Abstract- Angela Ndalianis, Lisa Beaven, Saige Walton

Technologies of Wonder – a Pansemiotic Approach

Focusing on the famous collection of German filmmaker, curator and professor Werner Nekes, which is considered to be one of the most encyclopedic collections of devices of optical invention in the world, this panel will reveal how no media are ever divorced from history. The 3 panelists have access to the collection and are analyzing the rich history of technological experiments and spectator-media relations that it represents for a forthcoming book series and web project. Drawing upon a wealth of more than 25,000 objects including cameras obscura, magic lanterns, praxinoscopes, peep-boxes, daguerreotypes, kinetoscopes, and panoramas the panel will demonstrate the continuity of interest that has persisted in using media to push the boundaries of technology and vision, art and science through centuries. Papers will focus on the rich and complex historical and cultural contexts that nurtured these varied modes of perception, and will evaluate how such technologies continued to make their presence felt in more recent times. The study of the camera obscura, for example, reveals its connections with the later invention of photography. The chronoscope is a clear predecessor to methods of digital animation used today for film effects. The C18th automata find their parallels in robot experiments such as Sony’s QRIO. And perspective instruments, treatises and the objects that reflected its laws - dioramas, panoramas, and perspective boxes - have found a new form of expression in the virtual architecture of computer game spaces.
The papers will explore the complex history of scientific and artistic explorations and experimentations that were initiated by these optical technologies and examine them in their intellectual, scientific and social contexts as radical technologies that were expanding the boundaries of what was possible, with the aim of recapturing the sense of excitement about how each device could serve an intellectual springboard for new ideas and new visual connections. The papers will paint brief pictures of the socio-historical backdrops that inspired the creation of these technological wonders; and evaluate the way art and entertainment, science and magic, technology and optical trickery all intertwined to produce fascinating, and often contradictory narratives, about the nature of vision, perception and illusion. The panellists will argue that the diversity of the Nekes collection may be understood as contemporary wunderkammer that encases a micro-history of visual media technologies (in particular, of the pre-C20th). As such, it demands not only an interdisciplinary approach, but a dense theoretical framework that incorporates a pansemiotic methodology; such an approach endows the object with multiple layers of signification that make possible a richer understanding of the complex media relations that they represent.