Between Optics and Ballistics
Setting out from the exhibition Evil Eye: The Parallel History of Optics and Ballistics, held at Tabakalera Centro Internacional de Cultura Contemporánea (Donostia-San Sebastián), this seminar aims to trace a history of the development of modern technology, punctuating ideas around vision and cognition. It is structured around three lectures, followed by a round-table discussion, which aim to analyse the forms with which we have historically been and are trained to observe the world, the accelerated fragmentation of which keeps on triggering the nostalgia of a mystical union with the past, where an eternal and long-lasting order is projected. In centuries gone by, these trends gave rise to strange alliances between disparate forces and currents of thought.
Assuming that our forms of attention, observation and objectivation are contingent and determined by a disciplinary apparatus of learning which includes our voluntary participation, three authors from different disciplines invite us to think about certain processes of mythification in relation to Western techno-scientific culture. Consequently, there will be an analysis of the configuration and development of aesthetic categories, imperial wars, forms of observation and classification and economic models and data analysis.
The activity is part of the Necropolitics, Aesthetics and Memory Seminar, inside the Museo Reina Sofía’s Study Programme Connective Tissue.
Fernando Esposito is an assistant professor in the Department of Modern History at Universität Konstanz. His PhD thesis, Fascism, Aviation and Mythical Modernity (Basingstoke, 2015), examines the discourse of aviation in Italy and Germany and interprets it as a project of fascist mythical modernity. More recently, he has finished his manuscript Habilitations on the topos of the “contemporaneity of the non-contemporary” (Gleichzeitigkeit des Ungleichzeitigen). The book is a contribution to the history and theory of historical times, examining the transformation of European conceptions of time and history and the chronopolitics that emerged in modern temporality.
Oier Etxeberria oversees Tabakalera’s Contemporary Art area.
Germán Labrador is the director of the Museo Reina Sofía’s Department of Public Activities.
Jaume Navarro is a research professor at Ikerbasque. Basque Foundation for Science, at the University of the Basque Country/Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea. After studying physics and philosophy, he began to focus on research around the history of science (particularly the history of physics), perceptions and historical developments of the notion of science and its relationship to religion. Further, he has worked as a researcher at the University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, the University of Exeter and Instituto Max Planck de Historia de la Ciencia, and has published numerous research articles and books for publishers such as Cambridge University Press and Oxford University Press. His latest book Ciencia-religión y sus tradiciones inventadas. Un recorrido historiográfico (Science-Religion and their Invented Traditions. A Historiographic Journey, Tecnos, 2022) explores the relationships between science, religion and nationalism.
Ana Teixeira Pinto is a writer and cultural theorist who lives in Berlin. She is a professor at the Braunschweig University of Art and a theory tutor at the Dutch Art Institute. Her writings have been published in magazines such as Third Text, Afterall, e-flux journal, Manifesta Journal and Texte zur Kunst, and she is the editor of a collection of books on the anti-political, published by Sternberg Press. With Kader Attia and Anselm Franke, she organised The White West: Whose Universal, a series of lectures and podcasts held at HKW Berlin, and was also a member of the artistic team at the 12th Berlin Biennale (2012).
With technological innovation and the fascinating paradigm of modernity, aviation was a sought-after symbol which was exploited in the ideological conflicts that swept war-ravaged Europe in the early twentieth century. Aeroplanes brought a sense of admiration and those who flew them were encircled by an air of audacity, life and youth, turning the heroic aviator — defying death, thrill-seeking — into the embodiment of the new fascist man. Thus, flying became a metaphor for fascism and the plane and the aviator its technoid totems, symbolising at once revolutionary dynamism and the destructive power of fascist movements and the eternal order they tried to erect.
The early years of the twentieth century were characterised by the search for supermen, organised around an evolutionary blueprint, within which technology would come to be the apex. In 1910, aviation was state-of-the-art technology and flying was used as a metaphor for everything the Futurists wanted to encode as elevated (form, man, future), contradicting what they considered to be low and debased (women, matter, past). At the same time, the rebellion against Scientism in the nineteenth century was articulated around vitalism, a current of thought which opposed vital aspects of the mechanical. This lecture explores Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s novel Mafarka le futuriste. Roman Africain (Mafarka the Futurist. An African Novel, 1910), in which the maximum expression of the will for power is the airplane form of Gazourmah (the hybrid child of Mafarka in the book).
The search for the “real” or “true” representation of a physical object, a human situation or a subjective emotion has long been the subject of debate between artists, naturalists, scientists and historians. This lecture, following the work of science historians Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, examines the different notions of “objectivity” throughout modern history, zooming in on the photographic image which gave rise to a new form of mechanical representation, supposedly free from values and devoid of human will. The discovery of X-rays, however, introduced a series of challenges to this type of image and the way in which it had been observed. The issue was related to who must interpret these new images and how the accidental discovery of X-rays must be understood. The former is in relation to the reduced objectivity of science experts, the latter to the history of nuclear physics and the atomic bomb.