Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien
Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien

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Thicket of Ideas
Thicket of Times

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Start date | 01.09.2015

FWF | Elise-Richter PEEK-Fellow
Anna Artaker, Institute for Fine Arts


Anna Artaker, nature imprint of a butterbur (detail) from the series The Pencil of Nature, 60 x 43,5 cm, 2017


“History decays into images, not into stories.”
Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, p. 476

The artistic research project MEDIUMS OF HISTORY aims to create a series of works that match Walter Benjamin’s “dialectical images”.

Within the dialectical image at the centre of Benjamin’s philosophy of history “what has been comes together in a flash with the now to form a constellation”. In La ressemblance par contact, Georges Didi-Huberman shows that the same is true also for the impression: the footprint in the sand shows the contact with the foot as well as the absence of this contact and thus forms a constellation of “what has been” – the past moment of contact that has left the imprint – and the present – the impression remains even when the foot is no longer there.

This leads to the core assumption underpinning the research: If, according to Benjamin, the dialectical image is the “object” of history and, following Didi-Huberman, the impression is a dialectical image, then it follows that history is essentially a question of the medium. Accordingly the project assumes that there are certain imaging procedures, i.e. mediums, that can facilitate dialectical images whose complexity is not purely visual but is due to the process of their manufacture. Examples of this are the imprint, the photogram, and other mediums whose imaging is based on contact with the represented object. The dialectical images, which comprise the MEDIUMS OF HISTORY project aim not to reduce the complexity of history but to reveal and develop this complexity in the respective medium itself. The project’s intention is to create a series of works that will evoke in the viewer the same exhilarated excitement the historian feels when s/he comes across a promising historical source.

The MEDIUMS OF HISTORY project, as the title itself indicates, identifies the medium instead of the image as the agent for the flash-like constellation of “what has been” and the present and experiments with different mediums to create dialectical or “genuinely historical” images.

It is this attention to the medium that holds the groundbreaking potential for artistic research: the reference of contemporary art to history is usually reduced to a question of the relationship between visuality and history. The emphasis on the connection between the dialectical image and mediality, however, opens up a perspective in which the question of the representability of history is not necessarily decided in the visual regime but in the medium. Compared with the purely visual the medium offers more complex forms of reference to reality that art is especially competent to explore.