“Art vs. Image” – The opposition that lends this issue its title refers to changes and conflicts that have emerged in recent years in the context of art – both in the field of academic theory formation and, concretely, in artistic and curatorial practices. Among other factors, a growing interest in images that lie “before”, “beyond”, or “outside” of art is central to this development. A symptom of this is the steadily increasing volume of writing being done in the fields of image studies and image philosophy, or the various proclamations of an age “after art” in which images assume the legacy of art. While new and old technologies (digital, but also deriving from the history of cinema) are changing the production of art, the contemporary criteria for success here seem increasingly contingent on iconic potency and the optimized potential for circulation as image. In fact, the necessity of methodically distinguishing between two different concepts operating in this scenario has already become clear: One need only think of the numerous artistic practices that, when considering art predominantly in the sphere of image production, literally disappear from the screen.
Whereas a critical analysis of art is well put in place, there still seems to be a lack, or at least dearth, of comparable attempts when it comes to analyzing images. Large parts of so-called image theory cast their subject matter as a basic anthropological constant. The term “iconic difference” coined by Gottfried Boehm not only opens up a new perspective of knowledge, its blind spot simultaneously conceals other forms of difference. The questions raised usually pertain to the ontology of the image, not to its politics, production, or economy.
The evolving field of Bildwissenschaft (image studies), for example, could well have become a forum for negotiating critique. More than ten years ago, in Texte zur Kunst 42 (2001), Beate Söntgen referred to the achievements of authors such as Kaja Silverman and Teresa de Lauretis, who, coming from semiotics, film theory, psychoanalysis, and discourse analysis, articulated a feminist and gender-political theory indeed useful for conceiving of images. From this perspective, images would be instances of a politics that they not only visualize or communicate, but also produce. Hence, rather than merely rejecting the “image” in favor of “art”, it seems necessary to defend a concept of the image that does not simply rely on the given and obvious. It is fundamental to demand a critique of the image that does not dwell on superficial visual phenomena, but decidedly poses questions as to how they come into being; a critique that investigates the conditions under which we are confronted with certain images – and analyzes them in their respective contexts.
In this issue, one calling for such an approach is Daniela Hammer-Tugendhat, whom we asked, as an art historian, to deliver an outside view on Bildwissenschaft. She discerns in the current ontological tendencies of the debate, a retreat toward an apolitical stance. Peter Geimer also examines the relationship between the two disciplines and, based on examples from documentary and art photography, queries the motives and biases that potentially derive from such attributions. Inge Hinterwaldner’s text, which deals with science studies, in turn, is an example of an image analysis that does effectively cast itself in a critical mold: She advocates examining digital scientific visualization in such a way that its underlying codes are also taken into consideration.
The contributions by Gertrud Koch and Peter Osborne view the concepts of image and art from a philosophical perspective and point out their often underdeveloped differentiation. Koch discusses the relationship of both terms to aesthetics and critique from her specific perspective of film studies, while Osborne examines the philosophical gaps of Visual Studies as well as the field’s historical development running parallel to that of Conceptual art, i.e., to that which one could pointedly call a “ban on images” in art. In a conversation with Ludger Schwarte and Philipp Ekardt, Georges Didi-Huberman, one of the most influential contemporary image philosophers and art historians, refuses to discuss image and art as opposites altogether. His reason for preferring to address only the concept of image is that, in his view, the image does not conform to art’s mechanisms of evaluation and exclusion. Charlotte Klonk is concerned with differentiating, from a reception-aesthetic point of view, the ways images of terror, violence, and pornography work inside and outside the context of art. Klonk comes to the conclusion that no sufficient distinction can be drawn between art and image on the level of the respectively triggered affects.
Further questions arise in the context of contemporary art production, such as the integration of new imaging technologies, for example. In their statements, Avery Singer and Ed Atkins discuss the presence of digital media in their artistic practices, which build upon painterly and filmic techniques of figuration respectively, and how their working methods have changed in the process. David Joselit, author of oft-cited writings on the relationship between art and techno-social networks, uses a further example from the field of contemporary production. He analyzes Pierre Huyghe’s dOCUMENTA(13) piece, developing a model that conceives the artwork not as support for a given image, but as a distributor and attractor of images that do not comply with any logic of representation. And Philipp Ekardt’s contribution discusses the difference between images in the fields of art and fashion in regard to their operational logic as they manifest themselves in two works by Bernadette Corporation.
For this issue, we also asked Harun Farocki for a statement on how he deals with the question of images. We were particularly interested in how he, as a pioneer of a critical film practice, assesses working in the systems and institutions of cinema and art. He sent us his answers only a few days before his unexpected death, the shocking news of which reached us while completing this issue. We publish his responses here as received, without any editorial changes. His wonderfully lucid and rich statements make it clear that we have lost not only one of the most important filmmakers, but also an outstanding writer and thinker. Diedrich Diederichsen remembers Farocki, his work, and his writings in the last section of this issue.
Translation: Karl Hoffmann