general concept of an object of perception, because what is sensuously perceivable and can therefore be the occasion of aesthetic perception is not for that reason already an aesthetic object. All aesthetic objects are objects of intuition, but not all objects of intuition are aesthetic objects. 142

Since this kind of stance clearly indicates Seel’s polemical attitude towards the inheritance of metaphysical aesthetics, at the beginning of his analysis he also distances himself from the tradition of the analytical philosophy of art following on from Arthur Danto; although he is in agreement with the American philosopher that any object can have aesthetic qualities (that is, “it can be aesthetically perceived”), Seel thinks that this fact is due to the manner of the appearing of the concrete object in the visible world, and not to the features that have been ascribed to this object in some institutional or social context. Seel’s theory is essentially phenomenologically determined, for it is skeptical in equal measure about the philosophical and speculative source of aesthetic experience and about its conceptualization. Accordingly, he sends aesthetic experience back from the domain of intellectual perception to the domain of sensoriness, from the activity of critical reflection to the event and phenomenality of appearing.143 This is in a sense a return to the original Kantian teaching of “disinterested pleasure”: it does not mean that the aesthetic object must not have any purpose other than being the object of pure aesthetic pleasure, rather that the human mind is capable of seeing or experiencing some object – outside or beyond its practical function – as an aesthetic object as well. For example, Duchamp did not draw attention to the neglected beauty of the urinal, nor did he reveal its aesthetic dimension that had been suppressed for years, just as Cézanne’s painting is not interesting 142 | Seel, Aesthetics of Appearing, op. cit., pp. 21-22. 143 | Ibid., p. 23.

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because of his artistic experience of nature. We appreciate both, like most of the great artists of modernity, because of the change of the paradigm of creation of the artwork, from individual artistic genius to public critical judgment, i.e. from work-as-object in the direction of observer-as-subject. According to this post-structuralist thesis, one should claim the artist as responsible for the production or activation of new perceptive and receptive mechanisms, while the artifact itself is necessary only as an instruction for the use of new and different artistic contents that can be but are not necessarily there in this work. Another example: the works of Joseph Beuys or Jannis Kounellis, like the whole strategy of the Arte Povera movement, were aimed at sensitizing people to the aesthetic dimension of the quotidian so that purely functional objects, known forms and unobtrusive textures are defamiliarized in their new “aesthetic” non-functionality and deformedness. In the domain of art, the capacity for aesthetic perception will be enjoyed by those who have developed the sensitivity for remarking particular kinds of aesthetic appearing; among them are the art public, critics or simply connoisseurs of the widest possible profile. If we are not capable of experiencing art irrespective of how we get through to it – metaphysically, analytically, as appearing, through conceptual construction or some other way – we shall be deprived of a specific experience that the aesthetic alone can provide us. But, how do the things stand with images in general? Does (non-art) pictorial appearing have any other similarities with the much more exclusive Seel concept of aesthetic appearing, apart from the fact that in both cases we are more interested in visual and sensory phenomena than sign and textual narration? Can pictorial experience in the time and space of the technosphere still be articulated as iconic difference? The main thesis of this book is that today it is precisely the perception of difference, i.e. the ability to differentiate a real from a virtual experience of the image, that is the place in which the drama of the real, to put it in Baudrillard’s terms, is played out. It seems to us that in an age when traditional images are increasingly less differentiated from immersive synaesthetic experiences (which are also partly visual



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phenomena, but are not images alone), there is a need for an equal perceptual concentration for us to recognize either an original art object or some profane pictorial object.144 The logic of iconic structures of Dieter Mersch, discussed earlier, is also in essence the logic of the perception of the difference between picture and frame, i.e. image and non-image, the iconic thus necessarily being something like phenomenon or occurrence, rather than text or sign. He claims that the “pictorially visible” is differently visible than the “non-pictorial visual”, because the picture possesses a distinctive material status through which a difference is produced between, on the one hand, something that is visible precisely as image and, on the other, something that is also visible but is a mere visual phenomenon that is not an image. Mersch says that even the totally immersive experience of IMAX cinema can be considered an image, for there is still a border that frames the in-the-image from the surrounding visual.145 Although in this book, and in other places, I also urge that in the case of immersion there is a marginal experience of the image and although I agree with Mersch it is still a matter of a pictorial phenomenon, the question remains whether that is really because, as he says, in the cinema we see the frame of the screen and the seat in front of us and we feel the specific cinema arrangement, or whether it is actually because we know that cinematographic apparatus is involved, together with the traditional institution of the cinema, which has not changed its illusionist character since the beginning of the era of moving images? True, much more important for us than this epistemological speculation is the phenomenological insight of Mersch, according to which it is the immersive experience of the image that wipes out the basis of pictorial ontology: “All technical illusionism, what can be called pictorial immersiveness, finds in it its dynamics and its futility”. What the image attempts is equivalent to a paradox: “the effacement of that which constitutes the viewing of an image, and thus the erasure of pictoriality as a medium. The 144 | See my article “What is not an image (anymore)?”, op. cit., pp. 92-93. 145 | Mersch, op. cit., pp. 163-166.

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logic of technological progress exists due to this telos: a medium that negates its own mediality”.146 From this it follows that the observation of the modality of pictorial appearing is the fundamental precondition for both the possibility of aesthetic perception and also of the perception of the image in general as phenomena that have an interior logic different from that of reality (or the continuum of reality) in which they are located as objects of perception. These modalities have to be precisely defined, for two fundamental reasons. Firstly, because they can throw a new light on the still unresolved aporias of the pictorial turn, primarily that part of it that deals with the issue of the domination of the visual by the textual and vice versa; and secondly, because the technosphere faces pictorial mediality with completely new challenges: the question that arises is, how can a person’s capacity for the artistic transcending of reality be preserved when the experiences of pictorial representation – traditional painting and cinematography in the “old fashioned” 2D technique, for example – vanish in the digital worlds of virtuality, in which transcendence is actually no longer possible? If art in the pre-digital era was the only means through which it was possible to transgress the borders of cognition/perception and comprehend reality outside the framework of mere necessity, then the virtual space of some immersive reality makes art today equally impossible and unnecessary. As Seel and Mersch suggest, a new strategy of art must accordingly be identical to the new strategy of the image: the iconic, which in his text of 1978 Boehm could still call image-as-difference, in the epochal turn of the technical-scientific age has to be turned into the image-as-appearing. In order to set up a plausible model of universal pictorial appearing, equally taking into account changes in the mediality of images as well as Mersch’s contrast of the pictorial and the visual, it is necessary to liberate images of the surplus of content inscribed, i.e. approach them as abstract entities; I do not necessarily think here of pictures of abstract art, but as pictures as objects set free of culturally inherited 146 | Ibid., p. 166.



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aesthetic content.147 Seel, in The Aesthetics of Appearing, sets himself a harder task, for not only does he attempt to split off the factual kind of appearing (constitutive for any object at all) from the concrete phenomenal appearing (which is a precondition for aesthetic differentiation), but also endeavors within the desired aesthetic norm to set up criteria for noticing those phenomena that take part only in the aesthetics of appearing. Unlike the approach to the aesthetic object in traditional hermeneutic disciplines, like art history for example, in which some object – whether a painting or three-dimensional object – is ascribed artistic properties in the process of interpretation, Seel’s method assumes a process of subtraction or abstraction of a multitude of the phenomenal features of some object and of drawing attention to only those phenomena that are aesthetically relevant. He calls this process of the aesthetic reduction of all those unlimited and never ultimately comprehensive phenomena that make up the universal facticity of some object “the simultaneous and momentary appearing of appearances”.148 In other words, something can occur or appear in a specific way, in some context and in a specific manner of looking, irrespective of all those universal and permanent features of that object according to which it would not actually be particularly aesthetically interesting. The appearance of an 147 | In the second part of Aesthetics of Appearing is an essay entitled “Thirteen Statements on the Picture” in which the German author expressly states that the problem of the ontology of the picture is opened up more clearly if we start off from abstract images, since they do not bear the burden of repre­ sentation: “Every theory of the image has on the one hand to explain how the pictured object is linked with the pictured depiction, and on the other how the pictured depiction is connected with representation”. In other words, the concept of representation in any event complicates what the picture itself is, for it is clear that representation is above all the relation between the presence of what is depicted in the picture and its absent referent. For this reason, when we are concerned with non-figurative pictures, Seel concludes that the socalled abstract picture “is proved to be the most concrete and hence the para­ digmatic picture” (see: Seel, Aesthetics of Appearing, op. cit., pp. 161-163). 148 | Seel, Aesthetics of Appearing, op. cit., p. 46.

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object is its universal factuality according to which we recognize the object within one class of visually and haptically perceptible objects. On the other hand, appearing is an aesthetic operation of visual focusing and a sensory comprehension of the object in a new status: at once liberated of the multiplicity of its everyday appearance and also enriched with a unique “simultaneous and momentary” appearing. In this German author, as we can see, we are faced above all with a model of understanding artistic objects, while our analysis refers primarily to the much more general concept of iconic difference. To this extent the modalities of pictorial appearing that I shall propose here are not entirely comparable with appearing as aesthetic category as described by Seel, but they are also not general categories of appearance – the merely visual or visible. I shall use Erscheinen only partially in the Seel sense, primarily thinking here of the abstraction of the symbolic-narrative content of the image through a kind of phenomenological turn from the textual to the iconic substance of the artistic (in our case pictorial) object. Deviating from the earlier described concept of the transhistoric image of Crowther, I shall attempt, therefore, to come closer to phenomenological models that invoke Seel’s “event and moment of appearing”, then Boehm’s “iconic difference” as well as Mersch’s “pictorially visible”, and apply them, taking into consideration above all the consequences of Paić’s interpretation of the technosphere, an interpretation that dramatically draws attention to the completely new meaning of concepts like the real, the simulated and the virtual. My intention in the following pages is to describe four basic modalities of pictorial appearing, in order to consider the possibilities of a new theory of the image outside the essentialist-subjectivist aporias.

4.2.1. Temporality: Representational, simultaneous and reciprocal images The most important change that digital technology has brought to the whole of visual culture is the totally new effect of time in the production and perception of images. The basic characteristic of representation, i.e. of the reproduced image – whether painting on



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canvas, photography or film – is that it is always a visual phenomenon that has come into being only after the represented event took place. The purpose of representation and the visual arts that have been based on it during the several-millennia-long history of images was precisely in enabling the division between the unfolding of the experience of life as a temporal continuum from the experience of art as cut inside the continuum. Until the appearance of direct televisual transmissions with the help of video-links or somewhat later with the aid of satellites, every image could be only representation, that is, the image always followed the principle of temporal otherness or discontinuity with respect to the relentless course of time. The image halted time, although it was not its main ontological property, for the problem of pictorial anachronism has always been a priori experienced as innate to what the image is – that is, halted time that has always already occurred. Since not a single picture that was created before the 20th century could have been simultaneous with the event it depicted, the problem of temporality is seen in relation to the characteristics of the intra-pictorial depiction and not with respect to the source reality. Irrespective of how long a period of time represented in the image was concerned, every representation was ontologically congruent with any other. Let us take as an example a depiction of movement in four totally distinct categories of representation that all present some kind or phase of movement but differ in terms of their media basis: Caravaggio’s Entombment of 1603; a series of photographs of a horse galloping by Eadweard Muybridge of 1878 and his proto-cinematographic device called the zoopraxiscope; Marcel Duchamp’s painting Nude Descending a Staircase of 1912, the Umberto Boccioni sculpture Continuity of Space of 1913 and (belonging to the same category as Boccioni) the oil on canvas of Gerhard Richter, Woman Descending a Staircase, of 1965 (Figs. 13 and 14). In order to depict movement, each of these artists had to find a manner of how to condense the time necessary for movement to be distinguished from the depiction of some static scene. Photo­ graphy, oil on canvas and sculpture require interventions in the content and the stylistic complex in order for the depiction to be interpreted temporally, while for film, the media ground alone is enough: even

The modalities of pictorial appearing: Fundamental concepts

13. (clockwise) Caravaggio, The Entombment of Christ, oil on canvas, 1603-1604, 300 x 203 cm, Pinacoteca Vaticana, Rome, Italy; Eadweard Muybridge, The Horse in Motion, photographs used for animation of movement, first published in Philadelphia in 1878; Umberto Boccioni, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, 1913, 111,4 cm; Museu de Arte Contemporanea, São Paulo, Brasil a very static film depiction will always reveal the presence of time via hardly perceptible changes on screen.149 A statically represented picture does not possess any time proper to itself, but is dependent on the temporality that it shows: a classic tableau could capture only that very moment that we indeed see in the picture. Since in Caravaggio’s 149 | The introductory scene from Haneke’s film Caché is a good example of the treacherous and manipulative character of filmic time. The very static first shot in Haneke’s film has a double role: structural and narrative. At the structural level the static shot taken with a fixed camera announces the



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14. (left) Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, oil on canvas, 1912, 147 x 89 cm, Philadelphia Museum of Art, USA; (right) Gerhard Richter, Woman Descending the Staircase, oil on canvas, 1965, 198 x 128 cm; The Art Institute of Chicago, USA Entombment we do not see what immediately preceded the moment represented, or what comes just after it, the condensation of time is rendered by the dramatic gesturality of the figures that is able merely to foreshadow the continuity of the act of the entombment. In Boccioni and Richter, temporality is shown with the same ontological restriction of the mediums (one pictorial composition and director’s manipulation of the film’s temporality, a fundamental constructive determinant of the film. At the level of content, the static frame that extends into time adumbrates the thematic linchpin, i.e. the psychological effect of observing and being observed (Michael Haneke, Caché, 2005, starring Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche).

The modalities of pictorial appearing: Fundamental concepts

one sculptural volume), but in the stylistic innovations of these two authors it is suggested, much more directly, that the invisible time (time left out of the picture, not represented) before and after the moment represented nevertheless did exist. Richter shows this time by representing the long exposure of the camera, while Boccioni achieved the same effect by combining an imagined series of temporal moments into a single united volume. Thus both of them, and Caravaggio and Duchamp as well, had to sacrifice the verisimilitude of the depiction to be able to present time within the still media. On the other hand, Muybridge, with the help of experiments with a galloping horse, showed that the new medium of moving images would not know such a restriction: film shows time by its mere nature as a medium, it does not exist without the time necessary for a rapid interchange of a multitude of still images or frames. The 1964 Andy Warhol film Empire shows in a drastic manner what cinematographic representation would be like without the specifically filmic condensation of film time through editing: a single continued frame that can theoretically last as long as a reel. Accordingly, cinematic time came close to or was totally identified with real time but – particularly importantly for this discussion – never ceased to be representation. What happens in the Warhol film is that, although almost identical to the real pictorial-temporal situation before the camera, it is necessarily a depiction of a time that has gone irretrievably. In the film, it is true, moments of cutting can be seen when Warhol and his cinematographer Jonas Mekas change reels. The result of this manipulation of real and film time is that this temporal continuity and total identification of the two realities is disturbed only because of the technological constraints of the film medium.150 Or, in other words, the technological constraint of 150 | I do not think my argument is even slightly vulnerable to Warhol’s per being shown slowed down vis-à-vis the speed of the camera used during shooting. Cinematographer Jonas Mekas shot the iconic New York skyscraper with a classic film speed of 24 frames a second, and yet Warhol decided to show it at 16 frames. The interventions included a minimal amount of editing



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the medium drew attention to its fundamentally manipulative (and accordingly, potentially artistic) character. The most important question is still to come: what happens with pictorial representation when the technological restrictions of the classical analogue film or painterly medium give way to the iconic simultaneity of the digital age? Hidden in the answer to this question is the reason why addressing the issue of temporality – and not representation – is the primary task of image theory today. My thesis runs as follows: before the appearance of direct television transmissions and before the satellite coverage of the whole planet, we could reasonably consider representation as the ontological specificity of every pictorial depiction. In spite of its lasting validity as a philosophical and pheno­ menological concept, Gottfried Boehm did not think he needed to append any kind of technical or scientific legitimation to his concept of iconic difference, legitimation that today might crucially determine the difference between image and non-image, as Boehm proposes to us in his key text Die Wiederkehr der Bilder of 1994. The turn to the image – that is, the iconic turn – he then recognized in the turn to the pictorial particularly in Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language and Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of the spirit, and not in a turnabout from traditional representation toward other, new technologies of visualization. We can find the same problem in Mitchell’s pictorial turn of the same year, in which the turn to the image is interpreted from the position of the ideological criticism of existing visual regimes, and not from the spirit of a technique that has irrevocably and radically changed the methods of pictorial cognition; this also explains to us why Mitchell interprets Crary’s book Techniques of the Observer as, (editing out of sheer necessity only), since there is no film reel big enough to shoot visual material for an uninterrupted period of six and a half hours, which is how long the material shot lasts. My argument is based above all on Warhol’s idea of showing real physical time as totally inappropriate to the manipulative character of film as art form. This idea, that is, could have been conveyed in an uninterrupted film of two hours, which is all that a single reel permits.

