Oliver Grau


IMAGES (R)-EVOLUTION: Media Arts Challenge for our Societies

Image Science & Digital Humanities


Never before has the world of images around us changed so fast, never before have we been exposed to so many different image worlds. Images’ historical development between innovation, reflection and iconoclasm reaches in the techno-cultural societies of the 21st century a new level of global complexity. The Media Art image revolution is interlinked more and more with the myriads of images on Facebook, Flikr, Youtube etc., which offer never existing co-inspiration and co-revolution – interferences – in global image exchange.


Within this rapid development, Media Art has evolved over the last 50 years into a vivid contemporary force. Even though Media Art with its multifarious potential of expression and visualization is dominating many art schools; creating “thinking spaces” and became “the art of our time”; thematizing complex challenges like genetic engineering and the rise of post human bodies, knowledge explosion, finance market domination & globalization, the explosion of artistic and scientific visualisation, ecological crises etc., it still has not arrived into the core collecting institutions of our societies.


Through ever new interface developments and inventions our relationship with images experiences a never existing transformation too and makes us part of “living images”. These artworks, from net-art to bio-art, from interactive installations to database supported art, both represent and reflect the revolutionary development that the image has undergone over the past years and deal with the key questions regarding the current image revolution.


Comparable with natural sciences, digital media and networked research can now catapult the humanities within reach of new and essential research, like documentation and preservation of media art, or even better, an entire history of visual media and their human reception with means of thousands of sources. These goals express in regard to the image revolution, current key questions. Imagery in the 21st Century should lead us to complex and big pictures, helping us to understand our time better than any traditional art media (painting, sculpture etc.) can do. The faster this essential modification to our cultural heritage record can be carried out, the smaller the gap in the cultural memory; shedding light on the dark years, which started about 1960 and lasts until now.




Oliver Grau is Professor of Image Science and Head of the Department for Image Science at the Danube University Krems. His books include Virtual Art: From Illusion to Immersion (MIT Press/Leonardo Books, 2003), Mediale Emotionen (Fischer, 2005), MediaArtHistories (MIT Press/Leonardo Books, 2007) and Imagery in the 21st Century (MIT Press, 2011).

He has conducted international invited lecture tours, received numerous awards, and produced international publications in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Serbian, Macedonian, Slovenian, Korean and Chinese. His main research is in the history of media art, immersion (virtual reality), and emotions, as well as the history, idea and culture of telepresence and artificial life.

Grau’s book Virtual Art, which received more than 50 reviews, offered for the first time a historic comparison in image-viewer theory of immersion as well as a systematic analysis of the trilogy of artist, work and viewer on conditions of digital art. The research is linked to the novel model of an evolutionary history of media illusions that results on the one hand from a relative dependence on new sensual potentials of suggestion and on the other hand from the variable strength of alienation of the viewer (media competence).

Grau has conceived new scientific tools for the humanities/digital humanities, he managed the project “Immersive Art” of The German Research Foundation (DFG) whose team started developing in 1998 the first international archive for digital art written on an open source platform at the Danube-University Krems and has since been followed up by a number of spin-off projects. Since 2000 the DVA was the first online archive to regularly stream video documentations. Since 2005 Grau is manager of the database of Goettweigs Graphic Collection, Austria’s largest private graphic collection that contains 30,000 works, ranging from Albrecht Duerer to Gustav Klimt.

Grau has developed new international curricula for image sciences: MediaArtHistories MA, academic expert programmes in Digital Collection Management and Exhibit Design, Visual Competencies and the masters course in Image Science. He also developed the Danube Telelectures, a new interactive format of lectures and debates that is streamed worldwide.

After his studies in Hamburg, Siena and Berlin and his doctoral work, Grau lectured at the Humboldt University Berlin, was a guest in different research labs in Japan and USA and following his post doctoral lecture qualification (habilitation) in 2003 worked as professor at different international universities. He has acted as adviser for international professional journals and different associations. Since 2002 Grau tried to bring together the research on media art and its history which is dispersed over many fields and therefore was founding director of Refresh! First International Conference on the History of Media Art, Science and Technology, Banff 2005 (2007 Berlin, 2009 Melbourne, 2011 Liverpool) and the online text archive mediaarthistory.org, a result from these conferences.

Anna Munster

Transversal interference: nonvisual patterns of indexicality and aesthetic counter-strategies.

Increasingly, the images we regard as authoritative – those with a seemingly direct relation to the ‘truth’ of our brains, the profiling of our identities and the mapping of our universe – are generated nonvisually. They are composed out of other media, notably sonic and electromagnetic materialities, and other processes, primarily algebraic and statistical transforms. FMRI, facial recognition and radio telescopic imaging, for example, are all fundamentally nonvisually generated. In actuality, they are transmaterial assemblages. Yet such heterogeneous image entities continue to share the epistemological privilege of indexicality that light-based images previously claimed.

If the scientific, authoritative image is already ‘transgenic’, what implication does this have for interference as a viable aesthetic strategy? To what extent can artists and cultural producers visually interfere with the politics and ethics of such imaging practices? This talk suggests that we should abandon the strategy of interference as intervention in favour of a better understanding of interference as the pattern, and hence fabric, subtending many contemporary nonvisual imaging practices. I argue for a transversal diagrammatic approach to an aesthetics of the nonvisual image. Here the diagram refers not to the mapping of truth, indices or physical realities but rather to the ways in which force relations between different materialities and processes both hold together and dynamically deform into new assemblages. In turn, such diagrammatic aesthetics and art practices remind us that what we take to be fixed and authoritative images – the emotionally ‘lit up’ brain, the identikit photo, the expanded observable universe – are processual, virtual and speculative modes of ‘viewing’ and engaging life.


Anna Munster is a writer, artist and educator. She is associate professor at the College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. She has published the book Materializing New Media (2006). Her current book, An aesthesia of networks for MIT Press will be published in 2013. This book explores new expressions of networks beyond the ‘link-node’ image and new understandings of experience that account for the complexity of contemporary assemblages between humans and nonhuman technics. Some recent articles include: ‘From a Biopolitical Will to Life to a Noopolitical Ethos of Death in the Aesthetics of Digital Code’ (2011) in Theory, Culture and Society and ‘Syn-aesthetics – total artwork or difference engine? Thinking synthesis in digital audiovisuality’ (2010) in Inflexions.

Anna Munster is a practicing new media artist, regularly collaborating artistically with Michele Barker from the College of Fine Arts. Barker and Munster have recently completed a large-scale multi-channel interactive work, HokusPokus, which explores the relations between perception, magic and early moving image technologies and techniques. Recent collaborative projects include: Duchenne’s smile (2-channel DV installation, 2009), exhibited FILE Festival, Brazil, 2010, The Love Machine II (photomedia installation, 2008–1­0), Seoul Museum of Art, 2011 and Struck (3-channel DV installation, 2007), Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney 2007.
She has held a number of Australian Research Council grants in new media and art, most recently ‘Dynamic Media: Innovative social and artistic uses of dynamic media in Australia, Britain, Canada and Scandinavia since 1990’. This project has a publicly accessible online database, profiling innovation and research by artists, theorists and media producers. She is currently collaborating on the international research project: ‘Reconsidering Australian Media Art History in an International Context’.
She is a founding member of the online peer-reviewed journal The Fibreculture Journal and has co-edited two special issues for this journal on Distributed Aesthetics and Web 2.0.