Atlas of Arcadia
FWF | PEEK project
led by Meike S. Gleim, Institute for Art Theory and Cultural Studies
Duration: 1.4.2012 – 30.9.2015
What happens when public space has become identical with the private shopping mall? What effect do surveillance cameras have on the equally criticized and celebrated anonymity of the city? What does it mean that digital cameras in cell phones can document every moment of our lives and almost immediately publish the images in the worldwide web? How is our experience of community affected if communication does no longer occur in real places but is absorbed by social networks?
Atlas of Arcadia is a project that researches the social, societal and ideological implications of the urban and technical developments of the past twenty years. It retraces how different functions of the urban space are progressively relocated into the virtual world created by new media, a world that immerses us in a new visual universe. As the representatives of the pictorial (respectively iconic) turn or the Bildwissenschaften have repeatedly stated, images have become constitutive for us.
It is also following in this spirit that the artistic research project concentrates on images, all the while re-contextualizing and commenting upon them by means of other images. The results of the research are therefore not primarily articulated through theoretical texts but rather in the form of an image atlas, which will be presented in the form of an exhibition as well as publication. This emphasis on the image is intended at the same time to test the limits and possibilities of image-based scientific practice.
The Atlas of Arcadia refers to two unfinished, historical oeuvres of the 20 th century: Walter Benjamin's Arcades Project 1 and Aby Warburg's Mnemosyne Atlas 2 . The Arcades Project serves as a starting point and is translated in a twofold way. For each motif that Benjamin picked up in his inventory review of Paris of the 19 th century, the project looks to find an equivalent in global developments from around the turn of the millennium. And, secondly, the project translates his method of "literary montage" into a visual montage. Instead of collecting and juxtaposing quotes like Benjamin, the project proceeds according to the same method with images .
The second reference for the Atlas of Arcadia is Warburg's "Mnemosyne Atlas", a cultural history to be arranged in the form of an image atlas. Often characterized as an "art history without words", Warburg's image atlas is interlaced with Benjamin's understanding of the construction of history in the service of hegemonial ideologies.
Atlas represents a method of analysis without hierarchy, without up and down, front and rear, that at the same time enables a close attention to detail. It is just as possible to aimlessly browse through an atlas, as it is to purposefully delve into the details it offers. It is an attempt to read the world without dissolving it completely into language, or in Benjamin's words, "to read what has never been written."
Arcadia is used as a code for the utopia of a better world. In the name of Benjamin's philosophy of history, the Atlas of Arcadia uses this code to retrieve submerged, unrealized beginnings for an alternative development. For this purpose, the past has to be looked at anew. Instead of reproducing the same images over and over again, it is necessary to turn the gaze towards the margins, the discarded, and to retrieve what seems obsolete.
1 1928-40, 1983 the substantial material for the "Arcades Project" was published by Rolf Tiedemann in his edition of Benjamin's works.
2 1924-29, edited by Martin Warnke and Claudia Brink as a photo documentation in 2000.