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Cross Media Seminar: Images of Abstraction: Operational Media and Experience 

ASCA Cross-Media Research Seminar 2022-23 | Organizers: Sudeep Dasgupta, Abe Geil, Markus Stauff

ASCA Cross-Media Research Seminar 2022/23

Images of Abstraction: Operational Media and Experience 

With the proliferation of AI image technologies, Harun Farocki's concept from the early 2000's of the "operational image" has assumed a new significance for media theorists. Defined as a category of images that "do not represent an object but are part of an operation" (Farocki 2004: 17), this concept has recently been applied to the conversion of images into abstract data for the analysis by algorithmic processes that have no need of the sensible image as such (see e.g. Paglan, Pantenburg, Hoel). At the same time, there are a vast number of images that move in the opposite direction, converting abstract "inhuman" computational processes into images for human consumption.  

For this year's Cross-Media Seminar, we will explore this two-way relation between sensible images and abstract processes across a range of contemporary and historical media phenomena. We will take up that relation as one of the dominant interfaces between the invisible and visible today, a crucial site for examining the ways abstract social categories such as person, race, individual, type, mass, and property have been operationalized as "real abstractions" by and through computational images. On the one hand, the image still presents itself in its traditional representationalist guise by offering an experience of otherwise abstract dynamics; on the other, this experience is more and more dependent upon the massification of images and their datafied interrelations. Topics will include: theories and practices of the imperfect/degraded image as a site of formal intervention (e.g. "imperfect cinema" (Espinosa), "the poor image" (Steyerl), "glitch" (Russell, Berlant, Cubitt)); the use of computational video refereeing and image-based decision taking in televised sport; the datafication of the facial image in "deep learning" artificial neural networks (e.g. facial recognition, deep fakes, artificial faces).

In both semesters of the coming academic year, the seminar will consist of two regular seminar meetings (mostly close readings of conceptual texts) and a 2-day workshop focusing on one particular field of operational images. Students who want to earn credits (6 EC) can either participate in all meetings of one semester or join at least four meetings across the academic year.

Planning for the first semester:

Seminar meetings: Sep 23, Oct 21; 15-18h

Workshop: Dec 1&2; 14-18h