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primarily, a collection of the technological symptoms of modern visual culture.151 Although in his celebrated text Mitchell does not identify technology as the main driver of the turn to the image and does not think that it can radically separate the observer from his “human nature”, he does nevertheless give Crary that contemporary techniques of visualization, like CAD, synthetic holography, flight simulators, computer animation, control of movement or multispectral sensors, can contribute to the moral and political fear of the “loss of the human”.152 In this place we should not go too far and talk about the loss of the human, and yet I do think it is justified to speak about the new onto­­ logy of the image. If we look at visual phenomena in the framework of the technosphere, from the position of the technological possibi­ lities of visualization, then we shall observe that classical representation is today just one of three equal forms of representation – the other two are simultaneous and reciprocal images – and all three categories constitute the new temporal dimension of the image. Why is it needful to discuss a temporal dimension, and in what way does time affect the nature of pictorial experience? It is essential to understand that here it is not a matter of the kind of time that is necessary for a specific temporal medium like the digital or analogue film, or the still earlier zoopraxiscope or kinetoscope, to be able to produce movement, but of real time which is actually now going on within the image. When we look at any film representation, irrespective of the edited sequences characteristic of the narrative film, or of a conti­ nuous, extremely long take characteristic of experimental films (like Warhol’s Empire), we are dealing then with a precisely determined time that has always already happened. The very idea of both filmed fiction and documentary faction counts on images of a time that has passed. On the other hand, there are increasingly more cases of media exploitation of pictorial time that is actually going on, which 151 | For more on this, see W.J.T. Mitchell, Picture Theor y, op. cit, pp. 23-25. 152 | Ibid.



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is simultaneous to: 1) the person looking, 2) what is looked at, and 3) that through which it is looked at. The observer, the observed and the medium of observing share the same temporal continuum. This form of visualization is not new and it is a bit paradoxical that at the dawn of the television age, in the 1920s, it was the live broadcast that was cheaper and easier to produce than the recording of a TV show on some kind of recording media.153 Such live images are formed as visual facts at the moment they are broadcast, and without this moment they cannot actually exist. Such simultaneous images take on a very different character in our time when they are no longer used only by the entertainment industry and public information departments to involve us in some sporting event or convey to us the drama of natural disasters; rather, iconic simultaneity is used to take the place of something much more material – physical presence. The use of drones in missile attacks from the air, the ability to surveil in real time every little piece of the planet, CCTV cameras in public spaces – all these are examples of simultaneous images. These images do not re-present, they present; they are the incarnation of time and the presentness of the event – what is there and what is here are together made present in the continuum of time and, unlike representations, without that continuum, they do not exist. A subspecies of simultaneous images consists of reciprocal images, which also possess all the features of simultaneity, with the important difference that the effect of being present is enabled for both the observer and the observed. The availability of digital services like Skype and virtual technology like Oculus Rift will lead to reciprocal images in the near future providing a totally immersive experience. In a traditional classification in which images were always representation, such visual experiences could no longer be considered images: in the new classification that I propose 153 | For more on this subject, see the article of Stefan Münker, “Eyes in the Window: Intermedial Reconfiguration of TV in the Context of Digital Public Spheres”, in Žarko Paić and Krešimir Purgar (eds.), Theorizing Images, op. cit., pp. 144-159.

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here, they are new, specific “space/event” phenomena in the sphere of the visible.154 The criterion of temporality is a direct consequence of the new technologies of the presentation and transmission of visual information and does not depend on the techniques of representation or reproduction, nor can it be correlated with individual skills of picture production in the widest sense (painting, drawing, cinematographic technique). And now we come to a paradox. Although information technology has enabled immense possibilities of creation and commu­ nication with the use of simultaneous and reciprocal images, representational images are still the main medium of art, while the new technology of visual simultaneity is used principally in the production of non-fictional contents. Does this mean that time that has “always already passed” still enables a more creative manipulation of fictional (artistic) contents, or does it mean that the artistic imagination has not yet caught up with the cutting edge techniques of simultaneous and reciprocal visualization? Or is it perhaps that iconic simultaneity is still experienced simply as reality, and not as art? It seems that the magical effect of the artistic contingency of the image has not faded in the slightest in the face of the omnipresent simultaneity of live streaming or the immanence of the image that is proper to simultaneity.

4.2.2. Transparency: Non-transparent, transparent and immersive images A division according to transparency tells us about the semiotic and phenomenological agency of the pictorial surface; in other words, it tells us about the kind of visual information we recognize on a piece of paper, a canvas, a film or television screen. As we shall see a bit later, transparency is directly connected with referentiality, but in the case of transparency it is crucial how we see, while with referentiality, what we see. In principle we can say that in the traditional concept 154 | I have written more extensively on visual experience that cannot be considered an image in “What is not an image (anymore)?”, op. cit.



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of representation, “intelligibility” is much more pronounced in the image than transparency. This axiom derives from the concept of the Renaissance picture as a window onto the world and from Western culture having taken over this principle of representation as a natural form in which to convey three-dimensional reality in different media of two-dimensional representations. Since the whole of the classical tradition was founded on nature as a model of beauty and on Aristotle’s principle of the imitation of nature as the objective of poetics, what is transparent in the painting, that is, what we see through it, is actually the natural world and human interventions in the natural world (architecture, clothing, technical aids and so on). The more elements from nature we are able to “recognize” in some painting, the more will we say this image is real and realistic; it accordingly becomes more transparent, for “through it” we recognize what the image depicts. The first paradox of the principle of transparency, which does not in fact diminish the credibility of this principle at all, is contained in the realistic nature of the painting necessarily leading to the domination of pictorial content over pictorial phenomenon. In other words, the more the attention of the viewer is directed to what the painting represents, the slighter the awareness of the actual phenomenon of representation will be. We might take, for example, the digital medium of moving images that can be maximally transparent or extremely non-transparent. We will experience a highly realistic depiction of a terrorist attack shot with a high resolution smart phone camera by a participant on the spot like a high technology snapshot, almost like a contemporary version of the Italian Baroque tableau, but, and this is particularly important, we will not recognize any artistic pretension in it. If the shot is fuzzy, dark or low-resolution, because it was shot from a distance with CCTV, the observer’s attention will be more focused on the formal and technical failings of the image and accordingly on its phenomenological properties. The questions that the observer will then ask will impinge more on the area of pictorial experience (“am I sure of what I see?”) than on the domain of pictorial content (“did things really happen that way?”). Non-transparency and partial transparency draw attention to the medium itself, because in conditions of reduced

The modalities of pictorial appearing: Fundamental concepts

realism in the depiction the metaphorical window will have come between observer and world: hazy if a shot is unclear, and in the picture of abstract art, totally non-transparent. Following on from Martin Seel and his “Thirteen Statements on the Picture”, we can confirm that the paradox, then, consists of the pictorial experience being the more pronounced if the transparency is the smaller or, put still more simply, we shall be the more aware of the image itself and its media ground if we do not ask the question of what the image is presenting. The second paradox of the principle of transparency – which, as I shall endeavor to show, confirms, perhaps more than the previous one, the theoretical relevance of the problem of pictorial transparency – consists of any possible attainment of the ideal of total transparency and full immersion, eliminating the very possibility of pictorial experience. Since, as we mentioned a little earlier, transparency can be considered a person’s naturalized system of recognition of the content of a picture (as already mentioned, Schier calls this capacity “natural generativity”),155 it follows that transparency will be present to the extent to which we manage to recognize, in a natural manner, the realistic nature of pictorial content, or as Kendall Walton would say, the extent to which in the picture we manage to “see the world”. This author thinks that between highly transparent media, like photographs, and those a little less transparent, like hyper-realistic paintings on canvas, there is nevertheless an essential difference. According to Walton, photographs possess “a bit more” of those features of transparency that other kinds of images lack; however, the differences in the degree of transparency are not enough, he thinks, for us to make an essential cut between the different kinds of images.156 This analytically-oriented American philosopher invokes phenomenological insights into the nature of pictorial experience and concepts like difference and cut that can be said to be equally popular 155 | For more on this see note 141. 156 | Kendall Walton, “Transparent Pictures. On the Nature of Photographic Realism”, in K. Walton, Mar velous Images. On Values and the Arts, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.



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in the new image science of the European tradition, thinking here primarily of the theoretical work of Boehm and Nancy. Walton is of the opinion that the transparency of photography does not of itself contribute to its realism, for photography in a phenomenological sense is always split off from the continuum of the surface on which it lies, and this separation is enough for each picture surface to have ontological otherness, irrespective of the degree of transparency. The flatness of a photograph, its frame, the wall on which it is hung, all these are elements that contribute to its flagrancy: “photographs look like what they are: photographs”.157 This claim, of course, does not tend to support my argument, that is, the second paradox of the principle of transparency; however, Walton ascribes to the transparency of the photograph some features that cannot possibly be ascribed to other kinds of visual representations. In his earlier and better known work Mimesis as Make-Believe, Walton contends that the realism of mimetic representation is produced by a series of conventions, the primary being that certain depictions in some situations are considered truthful, irrespective of them being inherently fictional.158 From this it derives that recognition of reality in the image is not rationally founded, but is the product of “make-believe”, which always unfolds according to set rules. According to this theory, the transparency or mimetic nature of realistic images from art history is not the fruit of searching for the perfect representation of reality, but is to do with a series of historically changeable rules of make-believe. Although, for example, every realistically done portrait is always and only a fictional substitute for the real presence of the painted person, in the fictional world of mimetic make-believe that person is really present in the image. Walton says of this: “Fictionality has turned out to be analogous to truth in some ways; the relation between fictionality and imagining parallels that between truth and belief. Imagining aims at 157 | Ibid., p. 83. 158 | Kendall Walton, Mimesis as Make-Believe. On the Foundations of the Representational Arts, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1993, p. 38.

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the fictional as belief aims at the true. What is true is to be believed, what is fictional is to be imagined”.159 Accordingly, no matter how transparent it might be, realistic painting belongs among the categories of the imaginary world because it came into being within it, just like painterly representation. For our argument, indeed, it is more important what Walton says in his later text, which is that the transparency of photography definitely does not belong to that category of visual experience to which some other kinds of mimetic representation belong (like painting, sculpture and so forth). Walton thinks that the degree of realism in some depiction does not depend on the degree of its mimesis, but whether the given depiction belongs to the category of imagination or the category of truth. In photography the rules of make-believe cannot be applied simply because different rules of perception prevail: in the photograph we do not imagine we see something, rather we believe that we do.160 Although the basic difference between photography and painting is that the former always shows something that does indeed exist, while painting does not necessarily have to present really existing objects, what is much more important is that the photograph has brought us a totally new way of looking at mimetic scenes; that kind of looking that no longer has any connection with the post-Renaissance endeavor for realism in painting or with the usual theories of realistic art. For Walton the photograph is something like a “supertransparent” medium through which we really do see that which the photograph shows.161 This insight is important to us because in it Walton definitely sets the problem of transparency aside from the area of representation theory and shows that these are two very different categories of visual experience, categories that depend on two incompatible theoretical premises: the phenomenology of looking in the case of transparency and the semiotics of the pictorial sign in the matter of representation. Accordingly, from Walton’s insights we might draw the conclusion 159 | Ibid., p. 41. 160 | Walton, “Transparent Pictures”, pp. 85-87. 161 | Ibid.



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that maximum transparency in the painting can lead to immersive visual experience, on the condition that the technique of visualization by which this is achieved enables pictorial truth in which it is possible to believe (and not be imagined, as in painting). The transparency of photography is just one, in truth very small but historically verified, step in the direction of media strategies of transparency that today can be seen in ever greater dimensions on TV screens, the huge IMAX cinema screens, 3D technologies, VR headsets and so on. In the book Virtual Art. From Illusion to Immersion, Oliver Grau showed that a kind of “poetics of transparency” has always been present in the pictorial representations of Western art and has depended on both the scopic regimes current in individual periods and on the technologies of visualization available. We might therefore look today at the modernist revolution of the second half of the 19th century and the abstract art that stemmed from it more as a conflict with the poetics of transparency than as a conflict with the tradition of realism. I derive this conclusion from the conviction that pictorial immersion, i.e. the merging of pictorial experience with reality, is part of the historical process of the teleology of representation – the human need to produce images that will describe, replace or amend reality. The second paradox of the transparency principle, then, consists of those depictions that have most managed to get away from the “image of reality” having, in an ontological sense, come closest to the “true image” – obviously, this is a matter of radically non-transparent paintings of abstract art. The division of images according to transparency is aimed at the introduction of a multidisciplinary criterion capable of approaching images from the position of their attitudes to the reality of the techno­ sphere, and not, as was the case in traditional visual disciplines, from the position of attitudes to the concept or idea of reality. This is a crucial turn that above all takes into consideration that there is no longer one reality which is capable of being perfectly simulated using some exceptional painting skill or highly precise technology of reproduction. It is about the classical Renaissance ideal of painterly transparency not only getting into the area of technical reproducibility, as Walter Benjamin already observed in his celebrated essay, but above

The modalities of pictorial appearing: Fundamental concepts

all today about the technological generativity of the digital code, i.e. of the picture becoming an immaterial visual phenomenon. Abstract art, as we saw in the thesis of Martin Seel, looks after the material experience and opacity of the painting as iconic difference, while digital technology plunges us into areas of simulation that undoubtedly provide some kind of synaesthetic total experience of visuality – but of visuality that is no longer an image.

4.2.3. Mediality: Material, imaginar y and virtual images When we speak of the division of the image from a medial ground one should remark right at the beginning that this is not a division according to the traditional kinds of media carriers, like graphic prints, photographic negatives and positives, newsprints, screenings and so on; rather, it is about tangibility as categories of material and non-material appearing. Primarily I am referring here to the classic Mitchell division: the concept of picture that unites material, solid or three-dimensional objects in which one of the surfaces serves as the vehicle of the visual information; and the concept of image, which relates to non-material, purely optical visual sensations present in the human mind in the neuro-cognitive form of mental awareness or non-material pictorial experience. Finally, I am thinking that one should add to Mitchell’s division a third medial ground that is neither generated by indexation (leaving a trace) on some material support nor is a purely mental picture, but depends above all on electronic impulses – the kind of picture that Friedrich Kittler calls the “calculated image”, that is, the digital file of virtual image.162 Why would I think that the theory of pictorial appearing has to be aware of this radically simplified division of the medial grounds of the image? Put another way, why would I think that it is more important for contemporary interdisciplinary picture theory, for example, to 162 | On the calculated image see the text of Friedrich Kittler, “Schrift und Zahl – Die Geschichte des errechneten Bildes”, in Christa Maar und Hubert Burda (eds.), Iconic Turn. Die neue Macht der Bilder, Cologne: DuMont, pp. 186-203.



