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Call for Papers: The Layered Image. Its Phenomena and Constructions in Ancient Art

Avatar of Philipp Weiss Philipp Weiss - 10. Juli 2019 - Call for papers

Call for papers for a conference in image theory and visual culture studies, 23-25 March 2020, University of Hamburg

Images are not two-dimensional. This insight is essential for approaching the perception of and the constitution of meaning through images. It applies to sculpture in the round, reliefs, and wall paintings as well as to coins, book illumination or floor mosaics. Such works of art all occupy a (variable) place in space, are bound to the surface and consist of several layers. Moreover, they are handled and interfere with other objects and actions. Even the production of all kinds of images can be described as a multi- layered process in a material sense. Tesserae are inserted into a substrate, paint is being applied, material removed with a chisel or poured into a mould with a certain thickness. Thus, it makes sense to distinguish different levels or layers of images and to ask how they have contributed to their perception and efficacy. In addition, the phenomena and processes associated with images are all bound to a temporality: the production of the image medium is a process that, like its perception, extends over time. The image itself references the time and duration of what is depicted, and its carrier moves through space as well as through time. With time, various layers of meaning may sediment or reappear through erosion processes. The dimension of time thus creates further layers of the image.

While, in the end, these phenomena apply to all physically perceptible objects, images are additionally characterised by further complexity in communication processes. In figural representations, figures can interact with each other, be staggered or positioned parallel in the pictorial space. The vase painters, engravers or illuminators – to name just three groups of producers – makes use of a variety of possibilities to shape and design their works. These, in turn, can reflect different intentions of their producers in their respective contexts or evoke effects on the recipient’s side. For example, different registers are used to invoke hierarchies of image elements. Within a composition, framing takes place in different ways, which in turn serves to identify significant differences. Framing here does not only mean the actual embedding in a picture frame, but moreover it refers to phenomena such as stylistic differences, size variation, positioning on a pedestal or in a building and other strategies of differentiation. Such strategies can be used to identify a human figure as an ancient statue or as a deceased person or to distinguish between different strands of action. Different narrative styles, techniques and themes provide e.g. the painters and sculptors with specific options to operate with the communicative and ontological levels.

Works of art are multidimensional. For the recipients, this results in diverse and multi-layered approaches to interpret and deal with them. Approaches to contemporary perceptions and attributions of meaning inevitably raise questions regarding ambiguous aesthetic experiences: the possibilities of a casual, as well as an intensive contemplation and observation. Connections and layers of meaning can be developed in different ways. The recurring question remains, whether, how, and by whom a distinction can or should be made between different layers. With these considerations in mind, the conference will address phenomena and constructions of different types of image layers.

We invite contributions regarding possibly but not exclusively the following questions:

How do certain material properties and genres influence the possibilities of distinguishing between image layers? How do material, design and content interact?

Which correlations exist between the design of material, temporal and communicative layers?

How does the differentiation and marking of image layers contribute to the presence of an artwork as object, medium or image?

Which different perceptions are fostered or controlled by the creation of layers? How do these relate to the circumstances of reception? Is the recognition of multiple layers linked to an intensive scrutiny or does the multi-layered image in some cases perhaps even allow a more rapid understanding of certain contexts?

Which means were used to distinguish between image layers? To what extent are these typical for certain temporal and spatial contexts?

In the context of image layers, is it feasible to speak of a readability of images, and what potential does a text-oriented analysis of ancient works of art hold? To what extent can, for example, categories of analysis from narratology be applied in this respect? By what means are levels differentiated and identified in texts, and what role did phenomena such as palimpsests or intertextuality play in antiquity?

Please send an abstract (250 words) of your proposed paper along with your contact details and a short academic CV to: by 22 August 2019.

The conference is organised by Jacobus Bracker, Fanny Opdenhoff, and Martina Seifert and will take place at the Institute for the Archaeology and Cultural History of the Ancient Mediterranean at the University of Hamburg.

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