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Looking across the borderlands of art, media and visual culture

Travelling images critically examines the migrations and transformations of images as they travel between different image communities. It consists of four case studies covering the period 1870–2010 and includes photocollages, window displays, fashion imagery and contemporary art projects. Through these four close-ups it seeks to reveal the mechanisms, nature and character of these migration processes, and the agents behind them, as well as the sites where they have taken place. The overall aim of this book is thus to understand the mechanisms of interfacing events in the borderlands of the art world. Two key arguments are developed in the book, reflected by its title Travelling images. First, the notion of travel and focus on movements and transformations signal an emphasis on the similarities between cultural artefacts and living beings. The book considers ‘the social biography’ and ‘ecology’ of images, but also, on a more profound level, the biography and ecology of the notion of art. In doing so, it merges perspectives from art history and image studies with media studies. Consequently, it combines a focus on the individual case, typical for art history and material culture studies with a focus on processes and systems, on continuities and ruptures, and alternate histories inspired by media archaeology and cultural historical media studies. Second, the central concept of image is in this book used to designate both visual conventions, patterns or contents and tangible visual images. Thus it simultaneously consider of content and materiality.

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Travelling images

The introduction expands on the rationale, aim and layout of the book. It also the develops the core concepts of the book, such as image, art world, borderlands, and image ecology. The notion ‘art world’ emphasizes that the distinctions between art and non-art are constructed by diverse agents and institutions. Moreover the term ‘borderlands’ is used to defy the idea that there is a definite demarcation or border between what is ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ of the art world. The term image ecology serves as a metaphor for a desire to understand the interrelationships of things such as the nature of change, adaption and community and as a way to locate how and why images operate in certain ‘environments’ or systems of meaning. Finally the introduction posits the book in the long tradition of image studies and also in recent development within media studies, particularly studies on mediatization and media archaeology.

in Travelling images
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Chapter 1 considers the mechanisms of breaks and continuities in the history of photocollage with regard to gender, genre and locations of display. Collage is commonly celebrated as a twentieth-century art form invented by Dada artists in the 1910s. Yet there was already a vibrant culture of making photocollages in Victorian Britain. From an art historical perspective this can be interpreted as an expression of typical modernist amnesia. The default stance of the early twentieth century’s avant-garde was to be radically, ground-breakingly new and different from any historical precursors. However, there is, when turning to the illustrated press, also a trajectory of continuity and withholding of traditions in the history of photocollage. This chapter has two parts. The first includes a critical investigation of the writings on the history of photocollage between the 1970s and 2010s, focusing on the arguments and rationales of forgetting and retrieving those nineteenth-century forerunners. It includes examples of amnesia and recognition and revaluation. The second is a close study of a number of images that appear in Victorian albums produced between 1870 and 1900 and their contemporary counterparts in the visual culture of illustrated journals and books.

in Travelling images

Chapter 2 considers the introduction of modernist aesthetics in Sweden in the early 1930s in the image communities of marketing and visual art. The main focus is the Stockholm Exhibition held in 1930 in which marketing and advertising played an integral part in the presentation of modern architecture, design and visual art. The exhibition area hosted the first large presentation of modernist visual art in Sweden and was simultanoeusly a decisive event for the introduction of modernist window displays. From the late 1920s and onwards window displays were clearly being influenced by avant-garde modernist art such as cubism, futurism and constructivism. This is evident in the designs themselves but it was also spelled out in professional journals and handbooks. In the commercial context pure marketing rationales and arguments were linked to the modernist aesthetic.The modernist design in window displays was not unique to Sweden around 1930. However, this is an instructive case as the reception of modernist images differed widely between the two image communities. Within marketing aesthetics the Stockholm exhibition marks the breakthrough for modernism. But simultaneously, the art field was very resistant to modernist aesthetics and the Art Concret exhibition proved to be a complete fiasco.

in Travelling images
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Chapter 3 investigates the printed magazine as a site where the world of art and fashion merged in the 1980s. Since the early 1990s fashion photographs have migrated effortlessly between the art field and the commercial field, between being considered as personal works or assignments limited by the ideas and wants of designers, brands and fashion publications. As pointed out by several scholars a crucial part of this development was the new aesthetics that emerged in the 1990s which challenged traditional notions of fashion as glamorous depictions of garments, a style labelled ‘trash realism’, ’radical fashion’ or ’post fashion’. However, as the chapter shows, an equally important material basis for this development was the emergence of new fora in the 1980s. Later on, in the 1990s and early 2000s several magazines that straddled art, style culture and high fashion appeared, such as Purple Prose, Tank, 032C and Sleek. This chapter trace the beginnings of these transgressions through a close examination of the two magazines i-D and Artforum, which from different positions and with different strategies served as an active interface between art and fashion in the 1980s.

in Travelling images
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Chapter 4 explores how mass media, in the form of daily press, professional journals and television, represented and interpreted contemporary art that was deemed as illegal acts. In consequence, it considers how media discourses intervened and acted in such artistic and legal processes. At the centre of this study are artworks made by three Swedish artists between 1967 and 2009 which were simultaneously considered as both artistic statements and real illegal deeds. These artworks and the ensuing media debates are illuminating examples of how the notion of art is continuously negotiated and interpreted very differently by various agents in diverse contexts. This chapter, therefore, expands its focus beyond the typical agents of the art world such as curators, critics and art historians to include statements and writing by representatives of politics, media, entertainment, law and the general public. Being controversial acts, these artworks were open to multiple interpretations and fed smoothly into the logic of the media system. Accordingly, the artists and their artworks were described as breaking news in the standard vocabulary of the press. In addition, they all elicited extensive media discussions on the definition of art.

in Travelling images