CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

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GRAU, Oliver
On a Political Iconography of Information Societies

Session 18 Media and Visuality


Not museums but festivals can be considered as the most important media for current developments regarding issues, technologies and discourses on Digital Art. Although the Biennial project at the ZKM revealed that Digital Artworks play a part at more than 200 festivals worldwide and the systematic investigation of Digital Art Festival themes within the AT.MAR project lists over 100 additional festivals dedicated to this art form, only few of these complex art and image forms appear in the permanent collections of the museums, archives and libraries. 

The investigation regarding the Digital Art Festivals within the AT.MAR project resulted in the empirical identification of thematic clusters of international topics of global relevance, e.g; climate, genetic engineering and the rise of the post-human body/body-images, new extremes of surveillance, virtual financial economics, and the image and media (r-)evolution, whose inherent complexity is reflected by artists like Victoria VESNA (Body), Tom CORBY (Climate), Paolo CIRIO (Finance), Jeffrey SHAW (Image/Media), Seiko MIKAMI (Surveillance). Universal questions for a globalised society resulting in political iconography of the information society are discussed.

On the other hand, this paper analyses perspectives of artist working with digital technologies, who are fundamentally anchored in the relationship to their own cultural heritage like Zhan WANG or Naoko TOSA, who reflects on Zen, Kabuki and the tradition of Sensui Paintings or Brasil-Oeuvre of Diana DOMINGUES.

On that material base the talk will analyse which role digital imagery plays to allow and stimulate that new political iconography of the information society. Older definitions of the image, mostly developed with paintings, such as those by Gottfried BÖHM, Klaus SACHS-HOMBACH or W.J.T. MITCHELL, became problematic in the context of the digital age - Media Arts complexity nowadays is produced through interaction and variability, simultaneity, sequenciality and narration; connected polydimensional visual spaces of happening, experience and immersion can be created, image spaces open for unfolding and compression, development or evolution, theoretically like fractals of unlimited resolution, accessed through endless creations of interfaces by ever new display innovations. 

GRAU, Oliver  

Oliver Grau was appointed first Chair Professor for Image Science in the German speaking countries at the Center of Image Science at Danube University in 2005. More than 300 lectures and keynotes at conferences worldwide, including Olympic Games culture program and G-20 Summit. 


Grau's “Virtual Art. From Illusion to Immersion”, MIT Press 2003 (Book of the Month Scientific American) is with approx. 950 citations internationally the most quoted art history monograph since 2000 (H-Index) and received 90+ reviews. It offered for the first time a historic comparison and evolution in image-viewer theory of immersion and a systematic analysis of the triad of artist, artwork and beholder under the conditions of digital art. He has received several awards and his publications are translated in 14 languages. His main research is in the history of media art, immersive images, emotion, the history of telepresence and artificial life and digital humanities. 


Grau was founding director of the MediaArtHistories Conference Series. The volume MediaArtHistories, MIT Press 2007, received 50+ international reviews. His volume "Imagery in the 21st Century", MIT-Press 2011 expanded the context of Image Science. He conceived new scientific tools for image science and directed the project "Immersive Art" of the German Research Foundation (DFG) developing the first international archive for digital art (ADA, since 1999). ) Since 2005 Grau is also head of the database of Goettweig’s Graphic Print Collection, Austria's largest private collection with 30.000 works, from Duerer to Klimt.  


Grau is reviewer for international journals. Grau was among the first elected members of the Young Academy of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Science & Leopoldina, 2014 he received a doctor h.c. 2015 he was elected into the Academia Europaea.