Audiovisual Cultures III: Digital Cultures of the Moving Image
Looking at the past few years, the term ‘digital’ seems to have lost all of its distinctive and explanatory potential. For this reason, it has been argued, we are well into the age of the post-digital. In cinema, digital imagery and projection technology have become the rule, not the exception. Digital environments – streaming applications, social media platforms, etc. – have become synonymous with the circulation and consumption of moving images. ‘Screen media’ like cinema, TV-series, or video game have formed a converging field of overlaps, commonalities, and interdependencies that transcends not only conventional distinctions, but also respective disciplinary scopes in academia. And the more digital environments become omnipresent in our everyday lives, the less certain is what the term ‘digital’ is meant to denote. For images, it no
longer means only their existence as computational, electronic signals. Rather, it is increasingly identified with the conditions of algorithmic dissemination and their effects on images both in cultural networks and the post-human neural networks of machine learning.
At the same time, all the aforementioned developments are of course not only media technological advances, but also phenomena as well as agents of significant cultural shifts. The technology behind ‘deep fake videos’ seems to mark the step from digital images challenging the moving image’s ‘aura’ of authenticity – the discussions over indexicality in the 1990s passing into faint memory – to destroying that ‘aura’ altogether. At the same time ‘deep fake videos’ can be read as symptoms as well as benchmarks of the wider change of political communication and our idea of authenticity or factuality itself.
No more is that evident than in the algorithms and design choices behind social media apps that can be seen as catalysts in late capitalist societies with regard to shortened attention spans and a general sense of ‘(dis-)information overload.’ How do we grasp the relation between cultural / aesthetical valuation and the global economic interests where each act of giving something one’s attention is registered and fed into the very algorithms that perfect the system of selling and buying our attention spans? What does this mean for their nonetheless significant importance with regard to a specific need for connection as well as the potentials for creative appropriation or insurgent activism? If the circulation and interrelation of image data becomes increasingly independent from human agents, one can still make the argument that images only really become images in the temporal unfolding of perception by embodied viewers. While the convergence of screen media can be attributed to cross-media marketing and a turbocharged media economy, it might also reflect a cultural challenge to conventional distinctions between producers and recipients. If the amount of potentially relevant content uploaded every hour exceeds any individual’s life-span, how do we even structure digital (image) culture into research corpora? How do we grasp the specific logic of a poiesis of film-viewing that unfolds online, in forwarding, liking, re-mixing, etc.?
Over the course of 2023’s summer term, we want to address the aforementioned phenomena based on two assumptions. First, that – observed from a cultural perspective –the aura of novelty and revolution surrounding discourses on ‘digital media’ recedes; rather than rendering ‘classic’ media theory and philosophy outdated, the fast changes observed over the past two and a half decades call for going back to basic media theoretical approaches in order to grasp the larger dynamics behind the vast and varied field of developments. Second, that – with the dichotomy of analog and digital gradually disappearing – studying practices, poetics, and tactics of consumption as well as appropriation more and more surpasses media technological angles or questions of media specificity with regard to explaining the impact of digital media on society. Accordingly, together with our accomplished fellows, we want to take a media historical view on digital audiovisual images, while at the same time studying cultural shifts that seem to be connected to this historical development. Moreover, we want to highlight not only the technological, discursive an ideological debates but also the embodied and experiential aspects of audiovisual images in digital cultures.