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notice the difference in medial ground between the mechanical and the digital picture, or the mental and the hologram image on the one hand, rather than between the graphic print and the oil painting on the other? The first part of the answer to this question is simple: above all because the theory of pictorial appearing as conceived here deals with the ontological issues of images and not with their artistic value or social function. The mediality of the image is connected with its origin as a visual phenomenon, and not with its value as a signifier or with theories of identity, like semiotics, in history or gender studies. The second half of the answer is less connected with the academic disciplines mentioned and their criteria and so is more theoretically specific. In the theory of pictorial appearing, that is, as well as the other criteria that I list (temporality, transparency and referentiality), it is necessary to define more precisely the manner in which images arrive in the world, how they appear to us and what makes them possible. As we saw earlier, Martin Seel is fully aware that it is necessary to look at the problems of meaning, value and identity, however important they were in and of themselves in Western art history, not as values in relation to some aesthetic ideal, as is the case in traditional disciplines, but rather in that aesthetic value always needs re-constituting in the space that is opened up between appearance and appearing. Let us recall: in Seel, appearance is the universal factuality of some object, while appearing is an aesthetic operation that depends on the specific momentary relation of one and the other. Pictorial appearing itself is freed of this relationship simply because we are here – as already stated – not interested in the aesthetic and value components of the image, rather the way we see it, or the way it appears to us. This problem can be more successfully analyzed with the use of one more exclusive theory, that which deliberately leaves out the aesthetic component of the image – meaning the “logic of iconic structures” of Dieter Mersch. Very clearly following the footsteps of the iconic difference concept, Mersch goes much deeper than Boehm himself even into the problem area of pictorial experience and creates out of the concept of iconic difference a much more useful theoretical tool. Mersch presents iconic difference as a kind of “medial philosophy

The modalities of pictorial appearing: Fundamental concepts

of the picture” and says that the mediality of the picture cannot be derived from its structures of representation or from a symbolic or hermeneutic reading of it. Each of these dominant models obscures its specific pictorial ontology. It is necessary, above all, to devise and create an awareness of models that distinguish the pictorial from the non-pictorial, and not one meaning from another meaning. Most images will create a specific problem here, for by what they show they will draw us into them and in this way divert our attention from their pure media ground. Mersch thinks that the solution to this problem is not in the image but in the gaze: only the specific logic of the gaze can make a difference between picture as picture and picture as thing: “a gaping difference exists between pictoriality and the creation of visibility, which nonetheless remains invisible”.163 In other words, the image can be constituted in a kind of “cut” or “border”; this border, indeed, is not made visible by itself, but only by the gaze of the beholder, since iconic difference cannot become visible on or inside the picture. If the iconic difference, as a fundamental phenomenological property of the image, is not visible then it means that the image is not visible per se but only as a multiple relationship of the possibilities of the gaze, the temporality, transparency, mediality and referentiality of pictorial surfaces. For the theory of pictorial appearing, and particularly for the category of mediality, this is especially important and so we shall attend to it a little more. Mersch correctly states that the special mediality of the image cannot be reduced to a grammatical or rhetorical mode and so semiotics, hermeneutics and iconology all essentially and disciplinarily miss what should be addressed as the medial in the image. One of the most egregious examples of this is, according to Mersch, the figure of ekphrasis, which only emphasizes the incommensurability of image and text, and in this way or a priori guarantees failure in the linguistic presentation of the visual or, through a discursive analysis of the image, turns visual mediality into the incommensurable experience 163 | Dieter Mersch, “Pictorial Thinking: On the ‘Logic’ of Iconic Structures”, in Žarko Paić and Krešimir Purgar (eds.), Theorizing Images, op. cit., pp. 162183 (163).



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of text.164 However, after we have rejected ekphrasis, hermeneutics or traditional iconology, we have still not answered the question of what actually defines the mediality of the image. In my opinion it is possible to answer this question only if we understand mediality as just one of four categories that in their specific interrelationship create the whole ontology of the image or picture. As Mersch very reasonably observes, we cannot discuss mediality in the context of meaning and that is why every theory of the image should draw attention to this in its classification system. Bearing this out is the earlier mentioned claim of Seel that abstract paintings are paradigmatic pictures because they do not represent anything. However, when this – actually otherwise acceptable – statement is made in this way, it turns out that one is the condition of the other, or, that some picture is paradigmatic precisely because it is abstract. In this place I would propose a different causality: the abstract picture is the paradigmatic picture because in the abstract picture there is the deepest cut between its medial ground on the one hand and referentiality on the other. Or as Dieter Mersch would say, because in the case of such a kind of picture the most visible is “a series of fissures” between image and gaze; in other words, in the perception of the abstract picture a whole series of “differences, aporias and chiasmas which evoke varied series of ‘perforations’ occurs, and the task of the philosophy of the pictorial that is based on the gaze has to be committed to reconstructing the mediality of the image and the specific scopophilia it evokes from this inherent system of differences”.165 A special task of the theory of pictorial appearing is to differentiate the categories of appearing in a satisfactory manner, for as we have seen it is not enough just to distinguish the medial and the semiotic/ iconological – they have to be put into a sustainable relationship. The “purely” iconic will never exist independently of other kinds of appearing and so the theory of the image above all has to take into account the modalities of separation and the potential linking of apparently incompatible ontological categories. This separation is 164 | Ibid., p. 143. 165 | Ibid.

The modalities of pictorial appearing: Fundamental concepts

suggested to us primarily by phenomenology and Husserl’s concept of intentionality, but also by Mitchell’s division into visible and invisible pictures/images, to which we must certainly add a whole string of theoreticians of the technosphere, including Benjamin, Kittler, Bolter, Grusin, Manovich, Massumi and Paić. The digital or the virtual image is the third media ground that, in a theoretical sense, is still largely a tabula rasa in image theory.

4.2.4. Referentiality: Non-referential/self-referential, referential, inter-referential, multi-referential and meta-referential images The fourth fundamental term in pictorial appearing is referentiality. This concept is similar to the terminological set used by traditional visual history and visual theory disciplines such as art history, icono­ graphy, hermeneutics and semiotics. In addition, referentiality is still people’s most direct way of being in contact with a picture, or at least a way that in everyday communication each one of us is most aware. While temporality, transparency and mediality are primarily concepts useful for aims of the reflexive activity of theory, i.e. while the role of these concepts can in its entirety be understood as a kind of splitting of theory from the content of the image, the concept of referentiality in this division lets us encompass the image as an instrumental medium with pronounced functions of communication, discourse and narrative. The reasons for the theoretical consideration of the diverse functions of images in this context need explaining at once. Of all the arguments given to date it should become clear that inside the theory of pictorial appearing, the instrumentality of the image is not foregrounded; previously, the problem of function would necessarily take us back again to the essentialist and subjectivist features of images (as discussed at the very beginning of this book). However, the instrumentality of images cannot be dismissed in an ontological analysis like ours because the ultimate object of this theory is to show that the instrumentality of images, or their “lives” as objects of communication, is actually the consequence of three



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modalities of appearing that precede the referential functions of pictorial communication, that is, which essentially determine how images will be looked at and understood. It is possible to set up various categories of referentiality only if we also have in mind the classical Aristotelian tradition of the imitation of nature as a source of sensory pleasure as well as (the now equally classical) semiotic tradition. This latter covers, among other things, de Saussure’s concept of sign and referent, Barthes’ interpretation of denotation, connotation and mythologization, and the semiosphere of Yuri Lotman and the concepts that have been derived from it like Eco’s interpretation of semiosis that later developed into Eco’s particular criticism of semiotic inscription of meaning into the work – overinterpretation (sovrainterpretazione). However, the great semiotic tradition is not there for us to set up within what is primarily a phenomenological theory of pictorial appearing some counter-method of sign and meaning, rather it is necessary for us simply because signifying (or the deliberate absence of it) is the everyday practice of visual communication. Both these arguments are a reason why our ontology of pictorial appearing cannot deal with the issues of what is represented, or why, but of how this is done and what the effects of referentiality for the concept of pictorial appearing itself are. The semiotic construction of the sign and the enchaining of meanings (which we can call semiosis or mythologization, depending on the source) is a suitable model for the understanding of referential appearing because it shares with it the idea according to which one visual utterance is always related to a second, that is, the next utterance is created as a function of its predecessor or in reference to its predecessor. If we set off from referentiality as the degree zero of pictorial meaning, then each subsequent category of referentiality is established in some relation to this degree zero, which we can call the original meaning. Every other, every derived image that refers to the original image in some way contains its predecessor, i.e. refers to it. The only exception to this rule lies in non-referential or self-referential images, but this will be discussed below. If we get away from de Saussure’s concept of the signifier, signified and sign, and think of the sign not as an arbitrary but as a motivated

The modalities of pictorial appearing: Fundamental concepts

point of referentiality (as proposed by Barthes’ concept of the myth and Eco’s semiosis), then the iconic sign can be anything that in sufficient measure recalls or refers to some extra-pictorial reality: photographs, printed matter, pictures on the screen – in a word, pictures of very diverse genres and media grounds. In the modality of pictorial referentiality the smallest unit of meaning is that within which we recognize some completed relation or reference to reality, and this relation in practice is most often set up with individual (artistic) images, film sequences or a photographic snapshot. These are referential images, and from them the chain of semiosis (or the mythologization of meaning) starts off; these images then get into more complex relations, commenting on and invoking the initial pictorial reference. We can best understand this if we make use of the example of some actual pictures and compare and contrast them with other pictures that might stem from or be derived from them.

15. Joe Rosenthal (Associated Press), Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, photograph taken on February 23, 1945



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A photograph of Joe Rosenthal shot in 1945 on Iwo Jima became an iconic sign of the victory of the American army in the war in the Pacific (Fig. 15). Over the years it became much more than its instrumental function tells us, i.e. it became much more than a pictorial reference to the event it shows – the placing of the American flag. However, the original or “zero” meaning in the semiotic chain has to be reduced to mere referentiality, for no other meaning could have arisen if this first photographic snapshot, which meant at the moment it was taken only what it shows, had not been recorded. On the other hand, an advertising photograph created in 1990 for H.I.S Jeans does not just show boys and girls lifting the American flag, but very obviously gets into a dialogue with the mythic meaning of Rosenthal’s photograph taken a few decades earlier (Fig. 16). The ad’s photograph is, undoubtedly, referential, but it is also, and much more so, inter-referential, for it takes much more of its meaning from the mythic position of Rosenthal’s photograph than from its own referentiality, which is based on a mimetic depiction of four youngsters raising the American flag. Its own referentiality, then, is there only for it to take up the thread from some other, previous meaning. At this moment, the motif of raising the American flag has already got into a multi-referential field in which the original (Rosenthal) sign of heroism and the ironical advertisement of heroism open up a space in which each subsequent reference to the original or the ironical picture are interwoven and get “out of control”. An example of the multi-referential image is the photograph of Thomas Franklin taken on September 11, 2001, of the ruins of the New York Twin Towers, showing three firemen putting up the American flag in the manner of the American soldiers on Iwo Jima, but also in the manner of the carefree youngsters in the jeans ad (Fig. 17). To which of these two photographs does Franklin’s snapshot of the firemen refer? The original sign of heroism or the ironical persiflage intending to call into question the myth of American invincibility? Although Franklin’s was probably triggered by an inter-reference to Rosenthal’s iconic work, a photograph in the open sphere of culture necessarily refers to both predecessors, for its meaning cannot avoid semiotic chaining in any direction whatsoever.

The modalities of pictorial appearing: Fundamental concepts

16. Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, advertisement for H.I.S. brand of jeans, 1990 And so this is a multi-referential picture. Multi-referentiality is a much more complex form of pictorial interrelations, for it not only includes an invocation of a vast mass of iconographic sources, but also because in this process it is not possible to exclude the action of quite often opposed ideological discourses, which also make up part of the referential scope of the image. Meta-referential images are what W.J.T. Mitchell calls metapictures: pictures that refer to themselves, that is, to several levels of their own ontological position: 1) they reveal the way in which they are made or to the mechanism of the production of pictorial meaning in general; 2) they depict a kind of “theory of images” without getting outside their own



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17. Thomas E. Franklin, A photograph of three firefighters raising the American flag on the pile of wreckage of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001; 9/11 Memorial & Museum, New York, USA

The modalities of pictorial appearing: Fundamental concepts

pictorial medium, i.e. they raise the question of whether it is possible to speak about images without ekphrasis, without language as verbal substitute; and 3) they reveal the essential pictorial nature: the image, to be able to function at all as a medium of communication, cannot be equated with reality, and not with itself either.166 Mitchell’s concept of the metapicture (or pictorial meta-referentiality in our case) raises in principle the question of whether images can discuss themselves, instead of having the traditional disciplines of iconology and semiotics do it for them. When pictures are directed toward themselves and when they reveal the models of production of all other images, they become subversive mechanisms that uncover institutions and the discursive production of power. One of the best known examples of such a kind of painting is Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas, which, with a complex system of inter-, multi- and meta-referentiality, tests out the status of the iconic in general as a mechanism of the political production of power. It is interesting that Mitchell should say that metapictures are at the same time both radically self-directed, i.e. they create their own inter-pictorial theory of the image, and also intertextual, that is, they create meaning by being enchained with other pictorial utterances that co-exist in parallel within the visual culture of some community or historical period. If we take into consideration Mitchell’s reasoning and his concept of referentiality that I am endeavoring to defend here, it follows that metapictures, or meta-referential pictures, go back to the very beginning of pictorial referentiality, i.e. to self-referentiality, or the radical orientation of the images to themselves. Paradoxically, images that are most oriented to themselves, as we saw above in the case of Seel, are those that refer to nothing except themselves, that is, pictures of abstract art. I think that we might approach this paradox in the following way: non-referential or self-referential images on the one hand and meta-referential on the other only confirm in different ways the same basic pictorial ontology that Boehm calls iconic difference. Both kinds of images ultimately reveal their position of otherness as 166 | For more detail about this see Mitchell’s article “Metapictures” in Mitchell, Picture Theory, op. cit.



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18. A scheme of the Modalities of Pictorial Appearing – Fundamental concepts compared to extra-pictorial reality: the first does this by emphasizing the differences between image and world, and the other by a radical deconstruction of the way in which it is culturally produced (Fig. 18). Every picture that appears in some referential modality – irrespective of whether it relates to something outside itself (referentiality) or is related only to itself (non-referentiality and self-referentiality) – can in principle possess only the two earlier mentioned temporal modalities: representationality and simultaneity. In a pictorial-ontological sense it is irrelevant whether we are looking at a direct transmission (iconic simultaneity) of a picture that represents something or reminds us of something (referential) or whether we are looking at non-referential, i.e. abstract, images (for example, when in a live broadcast of the opening of an exhibition we look close up at some abstract picture). This latter picture would be simultaneous and non-referential. However, we cannot term pictorial experience as the rather improbable, if possible, situation in which in front of two computer screens with web cameras turned on there are two non-referential pictures “looking” at each other. This hypothetical situation confirms that the effect of referentiality is independent of the effect of temporality, but only if

The modalities of pictorial appearing: Fundamental concepts

the condition that Husserl calls “image consciousness” is satisfied. In other words, an image, in order to appear at all, irrespective of the degree of its own referentiality, has to be “produced” by the gaze. The need for pictorial consciousness to exist tells us that this fundamental phenomenological insight sets up a border behind which perception of the image is no longer possible. On the other hand, although we have seen that an image does not exist without the intentional consciousness (of the observer) that produces it, Sartre says that these two – perception and the image – are not one and the same. From this it derives that what makes the act of perception inseparable from the object of perception is precisely the product of consciousness that agrees to the cognitive convention that Sartre calls “the illusion of immanence”.167 The illusion of immanence is necessary in a communication system in which consciousness operates at a level different from that of physical objects, even when these objects are in a certain way incorporated into consciousness and constitute a continuum with it. The illusion of immanence enables the continuum not to be revealed, enables the images to be received as if they were what they show, although they are not what they show, but are simply images.168

167 | See Jean-Paul Sartre, The Imaginary. A Phenomenological Psychology of the Imagination, London: Routledge, 2004 [1940], p. 12; then John Lechte, “Some Fallacies and Truths Concerning the Image in Old and New Media”, Journal of Visual Culture, Vol. 10, No. 3, 2011, pp. 357-358; and also Krešimir Purgar, “What is not an image (anymore)?”, op. cit., pp. 166-167. 168 | Sartre, op. cit., p. 6.


