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Kunsthistorisches Institut

The Image Split. Textile Openings in Aesthetic Discourse


In his commentary to Gilles Deleuze’s Différence et répétition (1968), Michel Foucault pictures Ariadne hanging herself in despair with a rope braided by her own hands. In consequence, her thread breaks, Theseus ultimately loses his way and the whole philosophical discourse assumes a form of a shadowy, collage-like theatre of mistakes. The contemporary implicitness and frequency of textile-oriented metaphors within the debate on the media of the invisible, like disguise, veiling, vesting, or transparency, seem to confirm this vision. Accordingly, the cultural discourse at the time of the crisis of transcendency and representation is centered around the model case of the veil as an ultimately deceptive figure of inaccessibility. In this context, the question of validity, efficiency, or idleness of the notion of representation is still an issue.

The conference is meant to be an opportunity for cross-disciplinary perspectives among art history, Bildwissenschaft, image theory and culture studies. It will discuss the problem of disintegration and dissolution of philosophical and pictorial structures, which are literally or figuratively conceived as textile intertwining. Based on the act of cutting as the second productive principle of textile production – following the connective actions of knitting, weaving and braiding – the focus of the symposium will be set on textile rupture as a matter of historical and contemporary aesthetic experience, image criticism and artistic practice. Its point of departure will be a theoretical question of differences between such notions as cut, split, stab, fissure and break in this context and whether they may be treated equally as synonyms in respect to the textile surface.

Tearing as a form

The mechanical interference in the woven structure of the artwork should not be reduced to its merely iconoclastic or erotic interpretations. The disrupted, fragmented or slashed textile surface, as for example the canvas of the painting, can also be defined as a place for image’s self-recognition and transition of the genre’s limits, as in the already well established image formulas by Lucio Fontana, Alberto Burri or other modern practices dealing with image’s texture. The theoretical approach to the critically motivated conscious act of textile rupture and cutting up also introduces the issue of image’s vulnerable corporeality, which corresponds with the beholder’s bodily self-reflection. Such manifestation can therefore also be discussed as a dialectical approach to restore the lost aura of an image.

Self-reflection of decomposition

How can the common notion of decomposition be applied to the textile metaphors of the visual? The cut implies a textile disruption of an image as a forming principle and as such contributes to the negation of the textile surface as an image carrier. The possible focal questions in this context concern the creation of fragmentary cross-border forms of images that in terms of mechanical decomposition are meant to specifically disturb the traditional primacy of the canvas as a framed and consistent textile place of representation.

Textile interruptions

The conference's themes and topics will also include artistic practices that, in contrast to the above, accentuate or simulate the presence of the canvas insofar they play with its structured grating pattern, at the same time diminishing the power of image’s representational values. It is another kind of textile split, when from behind the painted surface being a place of pictorial corporeality of the layered paint, there appears a textured and interwoven inner flesh of the work and thus the image reveals itself as a painting. In this respect, such ‘anatomical’ procedures as visualization and simulation of textile interlacings within an image, or un/folding and unrolling of the area of depiction, which are meant to qualify or even dissolve the clothing level of mimesis are of special relevance in both theoretical and historical perspectives.

Summing up, the main question remains to what extent can the image’s textile split, being a mark of negation, fragmentation and heterogeneity, be considered in terms of a statement of its self-recognition? Does such a textile disruption of an image let it go beyond the principles of representation due to the indexicality and unrepeatability of this individual act? Does an image speak of itself as a tableau through its wounds, scars, stigmata and visceral disrobement?

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