Resetting the Black Box?

Beyond Art History and Science Studies

Istituto Svizzero, Rom

21.09.2017, 18:15 Uhr bis 22.09.2017, 17:15 Uhr


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The use of the term “black box”, which was initially conc eived to describe phenomena in electronic circuit theory and cybernetics, has over the recent years expanded in the manifold realm of art history and science studies, spanning curatorial studies, systems and practice theory, informatics, as well as the philosophy of science and cognition. In the arts and especially in curatorial studies, the black box is in principle understood as a possible opposite to the white cube. It thus describes a space, in which video art, film, theatre performances or installations are displayed and projected in closed darkness, which thereby entirely changes the conditions of beholding and participating. On the other hand, even the opacity or ambiguity of certain artworks has been, metaphorically, described with the term black box. This metaphorical usage resonates with the analogy used in science studies: laboratory studies early on described “black-boxing” as a constitutive part of the sociotechnical construction of scientific facts (e.g., Latour an d Woolgar 1979[1986]) and, in particular, visual analysis in this domain has examined “black-boxing of the image production” (Lynch 2015). A related idea, both in philosophies of art and systems theory, is that “the only conceivable way of unveiling a black box, is to play with it” (Negarestani 2014). Taking its cue from this general idea, this international workshop homes in on different ways of playing with “black boxes” in the arts and sciences and, more specifically, on the distinctive kinds of (black) boxes, metaphorical and literal, that happen to be displayed through such play, idle and serious. As its title indicates, the conference invites a broader reflection on disciplinary canons, their modernist legacies and clichéd celebration, as well as their possible suspension.