5. Pictorial appearing as an image/ reality relation 5.1. Disavowal of iconic difference: Hyperrealism, hyper-reality and the perception of transparent images Even though hyperrealist works are viewed principally through the supe­r ior ability of a painter or sculptor to convey the impression of reali­ty through an artistic medium, said artistic style should be perceived by art history primarily as an issue of the theory of representation. On another occasion, I sought to explain as to why I believe that painting in general can shed light on the many aporiae of representation;169 I stated that every work of art seeks to establish discontinuity between sign and meaning so as to draw attention to itself and separate itself as an individual category of objects within the visual continuum of everyday life. One of the most famous variants of the discontinuity we find in the unresolved conflict between words and images, for example, is in the age-old endeavor of one communication tool to accentuate its precedence over another. Another, much more conspicuous variant of discontinuity is the one between reality of the world and reality of the artwork. Specifically, just as modern artwork seeks to achieve its own medial autonomy, it also seeks to emancipate itself from the world within which it originated and become a world in itself. However, 169 | Krešimir Purgar, Slikarstvo kao alegorija teorije [Painting as an Allego­r y of Theory], exhibition at MSU Gallery (Museum for Contemporary Art), Zagreb, December 19, 2016 – January 19, 2017.


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19. Richard Estes, Supreme Hardware (detail), oil and acrylic on canvas, 101,6 x 168,2 cm, 1974; High Museum of Art, Atlanta, USA

Pictorial appearing as an image/reality relation

when looking at most hyperrealist paintings made in the 1970s – for example, Cadillac Showroom Window or Volkswagen by Don Eddy, Supreme Hardware by Richard Estes, portraits by Chuck Close, or Airstream by Ralph Goings – the first impression made by these paintings is exactly the opposite of the desire of a contemporary artwork for discontinuity and emancipation. I would like to propose a thesis that hyperrealism as an artistic style is not crucially defined by the problem of realism, but rather by the very absence of discontinuity in regard to reality. Therefore the question I seek to pose is not why are hyperrealist paintings so close to the human perception of reality, but rather why do they not tend to be different from reality? In order to be able to invert the positivist questions from the domain of art history – and make of them a critical foundation of contemporary visual studies on the one hand, while pointing at an ontological ambiguity of the nature of representation, handled by general image science, on the other – we must approach the phenomenon of hyperrealism from the perspectives that will take into consideration three essential facts: 1) in order to have any cultural or artistic effect, all images are prima­ rily subject to human perception, that is, the detection of differences within the visual field (phenomenological dimension of image); 2) fine art images, being observed throughout history, produce their effect at the time of their emergence, but also at all other times that are no longer “theirs” (anachronistic dimension of image); 3) images are subject to media and cultural nomadism in contemporary civilization and no longer possess their own natural “location” (decontextualization of image).

5.1.1. Appearing as intentionality and difference If we start from the simple statement that image as a physical object (or as a mental imagining) is not and cannot be that which it represents, refers to, or invokes, but rather merely a relation toward the represented, referred-to, or invoked, then every image is always already defined by the difference that is immanent to it – to the image – because it is



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only due to that difference that we are able to have pictorial experien­ ce in the first place. For the ontological status of the image as the difference in relation to that which is imagined or presented, it is not crucial as to which element in the image or the observer constitutes this difference, but rather whether the difference between the representation and the world is visible at all. Scientific disciplines such as art history, semiotics or phenomenology are engaged – each from its own respective viewpoints – in the categories and types of differences; the crucial characteristic that separates them is that the first two consider the difference to have already been established by the character of the image itself, while the latter considers the iconic difference to be a mental process that principally depends on the abilities of the observer to observe something as an image in the first place, and only then to be able to make out its aesthetic and communication aspects. The phenomenological viewpoint – contrary to the semiotic, art historical, or one of the subjectivist perspectives – must first introduce in the discussion a level of the (non-)transparency of the analyzed image; more precisely, the phenomenological analysis simply cannot omit from its aesthetic evaluations such notions as transparency, opacity, visibility, and the way of perceiving the pictorial object in general, since the aesthetic value in phenomenology is inevitably established through the very processes of distinction between image (or another art object) and reality, and is directly dependent on these processes. For example, we must phenomenologically observe the artistic dimension of the sculpture Large Two Forms (1966) by Henry Moore as an intervention of an artificial volume in the space of reality, i.e. as a specific relation of object and space, and not as the relationship of that artistic object with other artistic objects or with the art system in its historic continuity. One of the key determinants will therefore be whether the sculpture is exhibited in an interior or exterior space, the perspectives from which it opens up to the observer, and the possibility of changing the focus of viewing; exactly because of the primary interest of phenomenology in the role of perception within the aesthetic experience, the conditions of observing will give the artwork an unstable character in accordance with modified circumstances of its

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appearing. An example from the domain that is closer to us, the one of pictorial experience, functions in an identical manner, even though the dimension of physical space is missing in it; regardless of whether it is an abstract or figurative representation, the specific manner of the appearing of representation will be the key to comprehending the aesthetic value of images. The fact that abstract images – or all images whose meaning is not clear at first glance – appear to us in quite particular and unexpected ways explains why images that mean “nothing”, but rather simply appear in contexts that require the observer to pay particular attention, also have aesthetic value: specifically, their value is not contained in the momentary appearance of meaning, but rather in the appearing of forms and configurations. The concept of the “aesthetics of appearing” by Martin Seel purports the separation of those elements in art objects that are “present” in a specific manner in that object, and also “appear” in a specific manner; should we wish to separate them in their appearing outside of the art object, this either would not be possible or would deprive them of a specific aesthetic indication. What is particularly important to us is that Seel’s aesthetic theory, the aesthetics of appearing (Ästhetik des Erscheinens), consists of the relationships produced by the manners of observing individual objects on the one hand and, on the other hand, by the objects themselves, which – despite not changing their structure when observed – change their phenomenological appearance; due to the different attention we give them, the objects are thus constituted as aesthetic objects, and the crucial role in this process is played by the ways of looking that one reserves solely for the objects from which he expects an aesthetic effect. The observer’s intentionality is in the process of the aesthetic consolidation of physical objects or images and his own observing results in the transformation of the object’s visual appearance, which is characteristic of any physical item or image, into the specific appearing of the actual object or image as an item of aesthetic value. As we shall see a bit further on, the equivalent of appearing is termed Gestaltung (the forming or emergence of forms) by German philosopher Konrad Fiedler, one of the predecessors of phenomenology, by which the attention of the



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observer has been directed toward the genesis of specific forms within the artwork, even by the second half of the 19th century and entirely in accordance with the anti-mimetic artistic tendencies of that period. It is crucial to comprehend that, according to Seel, the notional difference between terms – those which denote a permanent state of something that we see as a continuous appearance, and those denoting the periodic, intermittent state whose effects accumulate from the periodic activities of the designated manner of observing, i.e. appearing – transforms into an aesthetic act. Naturally, this does not purport that the aesthetic experience is thereby generated by the activity of the simple dimension of time, that is, by the mere fact that the continuous presence (or appearance) of an item makes the latter a trivial everyday object, while the absence of the item from everyday life and its merely periodic presence makes it more easily experienced as an aesthetic object. This, by all means, does not purport a concept of time that would be reduced – for reasons that are purely practical – to grammatical properties of notions, i.e. the noun as the mark of permanent status, and the verbal noun as the mark of the aspect of unstable existences in time; to Seel, appearing is an interaction of various appearances that are transformed by the observer into the value of the object, that is, into the value of its appearing in the very act of observing in question, regardless of the objective or, more precisely put, non-aesthetic appearance of the item (the reason being that, as we have already noted, the aesthetic observing does not change structural properties of an object, but rather the way in which it is phenomenologically given to the observer).170 Even though the German philosopher convincingly showed that appearing is an outcome of complex relationships between the observer and the (not necessarily specific) objects, which are considered able to become much more than mere appearance, what we are interested in here is whether the notion of appearing can be used outside of the purely aesthetic domain, within general image science, with the aim of 170 | For details on this, see Seel, Aesthetics of Appearing, op. cit., primarily pp. 19–49.

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defining primarily ontological and, subsequently, artistic properties of all images. The notion that I have introduced and thereby seek to affirm theoretically – pictorial appearing – is inspired, as will be shown further on, to a greater extent by Seel’s terminology than by his conceptual foundation. Some of the reasons for this are immediately clear: while he was occupied by problems of aesthetic experience, for example, we are engaged in the issue of pictorial experience, which is much broader since it is not limited to the perception of merely aesthetic objects. On the other hand, with the notion of appearing in our inter­ pretation we primarily seek to emphasize the distinction between the status of the image as a cut, disruption or break toward reality, as elaborated by Gottfried Boehm and Jean-Luc Nancy, and the image as a primarily visual impression; this visual impression need not be necessarily constituted in opposition to reality, but can exist – and does so ever more frequently – in the mode of iconic simultaneity, whereby the visual experience exists despite the fact that image-as-difference has ceased to do so. The theoretical foundations of the phenomena of hyper-transparent visual experiences, i.e. those that “circumvent” the iconic difference thereby creating the sensation of immersion, were first established by Aristotle in his Poetics, wherein he stressed the mimicking of nature as the purpose and method of poetic art; when referring to mimesis as the poetic form of so-called classical arts, we primarily mean the immersion into the given natural world by redesigning it through systems of representation. The systems of representation that enable a higher level of analogy between artifacts and natural forms have had a privileged position only retrospectively, due to which art history theoretically sanctioned its own Aristotelianism.

5.1.2. The obser ver, the obser ved, and the emancipation of the image Two events in the history of visual culture have stirred both the position of natural reality, to which the classical theory of representation as mimesis referred, and realism as a painterly movement that served this purpose in the methodological and operative sense. If the function of



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art was to make present in the image (or a literary text) that which had already been present in reality, or had become absent over time, or its presence was merely desired, it is quite clear that the technologies of photography and film in the recent past, virtual reality and holograms in the present, and clones and humanoid robots in the near future have enabled presence in far more sophisticated ways than that of the hand of even the most skilful artist. Therefore notions such as representation and hyperrealism are also topical today, while the oppositions of presence and representation, realism and abstraction, or image and visualization as subjects of art (and no longer as its methods and styles) are of utmost theoretical significance. If we were to paraphrase Lambert Wiesing – that the function of all types of art and all techniques of visualization is to prompt us to perceive the desired appearances and phenomena, regardless of whether they are motivated artistically or merely for practical reasons – the manner in which the process of perception is induced in the human mind is entirely irrelevant – through a classical work of art, or through any of the digital technologies of expanded experience – under the condition that there is an awareness of the perception of exactly that which has been proposed to consciousness so as to be perceived.171 On the trail of Wiesing’s deliberations is also the meticulously elaborate post-humanist premise of the futuristic TV series Westworld: one of the characters arrives at a high-tech amusement park, a replica of the Wild West, which – alongside the tourists seeking a hyperrealist experience of sex and violence – is also inhabited by (seemingly) perfectly designed humanoid robots that move, behave and communicate according to preassigned narratives, i.e. computer algorithms. Prior to entering the park, after the visitor had asked one of the hostesses whether she herself was real, her answer went something like this: “If you can’t see the difference, why does it matter?” Westworld proposes 171 | Lambert Wiesing, The Philosophy of Perception. Phenomenology and Image Theory, translated by Nancy Ann Roth, London: Bloomsbury, 2014 [Das Mich der Wahrnehmung. Eine Autopsie. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2009], pp. 39–40.

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explanations (albeit fictional, for the time being) as to why Wiesing’s radical re-examination of phenomenology as an essentialist science is crucial for both contemporary image science and the forthcoming “technology of experience” (even though his book does not include illustrated examples that would be of interest for us in this case). I believe that the present interpretation of hyper-transparent images – in which we include not only those that are produced with contemporary techniques of visualization, but the already “historical” hyperrealist painting that developed in the 1970s – must primarily start from the effect of perception on the observer, and not from the perception that arises from the intentional awareness of the observer when faced with the object of perception. This thesis is essential for the understanding not only of the numerous immersive visual experiences that are founded on the absence of the iconic difference, but also of the pictorial appearing as the central argument of this book, due to which it deserves to be dealt with in more detail. Lambert Wiesing inverts the fundamental question of phenome­ nology that reads as follows: In what way does the observer with his intentional awareness produce or, more specifically, bring into awareness the perceived object? and turns it into a question: What consequences does the reality of perception have for the observer?172 This inversion of Wiesing’s is important because, for the first time, it is taken into consideration that the contemporary technologies of the production and construction of virtual realities do not rely anymore on individual abilities of perception, but rather, on the contrary, they are motivated to the fullest extent possible by the absence of the possibilities of individual perception. For example, when we put on VR equipment, the countless possibilities of intentional consciousness, together with its freedom of meaning production, are reduced to merely two choices: to keep the eyes open, or to close them. In that case, the observer cannot “negotiate” anymore as before – when observing the static image on the canvas, or moving images on the film screen – with different levels of reality, and thus independently judge their artistic 172 | Ibid., pp. 72–78.



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value or pictorial credibility, but is rather left to passively immerse themselves into such a radically individualized virtual world that opens before one’s eyes, or to opt for complete darkness; in other words, to give up any kind of perception. The notion of intentionality – which enabled the Cartesian cogito to be translated into modern image theory and thus brought into essential operative function – that was of such importance to phenomenology, from proto-phenomenological insights by Konrad Fiedler, Edmund Husserl and Jean-Paul Sartre to Lambert Wiesing,173 loses every conceptual and methodological significance in the times of virtual reality. In his book, indicatively titled Das Mich der Wahrnehmung (literally: The Me of Perception), Wiesing therefore proposes three phenomenological insights that construe one’s perception of image as the cut or break from reality, that is, as the still-present (iconic) difference which, indeed, does not arise from the intentional awareness of the observer, but rather from the specific effect of the image itself: 1) the unique OBJECT of image perception: the specific ontological characteristic of the pictorial object is its reduction to a sole property – sensuousness. The image becomes visible merely because it is exclusively visible. The presence of the thing portrayed in the image is an artificial presence that is reduced to mere visibility.174 2) the unique SOURCE of image perception: these are conditions of the possibility of perception of the image’s object. The special feature of 173 | Here we primarily refer to the founding books on phenomenology by the aforementioned authors: Konrad Fiedler, On Judging Works of Visual Art, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1957, translated by Henry SchaeferSimmern and Fulmer Mood [Über die Beurteilung von Werken der Bildenden Kunst, Leipzig, 1896]; Edmund Husserl, Phantasy, Image Consciousness, and Memory (1898–1925) [Husserliana: Phantasie, Bildbewusstsein, Erinnerung. (1898–1925), edited by Eduard Marbach, 1980]; Jean-Paul Sartre, The Imaginary. A Phenomenological Psychology of the Imagination, translated by Jonathan Webber, London: Routledge, 2004 [L’imaginaire, Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 1940, 1986]; Wiesing, op. cit. 174 | Wiesing, op. cit., p. 135.

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image perception lies in the subject of perception which, in this case, performs a significantly different constitutive act than in the case of the perception of a normal object, i.e. of that which is not an image.175 3) the unique CONSEQUENCES of image perception: when merely observing the image, the experience of perception is not related to the liability to participate in perceived events. One need not participate anymore! It is exclusively in the case of image perception that the observer is not immersed in the perceived world any longer.176 Hyperrealist painting, and especially the most recent immersive experiences, confirms the theoretical validity even of seemingly conservative theories, such as Boehm’s and Nancy’s, which are associated with art history and the legacy of metaphysical philosophy without getting deeper into the technical construction of contemporary reality. Hyperrealism is everything that a painting is not and cannot be; it problematizes the possibility of the negation of the iconic difference with iconic or pictorial means; it maximally approximates the experience of reality and thus maximally disputes its own pictorial status. Even though hyperrealist painting came into existence as a distinctive artistic phenomenon, its scope has been much more significant for the general theory of image than as a contribution to the autonomous field of art. The already-mentioned cultural and media nomadism of today does not allow for any object to be fixated within the social system within which it originated, but is rather continuously decontextualized, always reincarnated in yet another media, and re-semanticized in the infinite chain of semiosis. In the hereby proposed context of Wiesing’s phenomenology of perception, the hyperrealist painting imposes itself as an allegorical and theoretical artistic practice with a potential of becoming – to paraphrase W.J.T. Mitchell – a metapicture of picture theory.177 Somewhat of a paradox is that hyperrealism is capable of affirming the key theses of Wiesing’s theory of image perception from the position of that which it itself – hyperrealism – in fact repudiates, 175 | Ibid., p. 138. 176 | Ibid., p. 140. 177 | See Mitchell, Pictorial Turn, op. cit., pp. 38-82.



