NNDV’s “Beyond the Frame”: Concluding Discussion

Published: 2014-04-23

“Beyond the Frame: The Future of the Visual in an Age of Digital Visuality” was the theme for the final conference of the Nordic Network for Digital Visuality (NNDV), held April 7-9 at the Vår Gård conference center outside of Stockholm. The conference was organized to provide an opportunity and challenge to think beyond the frame of the image – theoretically, methodologically and epistemologically. The theme was also designed to address the central aim of the network’s third year: to focus on digital diversity, and with attention to comparative studies of digital visuality in different social and cultural contexts.

The conference included 31 participants from 11 countries. In addition to the Nordic countries – Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden – scholars came from Australia, Austria, Belgium, England, Germany, Italy, and Scotland. There were two keynote addresses, by Scott McQuire from the University of Melbourne, and Gillian Rose from the Open University in London. Ten participants presented papers from their current research, and evening sessions were devoted to viewing films by network members. Two smaller seminars were held, where the 8 participating Ph.D. students met to discuss their doctoral research.

The conference concluded with a final discussion, covering what each participant regarded as the high points, what they found most thought provoking and what they felt should be explored further. All seemed to agree on the value of this meeting as providing a friendly atmosphere and platform for focusing on and extending research on the visual and multisensory as important modes of experience and knowledge.

Key points that emerged from this discussion included:

  • We are at a powerful moment, in between the old and the new, with new visual practices emerging. New media are not really new. Where are we now, is it possible to look at the digital as something coherent?
  • Stimulating ideas regarding sense as experience and its heterogeneity. Also the connection between the sensory and technology that many papers touched upon.
  • How fruitful it is to have images as a base for discussion. This highlights the important contributions they can make to social science.
  • Some participants requested more focus on the multisensory, however, arguing that the visual remained too central.
  • Interesting connections were drawn between art and science. Many appreciated the setup with film screenings in the evenings.
  • The relevance of cultural value within visual studies and digital visuality – want to see more focus on that.
  • Several participants cautioned against too much focus on technology; we also need to continue to consider people, what they do and how we can use the visual to understand humans.
  • Reviewing old concepts was useful, to see how they can be used in a contemporary context. Terminology, what happens when we revisit old terms?
  • Several participants highlighted the concept of “interface”, and in particular “the image as interface” raised by Gillian Rose as an inspiring idea.
  • Scott McQuire asked: What happened to phenomenology? He noted the many references to ANT in the papers. Cannot go back to classic humanistic phenomenology: of course it has to be a post-humanistic phenomenology. Several were sceptical of this which suggested this could be a fruitful line of inquiry to explore and debate.
  • Interdisciplinarity was mentioned by several as a strength of the conference. The participants represented an inspiring diversity of perspectives. To see how we, from different disciplines look at the same phenomena with different lenses.
  • Several participants noted that they the only ones in their departments working with the visual – therefore, very important to be in a context like this. Also to bring back the ideas and perspectives from this context to their own departments.
  • At the same time, there is a need for deeper and more widely shared theory; we need a better balance between theory and empirical data.
  • Important to focus on what kind of methodologies we can use to approach visuality.
  • Big data. Scott McQuire’s presentation pushed us to reflect on whether and which companies provide access to their data. An important focus for our research, and the importance of thinking about the infrastructure around the visual; the ethical and political issues that come with big data.
  • Important to take into account economic and production aspects when we think about the visual. We often neglect the relationship of infrastructure and aesthetics to labour.
  • We shouldn’t forget that images still function as representations. Also, to remember that we also are producing, as researchers making presentations of our work; we need to think about what we are producing and how.
  • A question that has to come up: why are we making so many images?
  • As for the support provided by the network, several participants said that they had used feedback from previous meetings when they have published their work.
  • One person said she had been inspired to make films, and planned to include this in her future work.
  • The network could also work to support including visual material in journals. Need to push the academy to have more respect for blending presentation forms.
  • A Ph.D. student said that she found it helpful to meet people who have been in the field for a long time, and also to meet other Phd students. The suggestion arose for a Facebook group or something similar for Phd students whose research is related to visual studies. It might be a way to exchange ideas and perhaps write articles together. Want to think about how to bring together doctoral students from different fields.
  • Even though this was the formal end of the network, many highlighted the need for a continuation, a place where we can try out ideas. Finally, should it be extended to a more European, instead of Nordic “network”?