Vilém Flusser – Line and Surface

This essay, first published in 1973, starts from the observation that 'surfaces' (images in magazines, TV screens…) are becoming more important than 'written lines' (i.e. texts). This invites Flusser to analyse the different ways in which written lines and surfaces produce meaning and express thought. He argues that 'line thinking' is historical and conceptual. It is determined by linear and historical time and corresponds to a historical being-in-the-world. On the other hand, 'surface thinking', or non-conceptual thinking, corresponds to an unhistorical being-in-the world. At the same time, Flusser also notices a tendency to incorporate linear thought (conceptual thinking) into 'imaginal thought' (surface thinking), for instance in television and film. He argues that this tendency implies a radical change in the whole structure of our civilization, and that it could lead to a post-historical future in which 'a new sense of reality would articulate itself, within the existential climate of a new religiosity'.

media theory – television – text – visuality


Christophe Van Gerrewey – Goodbye paper! OMA & Rem Koolhaas' The Netherlands Dance Theatre in The Hague (1980-2016) 

The Netherlands Dance Theatre in The Hague was the first major building of OMA & Rem Koolhaas. It was highly anticipated, two earlier projects, both for Scheveningen, having been cancelled before this third and final project was completed at the Spui (The Hague). In this essay, Christophe Van Gerrewey reconstructs the genesis of the Dance Theatre – a polemical project that challenged many received notions of European architecture in the eighties. The building was demolished in 2016, without much public protest.

architecture — Rem Koolhaas – OMA


Stéphane Symons – Old People and the Things That Pass. On Saul Leiter

This short essay analyses the peculiar character of American photographer Saul Leiter's work by discussing it within the context of 'street photography'. Symons shows how Leiter's work differs from most street photography in many respects. For instance instead of focussing on 'the unique moment' (le moment décisif), Leiter uses city life to compose an esthetic whole; and while most street photographers suggest a direct confrontation with their 'models', Leiter increases the distance between the camera and his characters (of city life in general) by inserting objects or 'frames' (e.g. rain-spattered windows) between the camera and the 'subject' of the photograph. According to Symons, it is precisely this distanced view which permits Leiter to suggest, and make us conscious of, the inaccessibility of the inner lives of his passers-by.

Saul Leiter – photography – street photography


Steven Humblet – Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017

This text discusses German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans' recent show at Tate Modern, London. Humblet argues that Tillmans' work attests to a fascination for the body and for corporality on different levels. He demonstrates how Tillmans' choice of subjects, the formal treatment of the surface in his abstract works, and also the manner in which his photographic images are presented in the exhibition space, all testify to a specific sensibility to the corporeal relation towards the world and the photographic image.

Photography – Wolfgang Tillmans


Bart Verschaffel – Border traffic. Image, Frame and Figure in the work of James Ensor 

In this essay, Verschaffel argues that James Ensor's 'grotesque' works derive their force and meaningfulness not only from the technical bravura with which he paints ugly and scary faces, mugs, masks and skeletons, and not only from the aggressive situations he stages. What makes Ensor unique is that he activates the ambivalence of the frame (as a mediating zone between fiction and reality), and thus creates a complex imaginal space with an unstable ‘reality status’. Thus the artist undermines the narrative unity and comprehensibility of the image, thereby heightening its disturbing qualities.

Belgian art – James Ensor – modern art


Hanneke Grootenboer – Sublime Still-life: the work of Adriaen Coorte and Elias van der Broeck

This essay explores the ways in which the still-life works of Elias van der Broeck (1649-1708) and chiefly Adriaen Coorte (1665–1707) present philosophical reflections on sublimity. Grootenboer argues that throughout his oeuvre Coorte, despite the unusually small size of his works (often not much larger than a postcard), can be seen searching for the limits of painting. Special attention is given to the unconventional way in which he animates his fruits and shells, presenting them as if they were actors in an indefinable place, and the rather extreme contradictions in dimension and scale he employs. Grootenboer relates Coorte's paintings to Kant's concept of 'the sublime' and argues that these still-lifes can be called 'pensive images' in that they visualize and clarify philosophical concepts, in an even more accurate way than philosophy itself does.  

Adriaen Coorte – Dutch painting – Still-life – Elias van der Broeck