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i.e. the autonomy and emancipation of image as a specific type of material experience as opposed to the overall reality of everyday life. Specifically, hyperrealism as a theoretical notion – that is, not only the artifacts of the painterly movement, but also any form of technological imitation of nature, virtual and expanded reality, and the operation of humanoid machines – speaks of the desire of people to draw closer to the natural experience, yet not having to be subject to the laws of nature. The hyperrealist painting is the kind of visual representation that anticipates the end of the iconic difference and the beginning of the technologies of hyperreal experience beyond physical reality. From today’s perspective, the artistic effect of hyperrealism is paradoxical: the perfect painterly skill in mimicking the real world ought to be understood as one of the first traces of doubt that things and appearances will soon cease to be that which we think we see. Between traditional pictorial representation and computer-generated virtual visualization, we are already now recognizing a large gap – the transitional area between image and non-image, reality and fiction. With the development of technology, this gap will be increasingly reduced in favor of pure visualizations sans images. Following the thousand-year period of images as physical appearances, there will come a time in which they will appear and subsist as nothing more than an exotic relic of art. Before they permanently disappear from everyday communication as authentic appearances, I suggest that we focus on this extremely exciting time of their disappearance in the practices of dematerialization, virtualization and overall instability, which I call pictorial appearing.

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5.2. Affirmation of iconic difference: Abstract painting and the perception of non-transparent images 5.2.1. Degrees of opacity: Image, anti-image, absolute image In his Writings, the Croatian neo-avant-garde painter Julije Knifer set down numerous thoughts about the nature of his own art, the meander motif, the understanding of time, movement and art in general. A striking place in this is occupied by a programmatic premise that, in the last twenty or so years, has achieved the status of being axiomatic in critical interpretations and explanations of Knifer’s art: the concept of the anti-image. Knifer himself several times said and noted that his objective was to create the anti-image, the absolute absence of meaning, symbolism or pictoriality; his meanders as formulae for the anti-image were supposed to mediate just pure visuality.178 Since this is a concept that impinges etymologically and semantically on two extreme points in the existence of some idea or object – in this case, the difference between the image and what is not the image – our fundamental interest in this chapter will be to understand the inner logic of the concept of the anti-image on the one hand and the discovery of the oppositions inherent within it on the other. Moreover, I will ask whether there is an unambiguous meaning to it, or we must necessarily deal with multiple associations that the concept of the anti-image possesses. All that might contribute to an understanding of the specific artistic strategy of Knifer and also to the possibility that visual art once again is setting up unsolved issues of the theory of painting in general. An analysis of Knifer’s works here will be approached with the conviction that they represent a key prompting for late Modernist art to be established as a central problem for the semiotics and phenomenology of the image. Only then will it be possible to understand the problems of the virtual reality of digital images and the technological and scientific founding of contemporary visual images that no longer belong to the domain of representation (Fig. 20). 178 | Julije Knifer, “Zapisi” [Writings], Život umjetnosti, No. 35/1983, pp. 28-32.



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20. Julije Knifer, No Compromise, 2015; view on the retrospective exhibition at Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb, Croatia I shall attempt to justify the thesis that Knifer’s meanders can be consi­dered anti-images only from the stance of art historical hermeneutics, as an iteration of what Filiberto Menna called “the analytical line of modern art” and that was established conceptually in the early 20th century with Malevich’s Black Suprematist Square of 1915 and even more so with the 1918 White Square on a White Background (Fig. 21). On the other hand, when we are concerned with understanding an image as a visual fact or phenomenon, then we are speaking of an episteme that I call an absolute image, that is, a situation in which the difference between an image and everything that is not an image is brought out most sharply. I shall use the concept of absolute image not to refer to some new ontology of visual representation, since, as Gottfried Boehm, Lambert Wiesing and Martin Seel have shown, contemporary thinking about the visual is possible only through a recognition of the lastingly unstable theoretical and epistemological relation of the science of the image, the media and the visual arts. In this chapter I shall be interested primarily in whether it is possible, a whole century after Malevich’s radical painterly gesture and the creation of the first

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21. Kazimir Malevich, Suprematist Composition: White Square on a White Background, oil on canvas, 1918, 79,4 x 79,4 cm; MoMA – Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA anti-image in the history of art, still to speak about images through this negative ontological founding or whether we need a new discourse to define more precisely the whole broad space between the avant-garde concept of the anti-image and contemporary visual phenomena marked by digitally generated images. I see Knifer’s art, then, as a paradigmatic example of persisting with the incompatibility of image and world, in the way implied by Boehm’s concept of “iconic difference”, and not by a renewed interest in an original establishment of this difference. In any case, irrespective of whether we call the negation of image non-image, anti-image or counter-image, in line with Nelson Goodman, I

start out from the assumption that the degree zero of representation, or the representation of “nothing”, does not mean the absence of image, but presents the fundamental inability of representation theory to provide an answer to the question of what part of reality is depicted in realistic



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pictorial images. Representing some object in an image is not its more or less faithful transmission from one status to another but a totally new achievement of a different status for it.179 I shall endeavor to show that the image does not owe its being-an-image to the degree of referentiality or similitude that semiotic theory posits between nature on the one hand and different symbols that represent nature visually on the other, but that being-an-image is paradoxically more present where visual symbols do not have a referential relationship to nature. The history of art, although it deals with images, with their meaning and aesthetic value, cannot provide us with an answer to what the image itself is, and what the relation between the painterly medium is to what is represented in and through it. Changes of stylistic paradigm tell primarily of the unstable function of visual representation, and only secondarily of the resulting systema­tization of new conventions of representation into the visual codes that art history calls styles. Still, art history can, with a large degree of precision, define the moment and the place when this relation becomes an object of artistic interest, and note in which historical moment art begins to deal with the problem of its own grounding as defined equally by the conceptual and material aspects of representation in images. An understanding of changed circumstances, when an older ontology of the image is replaced with a new one, tends to produce not only changes that art history evaluates as differences in formal expression but also the possibility for us to interpret the role of all the pictorial media in a different way. Although it seems banal and self-evident, this insight can help us to accept the proposition that a single work of art has a different quality when we observe it in the continuum of historical diachrony or whether we look at it “ahistorically”, as an object in which the historical effect is replaced with a new role.180 For example, 179 | Goodman, op. cit., p. 12. 180 | I would pick out two of the not very numerous theoretical articles to have appeared in Croatia about Julije Knifer in the last few years that have ventured to put the artist’s oeuvre in a context wider than the usual. Sonja Briski Uzelac, for example, states that Knifer’s artistic work cannot be looked at stati­ cally, by observing individual pieces, for the whole of the work is necessarily

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I wonder whether Malevich’s White Square on a White Background is the same if we assess it as a radically avant-garde gesture of painterly abstraction produced in the early 20th century or if we look at it as just one of the images that are useful to us in a discussion of such themes as the nature of pictorial representation, that is, of image and reality, imitation, etc. I am interested, in other words, in what the cognitive and theoretical effect of the painterly performative might be if we placed Knifer’s meanders in the contemporary, synchronic context of non-objective visual art and compared them with the works of Malevich, Ad Reinhardt or Barnet Newman, as if each of them had some new theory of his own. What, in this case, would the concepts of image, anti-image or absolute image mean to us? The German philosopher Martin Seel thinks that it is a characteristic feature of the image to refer to itself, but not necessarily in such a way as at the same time to represent something or someone, but so as to refer to its own surface, which refers above all to the actual image, and only then (and only sometimes) to the referential reality behind it. and continuously self-redefining since it is based on the palimpsest strategy, the strategy of the constant superimposition and new development of meaning. A palimpsest implies that the work cannot be completed and that a given painting or drawing, separated from the whole, does not have any meaning. This strategy results in the “shifting of interest from artefact to the process the whole of which presents the meaning of each individual part of it”. Similarly, but with greater emphasis placed on the performative effect, and following the insights of Erika Fischer-Lichte and Shoshana Felman, Mirela Ramljak Purgar concludes that Knifer’s art moves between the performative and the constative, i.e. between action and cognition, and in this way the artist problematizes the intellectual in-between space of the cut that exists between these two types of utterance. See: Sonja Briski Uzelac, Vizualni tekst. Studije iz teo­ rije umjetnosti [Visual Text. Studies on Art Theory], Zagreb: Center for visual studies, 2008, pp. 185-189 and Mirela Ramljak Purgar, “Događaj slike, trag tijela. Estetika performativnosti u slikarstvu Julija Knifera” [The Occurrence of Image, the Trace of Body. The Aesthetics of Performativity in the Painting of Julije Knifer], Quorum, No. 1-2-3/2012, pp. 385-415.



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He claims that the foregrounding of the aspect of its own depiction is the determining pictorial operation that refers equally to the abstract and to the figurative image surface. Even when it refers to some other things outside its own surface – thus, when it represents something in a strictly semiotic sense – it still primarily draws attention to its own production as a visual representation of itself.181 The essential aspect of the picture is not then contained in its semiotic status as a symbolic substitute for something outside the picture, but in its character as a phenomenon that is separable from what is outside the pictorial surface.182 Modernist painting offers us numerous examples that the essential separability of the image from the reality outside the image can become a problem and that neither hermeneutic nor semiotic analysis is then any longer capable of helping us, irrespective of whether we are concerned with the figurative or the abstract image. We might advance a thesis that the image loses its essence, i.e. becomes an anti-image or non-image, the more it comes closer to the imitation of extra-pictorial reality, not the more it is distanced from this reality. Thinking in terms of image theory, art history indicates to us a similar phenomenon when, on the one hand, Baroque illusionist frescos complicated the relation between picture surface and spatial depth, and, on the other, when radically abstract painting led to the creation of completely non-representational images. We can call both 181 | Seel, Aesthetics of Appearing, op. cit., pp. 172-175. 182 | I have spoken at more length about the phenomenon of distance in the article “What is not an image (anymore)?” (op. cit.) in which I proposed that the concepts of the Ikonische Differenz of Gottfried Boehm and le distinct of JeanLuc Nancy are at base phenomenologically established as the difference of the surface of the actual image and the continuity of the extra-pictorial surface. The criterion for or degree of imageness in this case is not the representational character of the image (the greater or lesser similarity to something outside the image), but whether we are at all capable of experiencing it as an image. This criterion is particularly important if we look at electronic or digitally gene­ rated images that are capable of totally erasing the line of the cut between the picto­rial and the non-pictorial surface.

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kinds of phenomena anti-images: in the case of illusionist painting because it does away with the difference between the image and the continuity outside the image, and monochromatic abstraction because by achieving objectlessness at the very borders of visual perception it annuls the premise from which it started and thus it is completed from within itself. This thesis, of course, must necessarily be dealt with in some more detail.

5.2.2. Theory of painting as theory of image: Analytical lines We must ask primarily wherein lies the difference between radically objectless abstract paintings, for example, the series of Black Paintings by Reinhardt created in the 1960s and Knifer’s meanders of the same time or a little later – that is, what the difference is, at the essential level, between the anti-image and absolute image. Why is the ontological status of the works of these two artists equal at the level of artistic intervention (and consequently of art historical hermeneutics) but totally different when we look at them from the perspectives of image semiotics and phenomenology?183 Although in both cases we are dealing 183 | Art historian Ješa Denegri rightly observes that at the hermeneutical level, i.e. that at which the meanings of artistic objects based on diachronic choice and value criterion are established, the Black Paintings of Reinhardt and the meanders of Knifer have a lot of similarities. The artistic strategy that led to both of these painting performances is based on knowledge of the same art historical material and is inspired by comparable cultural historical contexts, i.e. a kind of Modernist imperative. From a critical angle that takes these cate­ gories into consideration, the differences that are thus being set up between Reinhardt and Knifer are related to formal solutions and the pictorial qualities of the pictorial surface – the style, then – which within the art historical hermeneutics could be considered the path that leads to the creation of the anti-painting (cf. Ješa Denegri, Julije Knifer, exhibition catalogue, Gallery of Fine Arts, Osijek, 1984, pp. 3-9). However, looked at from a particular perspective of pictorial appearing (which this book proposes), the differences between Reinhardt’s and Knifer’s pictures as objects of observation are much more apparent.



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22. Ad Reinhardt, Abstract Paintings (Black Paintings), oil on canvas, 152,4 x 152,4 cm (each), 1960-1966; installation view at David Zwirner Gallery, 2013, New York, USA with objectless painting, the most striking difference between Reinhardt and Knifer lies in the ability to distinguish the intensity of “events” on the surface of the canvas: in the former it is about combining almost indiscernible square zones produced in minimally nuanced “depths” of black (Fig. 22). This indiscernibility makes the visual perception of what appears as visible fact on the image almost identical with the possibility (or impossibility) of the visual perception of the picture as an object that is different from its own surrounding. As Stephanie Rosenthal observes, the hardly perceptible square surfaces on the Reinhardt canvases occupy a transitional space between the visible and the invisible, between sensory presence and absence. Only on extremely attentive observation do the orthogonal forms suggest an artist’s intervention into what are the otherwise more or less impenetrable differences between the individual parts of the image surface.184 Since art criticism 184 | Stephanie Rosenthal, Black Paintings (Reinhardt, Rothko, Stella), Munich: Haus der Kunst, 2006, pp. 39-40.

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has traditionally concentrated on the events within the surface of the image, exhibition set-ups necessarily privilege the signifying aspect of the work itself and so such paintings are most often placed on the kind of ground that can most precisely reveal the character of the artist’s intervention. However, if we were for the moment to ignore the fact that works from the Black Paintings series are artistic objects, and if we were to try to see them as pure image information, then their “pictureness” is no longer self-evident. For example, placed on a black ground, these canvases would differ from the ground only minimally or, in some extreme cases, not at all. The meaning of Reinhardt’s black canvases as art objects should thus be seen from at least three cognitive-theoretical angles: the art historical, the semiotic and the phenomenological. In the first case, the meaning of the artistic object is to be found in the type of the highly modernist experiment, i.e. in the process started by Malevich’s Suprematist abstraction and the historical avant-gardes in general. The semiotic angle reveals to us the problematizing of the function of visibility as a theme of the artwork. This approach is closely connected with the art historical, for we cannot deny the earlier mentioned fact that the problem of visibility is equally present in the Baroque fresco, for example, in those by Andrea Pozzo in Sant’Ignazio in Rome, and in the monochrome painting of the 1960s. In the third approach, the phenomenological, we are interested in what happens at the place of transition, at the moment when the pictorial presentation de-ontologizes itself, just as the artwork is paradoxically constituted through the observer’s inability to perceive the differences between the image and the continuity of the reality outside the image. The example of the illusionist frescos of the 17 th century shows the extent to which the art historical approach is important to the understanding of the contemporary phenomenology of the painting, and how important all three approaches are for an establishment of a general theory of visual representations (Fig. 23). And yet, in an attempt to determine the ontological difference between the image and anti-image, we shall be directed primarily by the two latter approaches, which should ultimately lead us to a fairly plausible definition of



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23. Andrea Pozzo, The Triumph of St. Ignatius, 1685, fresco on stucco (detail); church Sant’Ignazio, Rome, Italy Knifer’s art as an example of the absolute image, and not of the anti-image. In so doing, we shall concern ourselves with what I would like to call the “hermeneutic thesis”: with the help of the art historical approach on the line of the tradition of the historical avant-gardes, it clearly suggests to us that Knifer’s meanders should be considered anti-images, for they radically and uncompromisingly distance themselves from the pictorial representation of recognizable forms, so important in the history of mimetic art.185 This widely disseminated thesis is based on the belief that an artistic image in principle possesses greater perceptual capacity 185 | Perhaps it was this aspect, that of non-iconicity, that Knifer had in mind when in his Writings he refers on countless occasions to his own canvases and drawings as anti-images. In this discussion, we have taken the stance that the art historical approach is just one of the many ways through which visual artifacts can be analyzed, their artistic aspects remaining the key subject of the analysis. The examination of methods of approach to the work of art has to be of a character that is just as experimental as the work itself.

