Session 16

Emil Leth Meilvang / Art History, University of Oslo


Life: On Art, Animation, and Biology


The analogical relationship of art to life might be described as one of the constitutional metaphors of art theory. From Aristotle, to the renaissance and extending into certain strands of modernism, the interpenetration of art and life, the art work conceptualised as living, has been a recurrent motif in art history, theory and praxis. What does such organically informed language indicate? How would we approach this alleged affinity between art and life? And what might be the theoretical and art historical benefits from reading the metaphor literally and working through biology?

Recent studies have attempted to shed light on these questions within specific periods (Biocentrism and Modernism, 2011, The Living Image in Renaissance Art, 2005) and attempts at theorising this interpenetration can be found in image-theory (Georges Didi-Huberman, Horst Bredekamp)—not to mention visual studies within historical epistemology (Lorraine Daston/Peter Galison, Hans-Jörg Rheinberger). The panel will explore this nexus of ideas and historical trajectories, focusing on specific notions of life and vitality, with an aim to shed light on the still understudied Nordic contributions to these interconnected realms of art, animation, and biology.

The panel wishes to combine theoretical reflections with specific art historical case studies. How can the notion of life rearticulate questions of agency and representation within specific practices? How might biology be woven into art history? The session welcomes papers related to the intersection of art history/visual studies and questions of animation, organicity, biology, epistemology, and natural history. Possible contributions might address but are in no way limited to the following issues:

  • the ’organic’ tone in art history
  • the morphological proximity of the life sciences and aesthetics
  • organic thinking, art and bio-politics
  • critiques of life and notions of the inorganic
  • animation, motion, and medialisation as living qualities
  • methodological reflections on interdisciplinary frameworks of visual studies and the life sciences