Thursday, March 8, 2007


From: Ingeborg Reichle
Date: Thu, 8 Mar 2007 17:09:12 +0100 (CET)

Greetings from Berlin to fellow panellists and visitors,

My background is the field of art history and “Bildwissenschaft” (imagescience). With my research group “The World as Image” (Die Welt als Bild) at the Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Berlin, I look at images bothin science and in art and ask about the epistemic value of images incontrast to texts or diagrams, and try to analyse the logic of images inrelationship to the logic of texts. Though I guess, I have more to sayabout artists in labs and (“epistemic objects” and “Biofacts”) in the nextsession, I would like to give some short answers to all three of thequestions posed by Suzanne Anker:

Ingeborg Reichle
Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften
Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities
Interdisziplinäre Arbeitsgruppe "Die Welt als Bild"

1) What role do picturing practices play in your discipline of“knowledge production?”
Although most art historians assume that their discipline is based on theanalyse of originals by the educated eye of the art historian, the truthis: art history is based on knowledge production through images since isearly days (J. J. Winckemann, 18th Century) using techniques likeengravings, photographs and many other media. Art History was borne indays when people had their doubts that texts and words alone could beadequate to give insights into art. In the end photographic reproductionsof art works were, unlike the originals themselves, well suited to thegeneration of new classifications in schools, motifs, and national styles,as well as the assignment of individual works to their place in thehistorical epoch, and the subdivision of an artist’s work into its variousphases. But the these new picturing practices made it possible to convertaesthetic artefacts into scientific objects with the help of a "technical"device. By means of standardized reproductions, artworks of the mostdiverse origin were freed from time and place and, despite differences inmaterials and size, could be converted into objects suitable forcomparison. With the introduction of portable devices and image libraries,a transformation took place: an otherwise unmanageable number of artworkscould be converted into a collection of research objects that could beheld in the hand.

2) How have your perceptions and attitudes of mind been challenged bycurrent dialogues within the “Art-Sci” arenas?
New directions in research, such as those offered by neurobiology andcontemporary consciousness studies, certainly provide greater insight intothe working of the mind; likewise molecular biology continues to provideus with a better understanding of the structure of the living world, buttoday it seems to be clear, that even with the amazing insights these newworlds of scientific imaging offer us today, such images must, of course,be understood as historical snapshots, bearing within them their ownhistoricity. The influence of these images upon our understanding ofnature remains an issue of social discourse, because these new scientificexplanations of the structures and processes of body and mind do, however,challenge our conception and understanding of what we call “human nature.”

3) What role have new imaging technologies played in yourconceptualizations of visual modeling or artistic application?
Getting familiar with some imaging technologies in the field of the socalled Life Sciences my conceptualizations of visual modelling waschallenged, because yet along with this staging of the body as text oreven the idea of life itself in textual form, the biosciences are, in thepractice, above all a site of enormous image production. Inevitably thequestion arises as to how the discrepancy between the numerous metaphorsfrom writing and language surrounding the life sciences can be explainedin light of the extensive implementation of the most varied imagetechnologies. The molecular representation of life as we know it today isa product of two technological waves of development. In the first,instruments such as the ultracentrifuge, electrophoresis, x-ray structuralanalysis, the electron microscope, and techniques for radioactive markingand chemical analysis of macromolecules made it possible to depictcomponents of the cell as well as molecules and to determine theirchemical, physical, and biological properties. The symbol of this epoch isthe DNA double helix. In the second wave, biological technologies dealingwith macromolecules, particularly nucleic acid, were developed. Whereasthe first phase of the development of molecular biology was set in therealm of biophysical and chemical analysis, the second phase dealt inprinciple with the cell and the organism itself. Visualizations from thefield of the natural sciences are never simply illustrations, but insteadrepresent complex phenomena, which in their formulation are always boundby the conventions of representation and the reigning vocabulary style oftheir respective period or time. They touch upon arrangements as to theways in which respective scientific context captures knowledge in an imageand ascribes to it an epistemological meaning. Visualizations and modelsare without question significantly involved in the formation of knowledgeand have always been an integral component of scientific efforts andlegitimate heuristic means of forming theories. Although theories,however, attempt to explain concrete empirical relationships, models inthe natural sciences deal much more with model modelbased assumptions andstructural analogies. Theories can be viewed or understood as systems ofevidence that attempt to adhere to assumptions about interrelationshipsbased on strictly logical rules of reasoning and that have to stand up toempirical verification. Models, on the other hand, reflect much more intheir structure the inner relationships of a problem area. Visualillustrations have always been used in the natural sciences to makevisible scientific relationships, to visualize theories, or to graphicallycapture the results of scientific experiments. However, images and themedia that transport them have their own logic and play an important rolein terms of what and how we see and perceive things: Scientificvisualizations arise as part of a complex interplay of different agents.They must be produced as part of a labor-intensive process of productionand negotiation and are to a great extent constructed artifacts and do notsimply depict or form reality and/or the “object” of the respectiveinvestigation or experimental environment. Even photographic or otheroptical recording techniques do not simply record the phenomena of nature,but rather fix the state of prepared objects for the production of avisual record. Graphic representations, too, do not directly depictmeasured data, but rather are translated or converted into other media andvisualized in diverse presentational forms that can be expressed usingvarious representational conventions: in the form of curves, diagrams, orcomplex image rasters or other symbolic representations.At the end of my contribution I add some ideas and questions from thefield of my current project:

The World as Image

The history of world pictures (Weltbilder) is, above all, the history of their representability. The concept of a worldview (Weltanschauung)already implies that visibility is a constitutive aspect of our experienceof the world. In addition, the concept of a “picture” in the phrase “worldpicture” signals the unavoidable connection between worldviews and visualmedia. For this reason, the concept of a “picture of the world” shouldalways refer to concrete visual models. The terms “world picture” and“worldview” do not constitute the two poles of an opposition betweenabstraction and concreteness. To begin with, every worldview necessarilyinvolves pictures; furthermore, world pictures represent the visualcondensation of a worldview. Neither aspect precedes the other; insteadthey are inextricably entwined in a circular process. Two main theses canbe derived from this fact: firstly, world pictures are not implementationsof antecedent worldviews. Secondly, there are no worldviews withoutimagery. The relevance of the study of images to the “picture of theworld” lies in the variety of the visual manifestations produced by aworld picture. These range from historical models, such as cosmologicalworld pictures, to the most recent visualisations in the life sciences.This team's research will be concentrated on paradigmatic studies. Thesewill analyse the various manifestations of world pictures as they areconditioned by culture, social environment, and medium.

On principle, investigations of the “world as a picture” includesystematic and historical aspects. Our research is focused around fourdifferent questions:·
  • How can the circular interaction of world pictures and worldviews beanalysed by the study of pictures?·
  • What role do concrete visual media play for the function of worldpictures in determining action and knowledge?·
  • What rules determine how a specific world picture can become part of acollective visual memory?·
  • How does the emergence of new techniques of producing, distributing, andexperiencing pictures affect the modelling of new world pictures? How do these new techniques have a retroactive effect on the experience of worldpictures handed down from the past?

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