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and that its value as an art object has a crucial role in the ontology of the image in general as a visual phenomenon. This is certainly abetted by the interpretation of works of modern art as outcomes of philosophical ponderings, metalinguistic commentaries and self-reflexive practices of the artists themselves. Filiberto Menna, in his well-known book La linea analitica dell’arte moderna, stands for just such a point of view, claiming that modern artists have shifted their own interests from expressive and representative procedures to the analysis of the nature and purpose of the artistic act. For the first time in history, the production of art occurred at the very same moment as the theoretical reflections about it; that is, artists, when creating their works, at the same time commented on the ontological status of what they had created.186 The Italian theorist is aware of the fundamental problem that such a manner of understanding the artistic act implies and so he is interested in how to separate these two processes from the point of view of the reception of the artwork on the one hand and the establishment of a new philosophy of art on the other. In other words, he poses the question as to whether art can at all discuss itself from the position of what fundamentally constitutes it – the artwork. In order to respond to this question, he refers to the German philosopher Rudolph Carnap, who in his work Logische Syntax der Sprache of 1934 discusses whether it is possible to determine the syntactic rules that govern a language without going outside that language. Carnap proposes that it is possible if the expressive means of a language enable this, i.e. if we first manage to make an intra-linguistic distinction between the “language object” and the metalinguistic “language instrument”.187 Menna claims that conceptual artists do this precisely by using written or spoken language – text – to create works that we experience as image, that is, as visual art. Menna is of the opinion that this phenomenon has essentially defined modern art from as early as the 186 | Filiberto Menna, La linea analitica dell’arte moderna. Le figure e le icone, 3rd edition, Turin: Einaudi, 1975, p. 4. 187 | Maria Grazia Sandrini, La filosofia di Rudolf Carnap tra empirismo e trascendentalismo, Florence: Florence University Press, 2012, pp. 36-37.



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Pointillist structuring of the image surface in Georges Seurat, which he holds to be a fateful turning point in the constitution of painterly modernism and artistic modernism in general. But why is Seurat’s Sunday on La Grande Jatte actually the beginning of what Menna calls the “analytical line of modern art”? Because this painting for the first time clearly establishes the difference between the condition of the visibility of the image itself, that is, of the “punctiform color fields” characteristic of Seurat and what we recognize in the image. In other words, the surface of the image points to its own having been produced as image, and this producedness, being a purely visual phenomenon, is clearly different from visual representation (Fig. 24). This difference leads to the connection between what we see on the canvas on the one hand and the extra-pictorial reality of the outside world on the other becoming increasingly unimportant, while events on or in the painting itself will become ever more crucial. Seurat’s pointillist approach, then, unites a twofold analytical process which would later be developed in the framework of modern art: the “aniconic line” that was primarily to deal with forms that neither denote nor connote any kind of extra-image reality and the “iconic line” that was to deal with more complex systems of pictorial representation. Menna defines the aniconic line as being focused on the pictoriality of the surface, while the iconic line is addressed to tableau and representation.188 Although it is neither illusionist nor mimetic, the iconic line in avant-garde art deals with the problem of visual phenomena that stem from outside the image but are within it reinterpreted and redefined, setting up the ontology of the artistic image through a dialectical relation with extra-image reality. We can put within the styles of the iconic line, accordingly, Impressionism, Cubism, Fauvism, and all those that have what Menna calls a “fondamento mimetico”. The aniconic line covers the radical abstract styles that consciously relinquish complex syntactic structures so as to examine the conditions of the creation, reception and visibility of art objects in themselves. Menna, however, provocatively observes that even the best known “anti-image” of the 188 | Menna, op. cit., pp. 10-13, 64.

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24. Georges Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte, oil on canvas, 1884-1886, 308 x 207,6 cm (detail); The Art Institute of Chicago, USA aniconic line of modern art, the Black Square on a White Background by Malevich, is not a “symbolic form” but a “primary structure” that “has no intention of representing even itself” but only to prompt the mind of the viewer to engage in a debate about the nature of art.189 If we follow the aniconic line of modern art and accept Menna’s proposition that Black Square or, still more pronouncedly, White Square on a White Background, created in 1918, represent the most radical attempts to raise the fundamental questions of the ontology of art with the anti-image, is it at all possible to go on creating anti-images and require that they be discussed as a hermeneutic problem? If Malevich’s Black Square has “no intention of representing even itself”, has the absolute in the understanding of the anti-image as an art historical phenomenon thereby been reached, after which the concept of anti-image need no longer be interpreted as the final point in the development of the aniconic line of modern art but only as a genre or typology within 189 | Ibid., p. 67.



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the styles of abstract painting? According to Menna, the aniconic line ends with the Black Paintings of Reinhardt that do away completely with any kind of iconic, symbolic or representative residue, which we could still, although entirely conditionally, find in Malevich. In this way they prevent the establishment of any difference at all between iconicity and aniconicity, image and world, representation and reality, and so on. Black paintings are, strictly speaking, anti-images or non-images. Put in very simplified terms, for “something” to be an anti-image, “it” cannot be experienced distinctively as an image but as part of the continuity of extra-image reality. For us to understand why Knifer’s canvases and drawings with the motif of meander cannot be anti-images, we have to accept the thesis that the end point of the aniconic line of modern art is achieved when the image is hermeneutically and phenomenologically cancelled out and vanishes in pure reality. In other words, when it no longer represents anything whatsoever and when it arrives on the verge of invisibility. Knifer’s meanders satisfy the first “condition” of being anti-images, for they represent nothing. However, unlike in Reinhardt or in the series of black paintings of Mark Rothko, the second condition, i.e. the problem of the perception of the difference between image surface and the spatial continuity outside the image surface – the concept that Boehm calls the “iconic difference” – is not of theoretical relevance in the case of Knifer. Knifer’s images are surfaces that still make something visible, although that “something” is not necessarily correlated with any extra-image reality. This kind of divergent effect is possible because the ontological status of the image is not the same from a hermeneutic and a phenomenological perspective, and also because the “mere” visibility of the surface of Knifer’s meanders makes it impossible for them to be taken as non-images or anti-images (Fig. 25). On the other hand, we have also shown that the art historical “hermeneutics of aniconicity” is realized most radically in the total and simultaneous invisibility of the image and the absence of representation. Here I mention once again that we are not dealing here with artistic value, rather with the image theory phenomenon of the visual perception of objects or things that we call

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25. Julije Knifer, MNA, acrylic on canvas, 1970, 95,3 x 114,5 cm; Musem for Contemporary Art, Zagreb, Croatia images. It is important to bear this in mind, for the anti-image and the absolute image are not artistic achievements in themselves and do not have the character of a value judgment; rather, and above all, of a different degree of triggering visual perception, which leads only to image objects being more or less visible as images.

5.2.3. The essentialist foundations of the absolute image: Modernism and abstraction For the course of further debate, it is crucial to understand why we are dealing at all with the essential ontological difference between something that perhaps is not an image and something that is an image in an absolute sense, and why we do this by making use of examples from the history of Modernism that on first glance would



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not be thought typical of image theory. Here I lean towards the theory of Martin Seel who thinks that the representational and figurative aspects of the image, what they depict or reproduce, particularly when we mean commercial images with a marked use value, is not also what most essentially characterizes them. Quite the contrary, in fact: “in the context of the question of the constitution of the picture and its perception, the so-called abstract picture proves to be the most concrete and therefore the paradigmatic case of the picture”.190 The fundamental difference between artistic and non-artistic images does not lie in the first not having a concrete purpose while the others endeavor to sell us some product, inform us about some event or perhaps stimulate us sexually. It is about something more important: the artistic image, above all, deals with the way in which it is produced; it is only about how it is made. Seel says that artistic images operate with what all other images a priori take for granted. The concept of visibility is certainly within this. The advertising image will never make a theme out of visibility, for visibility is the basic condition for and taken for granted in visual communication. On the other hand, for the understanding of artistic images, it is crucial to notice the difference between the visible (on the image surface) and the presented (via the painted surface). “The artistic picture reveals how it reveals what it reveals”.191 Here, indeed, we endeavor to go further still and try to answer the question: what is necessary for the paradigmatic image to become the absolute image? In most of his paintings and drawings Julije Knifer uses the familiar motif of the meander, the orthogonal broken form that owes its visibility on the surface of a painting or drawing to the contrast between, on the one hand, the surface of the image as the physical medium on which the artist has intervened and, on the other hand, the forms that are drawn or painted. Irrespective of whether the forms take up more or less of the surface, or whether the contrast is greater or smaller, the geometrical content of the image is always visible. We might indeed imagine a situation in which the surface 190 | Seel, op. cit., pp. 150-161. 191 | Ibid., p. 170.

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of the image is visually equated with the extra-image surface (space outside the image), but only on the condition that the area outside the image is treated as a visual ornament of the same kind that is inside the surface of the image. Since there is no such regularly designed natural surface it might as well, theoretically, originate only and solely with an intervention that deliberately wanted to equate the intra-image and extra-image surface, only on the condition that, once again, we are dealing with an artistic act. I think we can conclude that, no matter what their concrete form, or the degree of blackness or whiteness, Knifer’s meander pictures, unlike the Black Series of Ad Reinhardt or Mark Rothko, establish a radical otherness with respect to the continuity of the extra-image surface. This makes them not only paradigmatic image objects, according to Seel’s criterion, but also emblematic objects of Modernist painting, considering the essentialist conception of art of Clement Greenberg, who claimed that the flatness and delimitation of the pictorial surface was what made Modernist painting a practice on its own as compared with all other artistic trends and epochs.192 Although it vigorously endorses the specific features of the procedure of Modernist painting, Greenberg’s theory is in principle very traditionalist, for it posits Modernism as the ultimate point of art historical teleology. He connects the nature of the artistic essence with individual artistic media, and not with art as an overarching practice that appears in different forms in various instances of art.193 Michael Fried, on the other hand, thinks that the artistic essence is itself a product of Modernist convention: that a paradox occurred, in which Modernist Abstraction, insisting on a criticism of its own painting foundation (which is, after all, one of Greenberg’s key theses in the above-mentioned piece of 1960), undermined its own critical practice.194 I would 192 | Clement Greenberg, “Modernist Painting”, Art and Literature, No. 4, Spring 1960, pp. 193-201. 193 | Diarmuid Costello, “On the very idea of a ‘Specific’ medium: Michael Fried and Stanley Cavell on Painting and Photography as Arts”, Critical Inquiry, 34(2), 2008, p. 286. 194 | Ibid., p. 288.



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here ask the question about what it is that is essentially foundational for Modernist painting: is it Greenberg’s insistence on flatness and two-dimensionality, characteristics that Modernist painting does not share with any other artistic kind, or is it the very concept of image that is essential, and that, as Seel puts it, is most clearly and paradigmatically set up in the abstract picture? In other words, can we consider Knifer’s abstract paintings absolute because they ultimately put into practice the Modernist ideal of “pure art”, or because they are actually about an ontologically “pure image”? We can find the same dilemma, if phrased a little differently, in Fried, who, on the one hand, completely supports Greenberg’s insistence on abstraction as the essence of Modernist art but, on the other hand, requires that Greenberg’s insistence on the flatness of the image surface is additionally expanded by the demand for it to be impossible for the image to be perceived as a three-dimensional object, i.e. Modernist painting has to relinquish “literariness” and “theatricality” by relinquishing becoming an “object”. In this process of the relinquishment of space, abstract forms have to play the chief role; they must belong to the surface of the actual image, and not derive from the spatial continuity around it.195 But have the essentialist demands of Greenberg and Fried not already come very close to describing the absolute image? The theory of Modernist painting endeavored via the artistic image to set up a new ontological primacy of the image in general, so that it is not conceived of only as a reflection of the physical world, the Platonic “shadow of a shadow”, or the simulacrum of reality, but would have the possibility itself to become a medium of original ideas on the basis of which the artistic image would create and not imitate reality. In her excellent and insufficiently well known study Word and Image, Croatian philosopher Vanda Božičević has contributed to a large extent to an understanding of the ontological position of images by showing that they are divided into two basic kinds – optical and graphic. At the beginning of her analysis of the differences between these two basic types she gives a simple working explanation, according to which optical images are basically 195 | Michael Fried, “Art and Objecthood”, Artforum, No. 5, 1967, pp. 12-23.

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physical phenomena, while graphic images are symbolic representations of physical phenomena. The latter kind, accordingly, includes all artistic images, drawings and paintings, while she explains photography and film are sub-species of optical images. She notes that the fundamental restriction to our understanding of the essence of image representation was established when classical aesthetic theory accepted Plato’s definition of the ontological status of the image according to the model of the optical, i.e. the mirror, image.196 The essential contradiction of classical art consisted of its being unable to transcend this contradictory nature of the mirror image as its basic model, for the mirror image at the same time represented the model of perfect resemblance that representation in images should aim at, as well as the paradigmatic example of the perceptual illusion that is only like reality and can never be equated with it. Ultimately, this would lead to the “impossible” ontology of the classical image in general, for the achievement of the ideal of the perfect copy of reality would result in the annulment of the image itself as an object or concept ontologically different from reality. Božičević claims that the negative consequences to the ontological status of the image and of art in general that derive from Plato’s theory of the image resulted in a dual outcome: on the one hand, in the total rejection of the mirror image as the model for the creation of graphic (that is, artistic) images and, on the other, an acceptance of the mirror image as dialogue between art and reality.197 Do we not find that the “aniconic 196 | Vanda Božičević, Riječ i slika. Hermeneutički i semantički pristup [Word and Image. Hermeneutical and Semantical Approach], Zagreb: Hrvatsko filozofsko društvo, 1990, p. 40. 197 | Ibid., pp. 41-42. As is well known, from this kind of understanding of the authentic nature of images, two complementary theories developed, the “conventionalist” or semiotic theory of Nelson Goodman (rejection of the mirror image) and the “immanentist” or hermeneutic theory of Hans Georg Gadamer (linkage between the pictured and the real object). Božičević says that the advantage of the conventionalist theory over the immanentist theory is that it definitely separates artistic pictures from optical illusions and requires that we deal with them as sign systems: by interpreting the relation



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line” of modern art, as explained by Filiberto Menna, is actually cognate to the idea of the radical rejection of the mirror image, and that the iconic line is just another name for the dialectic exami­nation of the relations between art and reality? Explained thuswise, the modernist aesthetic has taken over the unresolved impasses of classical aesthetics and in the changed circumstances of the age of mechanical reproduction sent the problems of the ontology of the (artistic) image back to the beginning.

5.2.4. Definition of the absolute image: A sign of radical otherness I would like to expound the basic idea of the absolute image, starting off from the classical thesis of the originator of visual semiotics, Charles Sanders Peirce, and the phenomenological insights into the nature of the image of Martin Seel. In Peirce’s semiotic theory, one of the key places is occupied by the concept of the “iconic sign”, or hypoicon. As we know, an iconic sign is related to what it represents (of which it is the sign) by its visual qualities, i.e. the features that it shares with its referent, such as color, shape, outline and so on. Irrespective of the degree of similarity, the iconic sign always assumes a certain degree of adjustment to the medium in which it appears, some form of standardization and conventionalization, for it to be able at all to represent something that it itself is not. However, Peirce says that the between image and object as a semantic relation, conventionalist theory is rescued from the “trap of ontological naivety”, i.e. from debates that deal on the whole with the kinds and intensities of the participation of reality in the picture. On the other hand, the immanentist theory retains the idea, attra­ctive to many, of “artist as demiurge”, who plays with levels of reality and in this way has the possibility to jointly create not only pictorial but also extra- pictorial reality (ibid., p. 87). Goodman develops his fundamental ideas about the symbolic character of all visual depictions in the book Languages of Art. Approach to a Theory of Symbols (see Goodman, op. cit.) and Gadamer’s theory about the essence of the picture as representation is developed in the work Wahrheit und Methode (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, Paul Siebeck, 1972).

