Hermann von Helmholtz-Zentrum für Kulturtechnik

Zentralinstitut der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Representation as a Cultural Technique. An Analysis of the Historical Formation of Representation Premised on the Image

Horst Bredekamp, Pablo Schneider

Despite all the historical changes in its forms and the theoretical explanations proposed for it, representation has remained a salient feature of the fabric of communication and its hierarchisation. Whilst the Enlightenment may have critically examined the concept, it also never fundamentally questioned it, and the same applies to 20th-century attempts to circumvent or discredit it through theories grounded in linguistics or discourse theory. The debate is still premised on a fundamental understanding that is essentially negative, one that interprets representation as a strategy for persuasion, and this has not furthered the analysis of the concept. The project seeks to take a different approach by focusing on representation in its function as a cultural technique defined by image theory in which the constructive possibilities are foregrounded so as to be able to understand the image in its productive dualism. For it was the combination of the support medium and the guiding of thought that enabled the structuring of representation and the formation of a cultural technique.

The early modern period provides an unexploited reservoir of potential given the interaction it witnessed between highly variable representational forms and correspondingly controversial debates, conducted on a fundamental level. In particular, the discrepancy between the »mysteries« of a system of sovereign rule and the findings in the natural sciences was expressed and stabilised in the image. A description was attempted in the productive dilemma but was never to be completed, primarily due to the image’s iconic characteristics. These characteristics include a fundamental aspect of representation per se that has yet to be understood in art history.

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