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An-Iconology: History, Theory, and Practices of Environmental Images

Project description

Taking a closer look at today’s an-iconic images

Recent technologies (like virtual and augmented reality) have given new impetus to types of images that negate themselves as such: the EU-funded AN-ICON project calls them 'an-icons' (i.e. non-images). Traditional images are grounded in a material medium; they are separated from their context by framing devices; and they refer to something in the real world. By contrast, an-icons conceal their mediateness; ideally get rid of any framing device; and aim at constituting autonomous quasi-real worlds. The project studies an-icons by working on three axes: a historical axis explores an-iconic strategies and dispositifs of the past; a theoretical axis investigates new categories for describing the an-iconic experience; and a practical axis analyses the applications of an-icons in professional contexts.


"Recent developments in image-making techniques have resulted in a drastic blurring of the threshold between the world of the image and the real world. Immersive and interactive virtual environments have enabled the production of pictures that elicit in the perceiver a strong feeling of being incorporated in a quasi-real world. In doing so such pictures conceal their mediateness (their being based on a material support), their referentiality (their pointing to an extra-iconic dimension), and their separateness (normally assured by framing devices), paradoxically challenging their status as images, as icons: they are veritable “an-icons”.
This kind of pictures undermines the mainstream paradigm of Western image theories, shared by major models such as the doctrine of mimesis, the phenomenological account of image-consciousness, the analytic theories of depiction, the semiotic and iconological methods. These approaches miss the key counter-properties regarding an-icons as ""environmental"" images: their immediateness, unframedness, and presentness. Subjects relating to an-icons are no longer visual observers of images; they are experiencers living in a quasi-real environment that allows multisensory affordances and embodied agencies.
AN-ICON aims to develop “an-iconology” as a new methodological approach able to address this challenging iconoscape. Such an approach needs to be articulated in a transdisciplinary and transmedial way: 1) HISTORY – a media-archaeological reconstruction will provide a taxonomy of the manifold an-iconic strategies (e.g. illusionistic painting, pre-cinematic dispositifs, 3D films, video games, head mounted displays); 2) THEORY – an experiential account (drawing on phenomenology, visual culture and media studies) will identify the an-iconic key concepts; 3) PRACTICES – a socio-cultural section will explore the multifaceted impact of an-iconic images, environments and technologies on contemporary professional domains as well as on everyday life.



Net EU contribution
€ 2 328 736,00
Via festa del perdono 7
20122 Milano

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Nord-Ovest Lombardia Milano
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00

Beneficiaries (1)