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Third Annual York Summer Theory Institute in Art History

Monday 22 May 2017, 1.00PM

Speaker(s): Professor Whitney Davis, University of California at Berkeley and University of York

Please note: the deadline for applications has been EXTENDED until 12 noon on Friday 12th May 2017.



Image: Andrea Pozzo (1642 – 1709), Apotheosis of St. Ignatius, illusionistic quadratura fresco for ceiling of Sant’Ignazio, Rome, 1688 – 94.

May 22 – 26, 2017, 1:00 – 4:45 pm daily

 Visuality and Virtuality

The 2017 YSTI investigates the relationships between visuality, or historically and culturally specific ways of seeing, and virtuality – the creation of objects and spaces that extend, augment or transform the ordinary furniture of the visual world, including such notable technologies as painterly illusion (trompe l’oeil), pictorial perspective, ‘virtuality reality games’ and ‘real-time simulations’. The topic is especially apt in a current world saturated in images – in ever-expanding virtual visual-spatial horizons and worlds – but we will also ask how earlier cultures, including premodern and prehistoric ones (Western and non-Western), produced virtual worlds in visual space, how major historical modes of pictorial representation (such as ‘aspective’ and ‘perspective’) have shaped visual space, and how long-lost visual/sensory worlds can be reconstructed archaeologically and/or in forensic virtualisations. Particular topics for individual seminar sessions might include: the phenomenology of visual space; the ‘presence’ versus the representation of things; ‘analog’ and ‘digital’ pictorial spaces; relations between substitutes and pictures; the thesis of vision historicism (‘vision itself has a history’); numerical and computational control of virtuality; ‘old’ and ‘new’ media of virtualities. We will also likely organise special sessions introducing particular techniques of virtualisation as a research method in art history.


YSTI is organised in such a way that little or no advance reading will be necessary. Instead, students will be expected to use their mornings to read the selected texts (usually two or three chapters/articles per session); individual students will be asked in advance to prepare comments to initiate discussion in each session. Two sessions of approximately 90 minutes will be held each afternoon. Two evening lectures (“The Origin of Perspective” by Professor Davis on Tuesday May 23 and another by Professor Inge Hinterwaldner on Thursday May 25) and a final dinner (Friday May 26) round out the activities of the institute.


To apply e-mail with a short statement (max 250 words) setting out how you envisage your attendance contributing to your research by 12 noon on Friday 12th May 2017.

Location: Spring Lane Building

The Origin of Perspective

Tuesday 23 May 2017, 5.30PM

Speaker(s): Whitney Davis

This lecture addresses one of the crucial features, and deep problems, of 'painter's perspective' (one-point or central perspective) in pictorial representation, focusing on the case of the first 'true' linear-perspective projection, the architect Filippo Brunelleschi's painted picture of the Florentine Baptistery (c. 1405 - 15). What is the relation between the actual standpoint at which a particular view of visual space is really experienced and the 'viewpoint' (correlated with the 'vanishing point') constructed in the perspective projection of that view? To answer this, the lecture considers Brunelleschi's method - as reconstructed by present-day art historians - and its striking results, especially its 'discovery' of the irreducible specificity and individuality of standpoint in visual space. How does this standpoint relate to 'perspective' in the metaphorical sense - to worldview or outlook?

Location: SLB/118

On the Confluence of Virtualities in Computer-based Environments

Thursday 25 May 2017, 5.30PM

Speaker(s): Inge Hinterwaldner, Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art and Visual Culture, Humboldt University, Berlin.


Virtual reality (VR) applications in the context of phobia therapy are centred on the core concept of 'presence'. This is clearly their design target; it is identified as correlated to the moderate degree of fear that psychologists and patients can work with. The VR technology is based on virtuality in the sense of a spatial extension. In order for VR to work, the user shouldn't see the image world s/he is surrounded by as computer graphics, or as image series, films, or games. Instead, it would be crucial to perceive the environment as a place visited or as 'being there' in a situation. According to Kimberley Osberg, VR is "an alternate reality based on perception". And Rita Lauria states that virtual environments "are manufactured towards creating a cognitive state". The applications are sometimes even tailored to an individual. Presenting examples out of 20 years of research in VR-based phobia treatment, the lecture shows that many VR scenarios centre the user conceptually or/and spatially by creating a significant 'density' next to the user's avatar and by surrounding the main site with a zone of fading affordances. Here, a second notion of 'virtuality' might be applicable: virtuality as an action-related extension, a potentiality that might come into actualization. The lecture proposes to identify degrees of virtuality or 'psychological-gravitational forces' correlated with the degree of difficulty (a default mode of cognitive behavioural therapy) and with the user's degree of exposure avoidance.

Location: SLB/118

What Turns Pictures On

Friday 26 May 2017, 2.30PM

Speaker(s): Dr Justin Underhill, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Digital Humanities, University of California at Berkeley

Image: Virtual reconstruction of a traditional Kwakwaka'wakw housepost (British Columbia) in firelight; copyright Justin Underhill.
This presentation will consider the conditions in which pictures can be activated by the perceptual parameters afforded by their environment. How can optical or acoustic transformations observed (or otherwise experienced) within viewer space be recruited to the virtual worlds structured by depictions? The role of digital technologies in investigating and reconstructing these spaces--laser scanning, photogrammetry, modelling and rendering--will be discussed, and several art-historical examples reviewed.

Location: BS/005 Bowland Auditorium