Graphical Systems (1830 - 1930)

The project deals with the role of visual representations in the experimentalization of life. It focuses on graphic as well as photographic and cinematographic recordings of the living, such as respiration, heart beat, voluntary and involuntary movements of the human hand or invisible emanations of life that were said to radiate from the human body. These recordings were treated as immediate inscriptions of the living since they were produced in close relation to the physical presence of the phenomenon in question. On the one hand these traces were supposed to be automatic inscriptions of the phenomena in question, on the other hand they had to be created by using technical devices that were liable to produce unintended side-effects and thereby influenced the iconographic output. The graphic instruments that were supposed to work as experimental mediators thus became objects of experimetal research and testing themselves. The project investigates this specific balance between fact and artifact, between inscriptions of the living and their dependence on artificial mediators. A second focus examines the status of the graphical method as a universal "world language", as one physiologist (O. Langendorff) addressed it. The graphic devices seemed to translate any given phenomena into a specific pattern of lines and curves (a human voice, the efficency of a worker, the structure of poems or symphonies). In experiments on the physiology and pathology of handwriting the human hand and the pencil it hold were considered as inscription tools. Ordinary handwriting became a pattern of lines and curves, a fixed inscription of specific body movements. The concept of self-inscription thus was not restricted to the domain of physiological graphics but covered also cultural techniques and raised new perspectives in the debates around "manual" versus "mechanical" production of visual representations.