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CFP: Before the Sight: Material, Medial, and Discursive Arrangements of Picture Perception (Bielefeld, 9-11 May 19)

Organization: Robert Eberhardt, Johannes Grave, Joris C. Heyder, Britta Hochkirchen (Sub-Project „Comparative viewing: forms, functions, and limits of comparing pictures“ of the SFB 1288 „Practices of Comparing. Ordering and changing the world“)

The perception of pictures is never unconditional, but rather closely connected with practices that constitute, adjust, and manipulate its perceptibility. The process of seeing is also linked to actions that activate and control specific functions and meanings of images. Such arrangements can be of manifold nature: frames, neighboring objects, and spatial contexts shape the view as well as institutional structures, conventions, routines or discursive enclosures. All these adjustments are due to certain practices; they cannot be traced back to intentional settlements alone, but often owe their existence to situational contingencies or the pragmatic necessity of arrangement.
The effects of these underestimated accompanying circumstances of image perception particularly come to the fore in a ubiquitous practice of dealing with images: comparative vision. In comparison––which is stimulated, for example, by arrangements of pendants, by connoisseurial collection albums or in a museum context––the concentration on the individual picture with its own immanent pictorial logic is limited in favor of a re-contextualisation. When images coexist, the presence of the other image cannot be ignored, so that a concrete frame of reference is predetermined at any given time. Thus, both the processes of creating meaning and the concrete temporal course of perception change its character. Similar considerations apply to reproductions, which decisively affect the perceptibility of the reproduced image by introducing the materiality and mediality of the reproduction.
The practices outlined are in a grey area that has seldom been targeted so far. They can neither be adequately captured by a hermeneutic analysis related to the individual image nor by the investigation of sociological and institutional structures. Recent approaches in cultural, media, and social studies––in particular, practice theories, studies in cultural techniques, and affordance theories (Kulturtechnikforschung)––have recently sharpened attention to the relevance of such micro-practices in other areas. These suggestions should be considered concerning questions of image and art history.
The conference aims at analyzing historical as well as contemporary practices that make image viewing possible in the first place, shape it and transform it. Which preliminary decisions, media boundaries, material interventions, and forms of discursive framing shape the view of images and the implementation of perception? Can these previous actions be historically grasped, categorized, and possibly even subdivided into specific phases in the history of practices of viewing images? The conference is intended to examine these questions, taking into account various perspectives (art history, historical image studies, phenomenology, sociology, perceptual psychology or cognitive sciences).
In three sections, the conference is dedicated to the differentiation of material, media, and discursive approaches to image viewing on the basis of historical and contemporary case studies. In addition, contributions are welcome that propose new theoretical perspectives on the general question of our conference. The conference will be held in English and German.

Please send an abstract of 300 words along with a short bio to Silke Becker ( by December 1, subject: Before the sight. We will provide accommodation and reimburse travel costs.

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