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iconic sign can be so like the thing it represents that the difference between one and the other can vanish totally. The iconic sign derives from the original iconic sign – “firstness”, as he calls it – that is still extremely like what it depicts and in fact does not even differ from what is shown. Every representation starts with this zero degree of semioticity when the sign is still not distinguished from its object. The original iconic sign cannot refer to its object, cannot replace what it represents, for it has actually not yet been distinguished from it.198 It is interesting that in Peirce the original iconic sign has to be understood in two ways: as a kind of pre-semiotic state and yet also as a totally immersive effect of representation. How is that possible? In such a way that the total similitude of the sign to its referent leads to “a moment when we lose the consciousness that it is not the thing, the distinction of the real and the copy disappears, and it is for the moment a pure dream: not any particular existence, and yet not general. At that moment we are contemplating an icon”.199 German semiotician Winfried Nöth, on the basis of Peirce’s insights, derives a radical thesis that the originally iconic signs are not only those that are equated with their referents out of similarity but those kinds of signs that we do not connect with the referents for completely different reasons – because of the principle of difference.200 Abstract works of modern art are, accordingly, signs that have become their own objects; they do not refer to anything but themselves. Since they cannot not refer to themselves, abstract paintings are necessarily signs, but are they necessarily images and to what extent? From some perspectives of visual thinking, as we have shown, the marginal area 198 | Charles Sanders Peirce, Collected Papers, Vol. 1-6, Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss (eds.); Vol. 7-8, Arthur W. Burks (ed.); Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1958, 2.92 and 2.276 (quoted by annotating number of volume and paragraph). 199 | Op. cit., 3.326. 200 | Winfried Nöth, “Warum Bilder Zeichen sind?”, in Stefan Majetschak (ed.), Bild-Zeichen. Perspektiven einer Wissenschaft vom Bild, Munich: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2005, pp. 58-60.



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26. Julije Knifer, Untitled, acrylic on canvas, 1992, 200 x 179,7 cm; Mitchell–Innes & Nash Gallery, New York, USA

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of visibility/invisibility in the Black Paintings of Ad Reinhardt can with justice be called non-images, and in radical cases non-signs too.201 Knifer’s meanders are absolute images and absolute signs because they refer to absolutely nothing but themselves and never call into question their own visibility. Meanders represent and refer to themselves. They are absolute images for they exist outside the discourse of representation, similitude and symbolization; they cannot be substituted for something else, nor does extra-image reality relate to them in any way at all. Seel says that figurative images depict themselves so as to be able to refer to other phenomena outside themselves. On the other hand, for Seel the paradigmatic image is that which is distinguished from the continuity of the extra-image surface, by not trying to compete with the extra-image in any way (by symbolism, representation and so on). Every form of figuration in the image is “an additional achievement” with respect to the original, paradigmatic, objectless image. Knifer’s meanders are absolute images in that they produce precisely no kind of additional achievement. Absolute images may show themselves only and nothing but themselves; they are not symbols, signs, models, references or relations. If for some immanent and necessary visibility we nevertheless want to consider them signs, then the absolute images are just signs of their own absolute imageness (Fig. 26). For an understanding of the meaning of the notion of the absolute image in Knifer, the difference that Seel establishes between image and mere visual object is also important. It is not enough, that is, for an image to represent something if we do not know that it is representing something and so “this highlighting of aspects of its own appearing is the decisive pictorial operation, a highlighting that is 201 | Nöth contends that abstract pictures cannot be signs not only because they relate to themselves, but also because they belong to painting as an artistic kind that has its own history. Their epistemology is anchored in art history that, in terms of discipline and theme, claims them for its area of inte­rest; finally, if it seems that there is nothing that might have any meaning, at least the title of some abstract painting can provide the painting with meaning (ibid.).



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constitutive of abstract and figurative pictorial surfaces alike”.202 “Without this (attentiveness to an) indicating function, which refers presentationally to particular properties of the pictorial object, we would have just a visual object, but not a picture in front of us”.203 An absolute image, then, is composed by two essential determinants: the first is that it points up its own artifactuality as image; the second is that it deliberately refrains from the “additional achievement” of figuration and referentiality, characteristic of all contemporary electronic media. A hundred years back, Peirce observed that if the iconic sign is absolutely like its referent, the function of the otherness of the image is lost, although the visibility of the sign and referent can be retained. In the absolute image we cannot recognize the sign and the referent for, if we were to recognize them, then they would necessarily refer to something outside the image and this would destroy its self-referentiality. In the absolute image we can recognize the sign only on the condition that it refers to itself, only if it endorses the otherness of the image. The absolute image does not refer to some new ontology of the visual but, somewhat paradoxically, it is a feature that we can observe only subsequently, in comparison with other visual phenomena “that are not images (anymore)” or never were.204 Looking at it in formal and stylistic terms, in principle we might proclaim all those pictures that refer to nothing except themselves as absolute; and then those that exist for themselves and have no other function; and finally, those that insist on their own visibility as surfaces distinct from the continuity of reality in the sense of the “iconic difference”. However, the concept of the absolute image cannot belong in the canon of the 202 | Seel, op. cit., p. 173. 203 | Ibid. 204 | Here I again refer the reader to my article entitled “What is not an image (anymore)?”, in which there is a discussion of what the consequences to the ontology of the picture are when the radical otherness of the picture, endorsed in Modernist abstract painting, is replaced with the mass media principle of the simultaneity of image and event. I call this principle iconic simultaneity.

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art historical system of values because this notion cannot be derived out of even one of the two “analytical lines” of modern art, as the two basic tendencies of the avant-garde and Modernism are defined by Filiberto Menna. On the other hand, the anti-image is a legitimate concept of art history for it represents the ultimate development point of the iconoclasm of Modernism that had two peaks: in Malevich and in the Black Paintings of Reinhardt. Knifer’s meanders should be looked at as part of a different system: not that which repeats the anti-image so as to be accommodated within it, but a system that reveals the paradigm to which it itself does not belong – the radical new ontology of digital images. Accordingly, after art history has confirmed that the avant-garde was capable of theoretically conceiving and practically achieving the anti-image (which was then finally and paradoxically produced in the high modernist experimentation with radical anti-iconicity), image science has to expand the perspective of looking at those art objects we call pictures or paintings; it has to place them in the context of the technological and scientific production of images, virtual reality, simulacrums, hybrid visual and perceptual experiences and digitally generated reality. In circumstances in which notions like reference and representation have ceased to be handholds for our understanding of the imageness of the world, and when every digital image is in principle an anti-image, it is necessary to preserve methods for differentiating pictorial surfaces in relation to all other kinds of digitally created experiences. This is necessary not for the sake of some retrograde evocation of the past of image/pictorial representations, but because of our understanding of the radically different nature of contemporary digital images. The absolute images of Knifer, looked at from outside the usual viewpoints such as art and value, become a point of departure for the understanding of our overall visual reality. What, in the end, is an absolute image? Having considered what is ontologically different in it from other image phenomena, one has to ask whether it is only “Knifer’s” and if we are still interested in what other critical purposes this concept can serve us. Throughout the arguments in this final chapter, we have tried to construct Knifer’s



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paintings as a special kind of meta-theoretical discourse, inasmuch as they are “just” the art pictures – that discourse is more like an allegory of theory. I would like to conclude this discussion with a proposal of twelve theses that could help to shift our perspective, enabling us to look at the various theoretical and practical problems of contemporary visual culture from the perspective of understanding the nature of absolute pictorial experiences: 1. An absolute image is an artifact created in order for it to come into pictorial existence, but not necessarily in order to be a picture of something. Much more important than what an absolute image looks like and what we see in it is its pointing to the fact that the image or picture can be only that which clearly sets the cut to physical reality. 2. An absolute image is not a value, virtue or merit of one image among others but a different class of, specifically pictorial, appearing. Contrary to the understanding of the absolute in the tradition of European metaphysical philosophy, the absolute image does not indicate the ultimate reach of an idea or a state, but rather the fact that there are ever more fascinating visual experiences in the digital universe that are not images. The absolute image is a physical fact placed in the world, not a philosophical term. 3. An absolute image owes its “imageness” (or “pictureness”) to the convention of the high-modernist stance against representationality. Insisting on the art of the modern epoch not to be reduced to an imitation of reality, but to participate in the processes of the production of new realities, has allowed a lasting difference to exist between reality and its simulated versions. In the absolute image that difference is always discernible. 4. An absolute image occupies a visibly delimited (framed) area that differentiates itself from the surrounding space: it possesses an “iconic difference”. Though in a formal sense it is most often abstract and unpredictable, the absolute image holds all the features of a classical image, such as a frame and a closed inner structure. Because of such features, the absolute image is always realistic in its pictorial (material) way of appearing, but at the same time it is by definition anti-illusionist.

Pictorial appearing as an image/reality relation

5. An absolute image may occur only on a two-dimensional surface, making for a discernible picture plane. By entering into three-dimensional or multi-dimensional spaces, fascinating visual-immersive experiences can be achieved, but such experiences prevent the perceptual recognition of two-dimensionality, which is the fundamental characteristic of any pictorial experience. 6. An absolute image may be regarded as an artwork, but its social status, apart from being an artifact, does not relate to its ontological status. If the term art is used only as a metonym of value and social hierarchy then the concept of an absolute image will be of little or no importance for art. However, if art is understood primarily as a cognitive process then the absolute image can be a powerful pictorial tool. 7. An absolute image is neither a sign of any extra-pictorial thing nor phenomenon nor reference, except for a sign of itself and reference to itself. Likewise, if we recognize forms of symbolic value in a picture, if we recognize faces, objects, or events therein, then we can be positive that it is not an absolute image, but a conventional pictorial representation or a digitally generated visual phenomenon. 8. An absolute image must always retain a clear sense of otherness in relation to the ground against or on which it appears. The intention of the classic Aristotelian concept of mimesis was just the opposite: to “replicate” reality so that we could experience it again – but much more strongly – in catharsis. Only apparently paradoxically, in relation to the absolute image, Renaissance and Baroque images are therefore the real examples of anti-images. 9. An absolute image, in order to acquire that ontological status, is not dependent on the medium through which it appears given that the iconic difference is maintained. Oversized screens that we find in control rooms (like in the movie Eye in the Sky or the TV series Homeland) favor the human need for immersive experiences. However, the absolute image is not necessarily related to the (analogue) technology of production, but is always related to the phenomenology of the physical world. 10. An absolute image is not necessarily abstract or non-figurative, but given its preferred non-referentiality, it is most likely to be “abstract”. Since it is not possible to determine empirically at which point the



Pictorial Appearing

image loses its referentiality, that is, at which point it “stops” resembling someone or something (the question of similarity is, in fact, culturally conditioned), the absolute image cannot be successfully dealt with through the categories of its relationship towards reality. 11. An absolute image is never simultaneous with something it “depicts”, thus ruling out all phenomena of iconic simultaneity, like drone visualizations and closed-circuit surveillance cameras. An absolute image corresponds to a traditional sense of time in art inasmuch as it only appears after the time of its production or making has already elapsed. 12. The concept of absolute image serves to delimit the area claimed by the traditional concept of the picture as a “cut-out” of reality, in contrast to immersive techno-scientific pictorial phenomena. Although the absolute image is only a technical term that signifies the undeniable and unquestionable experience of the image – precisely because it does not have to represent anybody, reproduce anything or stand for something – it will most likely be an artistic phenomenon.

Coda: This is not the reality

The fate of images has always been determined by technology. We know this not only by following the seminal writings of Heidegger, McLuhan, Kittler, Flusser, Virilio and Baudrillard – we know this simply by following the development of the technique of fresco painting during the Renaissance period when rather simple alterations in apply­ing the pigment either on a wet, dry or semi-dry surface produced considerably different effects, especially in depictions of human faces. Both Michelangelo and contemporary movie directors use representational techniques to depict something, and the technology they employ is – albeit different in many respects – similar in an onto­­­logical sense. For neither technology of depiction, whether analog or digital, changes the very nature of the fresco or the cinematic representation to being ontologically irreducible to what is depicted. In terms of image theory, in the whole of human civilization we have been dealing with one and the same type of picture – that which differs from reality inasmuch as it cannot be identified with reality in any essentially real(istic) way. It is not only Michelangelo’s painterly skills that made him important for the cultural history of images but, more importantly, it is the way he combined his artistic intellect with an innovative fresco technique that allowed him to express himself in particular representational media. It is no different with even the most advanced digital technology for the creation and alteration of images, for example in Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049: in both cases, representation is used as an authentic ontological capacity of images to depict or re-present something that is similar to a common concept of reality. Images are capable of making things similar to reality


Pictorial Appearing

27. René Magritte, The Treachery of Images, oil on canvas, 1929, 60 x 81 cm; Los Angeles County Museum of Arts, USA exactly because they themselves are radically dissimilar to the reality they help to (re)create. That is why, ontologically speaking, looking at the Old Masters is no different from looking at cinematic representations, and it will remain so as long as the sense of the original reality is preserved. Or, to put it differently, in line with the motto of this book, for as long as we dare to question the nature of the reality we live in. The future of images depends on the technologies of the production of visual phenomena in general, for visuality is an all-encompassing capacity of a human being while pictoriality depends on the materiality of the things in the world. W.J.T. Mitchell has taught us that pictures and images are things of the world (graphic, optical, perceptual) or that have been generated from it (mental, verbal); therefore, a future without images is imaginable only if we can imagine images without the world they come from. People could see even if there was nothing to see. And that seems to be the point at which the future can considerably change both images and our perception of them, namely, any technological achievement or ma-

Coda: This is not the reality

chine that enables us to lose the sense of the original reality is per se a non-pictorial device; in virtual reality, for example, a painting that looks like a painting and feels like a painting is not a painting but belongs to a single category of all virtual things, to a sort of singularity continuum. We can imagine that in the near future we will be able to touch and feel everything that we virtually see, and this will apply to paintings as well. But what reality would this virtual painting help us differentiate from (compared to Michelangelo’s frescos in the Sistine chapel or Blade Runner or any other worldly depiction that still help us to differentiate The creation of Adam or a dystopian Los Angeles from our physical reality)? In 1929 the Belgian artist René Magritte painted The treachery of images, a painting that realistically depicts a pipe on a monochrome background. This work eventually became famous mainly thanks to a sentence under the pipe stating “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” – “This is not a pipe”. Although simple in its visual design, the painting provoked something ontologically much more important than a pure depiction of an object could have provoked. It was a kind of visual theory of a visual artifact – a metapicture, as Mitchell would have it. What it meant then, and what it still means now, is that a picture of something is a picture of something, and that the picture and the something it depicts are in a specific, pictorially determined relationship. This relationship is distinguished, in its own right, by the difference between what is depicted and what we see as depicted. It is precisely this is–as relationship – the irreducibility of is to as and vice versa – that all images are dependent on, and it is precisely this ontological irreducibility that has been radically shaken up with the advent and continuous rise of virtual experiences. When one puts on a device for creating virtual visualizations and as long as one has it activated, there are no longer any physical obstacles preventing him or her from seeing whatever there is to be seen, although none of it exists or may have existed in the original, “departing” world. A new post-pictorial disclaimer under some virtual pipe therefore should read: Ceci n’est pas la réalité – This is not the reality.



