IMAGES: SIGNS AND PHENOMENA OF TIME

A trans- and interdisciplinary conference at the University of Hamburg

12—14 November 2015

Breathing within and in front of images – Rhythm and time in abstract modernity


The problem of time in images is usually addressed in terms of narratology. Phenomena of time have to be thought of in an entirely different manner in those pictures that lack the depiction of persons and actions, though. Suggestions for an understanding of time in abstract images in the first half of the 20th century culminate in the principle of rhythmicity. Rhythm as a ‘time dividing’ phenomenon (Panofsky) plays a central role in art theoretical conceptions of the epoch, for instance in those of Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky. A metaphor and practice in this context not yet investigated thoroughly is that of breathing within and in front of artworks. The principle of respiration was employed to both the production and reception of pictures by artists like Johannes Itten, František Kupka and Mark Tobey. Respiration as a rhythmic phenomenon of elevation and lowering is related (1) to the composition of the picture, (2) to the rhythmic work of the artist while producing the artwork and (3) to the reception of the picture in time by the observer.
The issue of breath is directly connected to the time’s life reformist ideas about the re-rhythmization, liberalisation and spiritualization of individual and society. Thus, an alternative to the organisation of time, the ‘breathlessness’ and the restrictive metre of industrialisation and its materialism is aspired. The aim is to individualize and liberalize rhythm again. Through the picture, a healthier rhythm is meant to be transferred as a kind of bio-rhythm to the observer.
In this presentation, concepts of the respiratory rhythm in front of and within pictures are described as a historic concept that deals with phenomena of time in images. Their potential lies in the connection of different time dimensions that were already reflected by the artists. The time of the production, the intrinsic time of the image and the time of reception are brought into a correspondence through this model.


Since October 2014 Linn Burchert is a research associate and doctoral candidate at the Department of Art History at the Friedrich-Schiller-University in Jena, Germany. In her dissertation project she investigates naturopathic and atmospheric image concepts in abstract modern painting. In 2012 she attained her Bachelor’s degree in Cultural and English Studies. In 2014 she finished her studies of Comparative Literature and Art Studies (MA) at the University of Potsdam.

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