2016 October 22 / 13:00 - 2016 October 22 / 14:30
Round Table
Vera Tollmann

Vera Tollmann
Picturing the Universe: On Scale, Calculation, and Composites
´┐╝SAT, 22.10.16 | 1pm

The universe has always been mediated; it has always been an image, a virtual universe. How are images and conceptions of outer space transformed by the use of high-performance computers? What remains invisible? The presentation will trace technology’s determining influence on the image of the universe, its agency, and its creation of artifacts. The composite images of Charles and Ray Eames’s film Powers of Ten (1977), like current images of the universe, depict space without time. While Powers of Ten is informed by photography, today’s images of the universe require the pixels of digital sensors and high computer performance. Digital applications have normalized the manipulation and manipulability of data and enabled the handling of it in bulk.
Whereas Charles and Ray Eames organized the “world” in two dimensions, partitioned in structures and grids, Google Earth is based on networks and algorithms. Powers of Ten’s showstopper was its isomorphic depiction of celestial bodies in space and atoms within the human body. Within the universe, there’s once more a macro- and a microcosm. Powers of Ten depicts forty steps from 1024 to 10-16 meters. Amounts of data like “petabyte” and “exabyte” express powers of ten as well. And physicists can count backward until 10-43 seconds after the Big Bang. These are unimaginable magnitudes.


Vera Tollmann studied Applied Cultural Studies and Aesthetic Practice at Hildesheim and Cultural Studies in Liverpool. Since 2015, she is a PhD-candidate in the graduate program “Aesthetics of the Virtual” of the University of Fine Arts of Hamburg where she writes her dissertation on the meaning of the vertical perspective for image politics. Tollmann is also a researcher at the Berlin University of the Arts where she co-directs the Research Center for Proxy Politics together with Hito Steyerl and Boaz Levin. Recently published essays: “The Body of The Web,” (with Boaz Levin), in: Out of Body, Skulptur Projekte Münster 2017, frieze d/e, No. 23, Spring 2016; “Watching ’Powers of Ten’ in: 2014: A Blueprint for Same Old Power Structures?” online at Regarding Spectatorship: Revolt and Distant Observer (Berlin 2015); “The Uncanny Polar Bear. Activists Visually Attack an Overly Emotionalized Image Clone” in: Image Politics of Climate Change. Visualizations, Imaginations, Documentations. (Birgit Schneider, Thomas Nocke (eds.), transcript 2014).

Image: A small section (showing Eta Carinae) of a Milky Way photo with 46 billion pixels, the largest astronomical image to date (2015)
With kind permission of Prof. Dr. Rolf Chini, Chair of Astrophysics, Ruhr-Universität Bochum.