absence of image 179

Benjamin, Walter 95, 150, 155

absolute image 27, 177, 178, 181, 183,

Berenson, Saul 48, 53

186, 191, 192, 194, 196, 199-204

Beuys, Joseph 133

Abu Nazir 47

Bildobjekt 63

aesthetics of appearing 131, 136, 169

Bildträger 63

allegory 26, 82, 126, 127, 175, 202

Bin Laden, Osama 32, 47

Alloa, Emmanuel 19, 70, 74

Binoche, Juliette 140

Alpers, Svetlana 79, 109, 110

Blade Runner 2049 22, 25, 26, 205, 207

al-Qaeda 48

Blake, William 107

Altamira 21

Boccioni, Umberto 138-141

alteration of resemblance 38

Boehm, Gottfried 30, 34-37, 43, 45-47,

American National Security Agency 48

52, 71-76, 78, 81, 109-113, 119, 125, 128-

analytical lines 178, 183, 188, 201

130, 135, 137, 142, 148, 152, 161, 171, 175,

aniconic line 188-190

178, 179, 182, 190

animistic turn 67

Böhme, Gernot 78

anti-image 177-179, 181-183, 185, 186,

Božičević, Vanda 194, 195

188-191, 201, 203

Bresson, Robert 38

appearing of appearances 136

Briski Uzelac, Sonja 108, 109, 180, 181

Arab Spring 36

Bryson, Norman 39

Aristotle 20, 68, 71, 121, 146, 156, 165,

Burda, Hubert 72, 151

171, 203 art historical teleology 193

calculated image 151

Artist in His Atelier 32

Cameron, James 26

Ästhetik des Erscheinens 27, 131, 169

Canudo, Ricciotto 93

Auteuil, Daniel 140

Caravaggio 32, 92, 138, 139, 141 Carnap, Rudolph 187

Barthes, Roland 32, 124, 156, 157

CCTV cameras 144

Baxandall, Michael 79

Cézanne 98, 132

Belting, Hans 65, 66, 126

Christ 35, 70, 126, 139


Pictorial Appearing

perception of difference 54, 59, 133

Christ Pantokrator 70, 71

image-as-difference 21, 135, 171

CIA 47, 48, 53 cinematic time 141

digital determinism 87

cinematographic apparatus 134

disinterested pleasure 122, 132

Clinton, Hillary 31

divinity 19, 20 non-depictability [of] 20, 21

Close, Chuck 167 conceptual art 36, 42

Duchamp, Marcel 132, 138, 140, 141

Constantine V 19, 69 consubstantiality 69

Eberwein, Robert T. 96

Costa, Antonio 96, 97, 100

Eco, Umberto 156, 157

Costello, Diarmuid 193

Eddy, Don 167

counter-image 179

Eisenstein, Sergei 95-98, 102, 104, 106

Crary, Jonathan 18, 39, 64, 142, 143

Elkins, James 35-37, 72, 74

Crowther, Paul 120-128, 137

emancipation of the image 171

cyberspace 34, 115

Erinnerung 65

cyborg-killer 26

essentialist 61, 62, 64, 68, 71-73, 78, 8386, 112, 122, 125, 137, 155, 173, 191, 193,

Danto, Arthur 132


Davey, Nicholas 123

Estes, Richard 166, 167

Davis, Whitney 77

extra-image surface 193, 199

Debord, Guy 78, 113

extra-pictorial 33, 203

Decalogue 19, 21 Second Commandment 19 Deckard, Rick 23

reality 33, 37, 63, 129, 157, 162, 182, 188, 196 Eye in the Sky 203

Denegri, Ješa 183 depiction 17, 19, 20, 23, 29, 35, 42, 51,

family of images 77, 83, 112

53, 57, 69, 70, 81, 88, 95, 106, 126, 138,

Felman, Shoshana 181

139, 141, 142, 146-150, 158, 182, 205, 207

Fiedler, Konrad 17, 169, 174

dialectics of mediality 82, 83

figures of knowledge 81

Didi-Huberman, Georges 67

Fischer-Lichte, Erika 181

difference 18, 21, 30, 31, 35, 37-39, 43, 44,

flatness 44, 45, 148, 193, 194

46, 50-59, 68-70, 74-77, 81, 83, 84, 107,

Flusser, Vilém 118, 205

110, 115, 116, 119, 120, 129, 134, 147, 153,

fondamento mimetico 188

154, 162, 167, 168, 170, 177, 178, 180, 182-

fracture in looking 83

185, 188, 190-192, 194, 197, 199, 202, 207

Franklin, Thomas 158, 160


Freedberg, David 67

hyperrealism 83, 165, 167, 172, 173, 175,

Fried, Michael 85, 193, 194


Fry, Edward 90

hyper-transparent images 173 hypoicon 196

Gadamer, Hans Georg 72, 110, 195, 196 Gaiger, Jason 77, 78, 81

icon 37, 62, 68-70, 72, 94, 197

Gedächtnis 65

iconic 108, 110, 111

Gestaltung 169

iconic difference 34, 36, 37, 39, 41, 43,

Ghirlandaio, Domenico 91

45-47, 52, 54, 56, 58, 72, 75, 81, 82, 118,

Giotto 95, 107-109

125, 127-129, 133, 137, 142, 151-153, 161,

glitch 25, 26

165, 171, 173-177, 179, 190, 200, 202, 203

Goings, Ralph 167

iconic force field 75

Goodman, Nelson 63, 179, 180, 195,

iconic line 188, 196


iconic sign 62, 157, 158, 196, 197, 200

Gosling, Ryan 22

iconic simultaneity 18, 41, 52-54, 56,

Gozzoli, Benozzo 88

57, 59, 88, 119, 142, 144, 145, 162, 171,

graphic images 80, 83, 112, 195

200, 204

Grau, Oliver 30, 34, 39, 40, 150

iconoclasm 18, 19, 68, 69, 201

Greenberg, Clement 37, 43-46, 85, 193, 194

iconoclastic disputes 20 ikonische Wendung 113 illusion of immanence 54-56, 163

Haneke, Michael 139, 140

image consciousness 66, 163

Hartigan, John 118

image science 18, 33, 58, 66, 73, 78, 79,

Hartshorne, Charles 63, 197

81, 115, 148, 167, 170, 173, 201

Heidegger, Martin 114, 205

image theory 17, 26, 36, 56, 126, 142,

Hein, Birgit 94

155, 174, 182, 190, 192, 205

hermeneutic criticism 110

image urgency 76

hermeneutic thesis 186

image/text 107, 109

hermeneutics of aniconicity 190

image-as-appearing 135

Herod 91

image-text 107, 109

Herzogenrath, Wulf 94

imagetext 107-109

hologram image 152

imagining consciousness 55

Homeland 46-49, 53, 203

IMAX cinemas 128, 134, 150

Horvat Pintarić, Vera 104, 106

Imdahl, Max 108-110, 127

Husserl, Edmund 62, 63, 74, 155, 163, 174

immanence 70



Pictorial Appearing

immanence of the image 35, 72, 145

Lichtenstein, Jacqueline 35

immersion 30, 31, 34, 35, 39, 40, 52-54,

linguistic turn 73, 111

57-59, 71, 82, 118, 127, 134, 147, 150, 171

literariness 194

immersive images 34, 145

living medium 65

indexical sign 62

living pictures 65, 67

instrumentality of images 155

logic of the image 72, 76

intensity 19, 21-23, 68, 69, 73-75, 184,

logos 37, 108 iconic logos 72

196 intentional consciousness 163, 173

loss of the human 143

intentionality 155, 167, 169, 174

Lotman, Yuri 156

intersemiotic comparisons 102 intra-image surface 193

Maar, Christa 72, 151 Magritte, René 42, 51, 109, 206, 207

Jay, Martin 39

make-believe 148, 149

John of Damascus 19

Malevich, Kazimir 178, 179, 181, 185,

Joi 23, 25, 27

189, 190, 201

Jonas, Hans 66

Manet, Édouard 98

Joselit, David 44, 45

Manovich, Lev 56, 155

Judeo-Christian culture 20

Mariette 23, 27

Judeo-Christian image culture 68

Mathison, Carrie 47, 48, 53 matrix 34, 73, 74, 110

kinetoscope 143

meanders 177, 181, 183, 186, 190, 199,

Kittler, Friedrich 56, 151, 155, 205


Klammer, Markus 35

mediality 26, 67, 82, 83, 112, 135, 151-155

Klee, Paul 109

Medusa 32

Kosuth, Joseph 42

Mekas, Jonas 141

Kounellis, Jannis 133

Menna, Filiberto 178, 187-190, 196, 201

Kuleshov, Vladimir 96

mental images 55, 73, 80, 83, 85, 118

Kunstwollen 101, 121, 122, 124

Mersch, Dieter 67, 75, 77, 79, 81-83, 118, 134, 135, 137, 152-154

Las Meninas 32, 102, 103, 161

metaphysics of genre 85

le distinct 50, 52, 182

metaphysics of presence 29, 64, 85

Lechte, John 55, 56, 163

metapicture 32, 36, 51, 159, 161, 175, 207

Leonardo 107

meta-theoretical discourse 202

Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim 84, 85, 107

Metsu, Gabriel 109


Metz, Christian 63

OLED screens 128

Michelangelo 93, 205, 207

optic images 80, 83, 112

Miller, Frank 116, 117

otherness 30, 37, 59, 138, 148, 161, 193,

mimesis 20, 21, 68, 71, 149, 171, 203

196, 200, 203

Mitchell, W. J. T. 23, 29, 32, 33, 35, 36,

overtonal and vertical editing 96

39, 51, 64-67, 73-83, 107-109, 112, 113, 130, 142, 143, 151, 155, 159, 161, 175, 206,

Paić, Žarko 22, 73, 75, 114, 115, 118, 119,


123, 131, 137, 144, 153, 155

Mondzain, Marie-José 35, 68-70

painterly surface 43

Moore, Henry 168

painting in time 94

Moxey, Keith 30, 39, 64, 65, 77, 78, 81

Palaeolithic drawings 128

multispectral sensors 143

palimpsest 181

Münker, Stefan 144

Panofsky, Erwin 108, 109, 113, 121, 123,

Münsterberg, Hugo 93

124, 126, 127

Muybridge, Eadweard 138, 139, 141

paradigmatic picture 53, 136, 154

Mythologies 32

perceptual images 66, 72, 80, 112 phenomenality of appearing 132

Naef, Maja 35, 37, 72, 74

phenomenological turn 74, 137

Nancy, Jean-Luc 30, 49-53, 129, 148,

phenomenology of perception 175

171, 175, 182

Philostratus 107

natural generativity 129, 130, 147

Picasso 88-90, 92, 95, 100-106

neo-Kantian 40, 93

pictorial anachronism 138

new iconology 73

pictorial appearing 19, 21, 26, 79, 81,

Newman, Barnet 181

83, 86, 110, 112, 113, 116, 119, 120, 121,

Nietzsche, Friedrich 85, 85

128, 130, 133, 135, 137, 151-156, 162, 165,

Nikephoros 69

171, 173, 176, 202

non-image 26, 34, 43, 46, 82, 129, 134,

pictorial capacity 20

142, 176, 179, 182, 190, 199

pictorial consciousness 62, 63, 163

non-signs 199

pictorial dialetics 66

Nöth, Winfried 197, 199

pictorial experience 17, 18, 21, 67, 69, 81, 113, 133, 143, 146, 147, 150-152, 162,

Obama, Barack 31

168-171, 202, 203

objectlessness 183

pictorial in-betweenness 62

Occupy movement 36

pictorial limit 21, 22

Oculus Rift 118, 144

pictorial presence 29, 38, 41, 57, 58, 64



Pictorial Appearing

pictorial turn 23, 29, 39, 64, 65, 73, 76,

relational editing 96

88, 106, 108, 112, 113, 120, 130, 135, 142

relinquishment of space 194

pictorially visible 134, 137

Rembrandt 32, 115

picture plane 44, 203

Renaissance 20, 70, 88, 94, 100, 102,

pictureness 185, 202

108, 127, 146, 150, 203, 205

picturized object 54

replicant K 22-26

Plato 20, 68, 71, 115, 119, 194, 195

representation 18-23, 25-27, 29, 32, 33,

politics of the image 68

36, 39-43, 45, 47, 48, 50, 51, 56, 59, 61,

post-humanistic reality 67

62, 66-70, 74, 83, 85, 88, 90, 92, 95-98,

Pozzo, Andrea 185, 186

100, 104, 107, 115, 119, 121, 124-130, 135-

practical ontology 70

138, 141-146, 148-150, 153, 165, 167-169,

pre-semiotic state 197

171, 172, 176-182, 185, 186, 188, 190, 195-

productive imagination 121, 122, 124,

197, 199, 201-203, 205, 206


post-representation 112, 120, 126,

Prokofiev, Sergei 96


Pudovkin, Vsevolod 96

techniques of representation 145

Purgar, Krešimir 73, 75, 89, 123, 144,

teleology of representation 150

153, 162, 163, 165 putting in-image 97

the ecstasy of representation 98 Richter, Gerhard 138, 140, 141 Riegl, Alois 101, 121, 122

Ramljak Purgar, Mirela 181

Rogoff, Irit 64

Rampley, Matthew 77, 78, 81

Rorty, Richard 111

Rancière, Jacques 27, 38, 53

Rosenthal, Joe 157, 158

reciprocal images 143-145

Rosenthal, Stephanie 184

referentiality 26, 50, 51, 70, 145, 152-

Rothko, Mark 190, 193

158, 161-163, 180, 181, 200, 204

Rubens 92

inter-referential 158

Russian montage school 95

multi-referential 158, 159

Ruttmann, Walter 94, 95

meta-referential 159, 161 self-referentiality 27, 36, 44, 156, 161,

Sachs-Hombach, Klaus 77, 78, 126

162, 200

sacred 49, 50

reine Sichtbarkeit 17

Saenredam, Pieter 109, 110

Reinhardt, Ad 181, 183-185, 190, 193, 199,

sameness 51, 69


Sandrini, Maria Grazia 187

relational economy 69

Sartre, Jean-Paul 54-56, 59, 74, 163, 174


Sassetta 88

temporal continuum 59, 138, 144

Schier, Flint 129, 130, 147

temporal dimension of the image 143

Schwarzenegger, Arnold 26

temporality 26, 88, 137-140, 142, 145,

scopic field 32

152, 153, 155, 162

scopophilia 154

Terminator 26

Second Council of Nicaea 69

The Future of the Image 27, 38, 53

Seel, Martin 27, 29, 33, 41-43, 46, 50,

The Techniques of the Observer 18, 142

58, 66, 79, 131-133, 135-137, 147, 151, 152,

The Treachery of Images 206, 207

154, 161, 169-171, 178, 182, 192-194, 196,

theatricality 194

199, 200

This Is Not a Pipe 42, 51, 109, 207

semiosis 130, 156, 157, 175

Towards a Newer Laokoön 37, 43, 85

Serov, Valentin 98, 99, 102

transhistorical images 120, 121, 125,

Seurat, Georges 188, 189

127, 128, 137

Shapiro, Gary 85, 86

transparency 26, 69, 85, 128, 145-150,

simulacrum 20-23, 44, 68, 71, 80, 115,

152, 153, 155, 168

116, 194, 201

truthful pictures 93

singularity continuum 207

Tudor, Andrew 96

Smith, Marquard 123 Snowden, Edward 48

Velázquez, Diego 32, 102, 103, 161

Souza, Pete 31, 32

verbal images 80, 112

spatial turn 73

Villeneuve, Denis 22, 23, 25, 205

speciousness 119

Virilio, Paul 205

St. Francis 107

virtual reality 22, 34, 40, 58, 114, 115,

Steinberg, Leo 90, 101, 104

118, 119, 172, 174, 177, 201, 207

Steiner, Wendy 88, 89

visual regimes 142

subjectivist 61, 62, 64, 66-68, 72, 78,

visual studies 19, 30, 32, 35, 65, 67, 73,

83-86, 112, 122, 137, 155, 168

77, 78, 83, 86, 123, 167

symbolic sign 62

visual text 107

synaesthetic experiences 133

visuality 19, 23, 33, 39, 46, 71, 151, 177,

synthetic holography 143

206 visualization 18, 23, 87, 118, 126, 142-

tableau 22, 29, 52, 88, 94, 95, 103, 139,

145, 150, 172, 173, 176, 204, 207

146, 188 technosphere 23, 87, 92, 106, 113-115,

Wagner, Richard 86

118-120, 126-131, 133, 135, 137, 143, 150, 155

Walton, Kendall 147-149



Pictorial Appearing

Warburg, Aby 78 Warhol, Andy 141-143 Weiss, Paul 63, 197 Westworld 172 White House 31, 32 Situation Room 31, 32 Wiesing, Lambert 34, 58, 66, 172-174, 178 Willis, Bruce 118 Wittgenstein, Ludwig 42, 113, 142 Wolff, Janet 67, 68 Wölfflin, Heinrich 121, 123, 126 Wollheim, Richard 30 zoopraxiscope 138, 143