Fugue of Ideas: Passion, Knowledge and Memory in Aby Warburg’s Theory of the Image

March 4 and 5 - 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Nouvel Building, Auditorium 400
Ideas en fuga. Pasión, conocimiento y memoria en la teoría de la imagen de Aby Warburg
Ideas en fuga. Pasión, conocimiento y memoria en la teoría de la imagen de Aby Warburg

Fugue of Ideasis the name that Aby Warburg would give to the brief notes that accompanied the boards of images that constituted his unfinished Atlas Mnemosyne. It is also the title for this international seminar organized by the Museo Reina Sofía on the occasion of the exhibition curated by Georges Didi-Huberman, Atlas. How to Store the World?For the event, experts on the history and theory of the image have been invited to come together to debate the repercussions of Warburg’s project on knowledge and critical interpretation of contemporary visual culture

Atlas Mnemosyne was an anomalous project in the context of the tumultuous beginning of the 20th century. Created and installed in Warburg’s library in Hamburg from 1924 to 1929, the Atlas Mnemosyne effected a rupture by approaching the field of images not on the basis of the chronological and logocentric order of 19th century historicism, but rather on the basis of a recognition of images’ density of meaning and expressive power capable of destabilizing the epistemological patterns of art history. In the no less tumultuous beginning of the 21st century, Aby Warburg’s formulation takes on a singular meaning, insofar as today it is necessary to deploy a complex mode of iconic knowledge capable of recognizing in current imaginaries the semantic opening and empathetic power that Warburg saw in periods like the Renaissance. Today, it is no longer possible to aspire to the Renaissance faith that Warburg so longed for, a faith in the tight bond between the individual and the universal, between history and myth, or between appearance and the real; nor, though, is it tenable to fall into resignation in the face of the definitive disillusionment of the technological image in modernity that so often obscured Warburg’s vision.

The drive to knowledge and to display that lay behind the Atlas project might serve as a revulsive by which it is possible to meaningfully and relevantly re-connect the fragments of an increasingly undifferentiated past and present; a mission shared by artists, art history and the museum.

The seminar is divided into four roundtables that attempt to interrogate the historical and intellectual coordinates of Warburg’s project, and then to discuss the primary questions about the nature of the image formulated in Atlas that resonate in current debates: mainly, the rhetorical power of the image and its staging as pillars of modernity; the specific languages of the image and methods to approach and critically analyze those languages; finally, the value of the image as reminiscence and as a means for experience to endure over time.


Atlas and Modernity: The Weight of the World Session: Friday, 10 a.m. 
Georges Didi-Huberman, Sigrid Weigel, Elena Tavani, Claudia Wedepohl, Sigrid Weigel.
To Display: The Power of the Image in Modernity. Friday, 17 p.m. 
Christian Jacob, Lorraine Daston and Philippe-Alain Michaud. 

To Know: Iconic Thought. Saturday, 10 a.m. 
Aurora Fernández Polanco and Maurizio Ghelardi. 
Mnemosyne: Image, Reminiscence and Survival Saturday, 17p.m.
Matthew Rampley, Juan José Lahuerta and Javier Arnaldo. 


Javier Arnaldo is Curator and Head of the Research and Educational Programas at Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and professor of art history at Universidad Complutense in Madrid. 
Lorraine Daston is Director of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin.
Georges Didi-Huberman is professor at the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris and curator of ATLAS. How to take the world on one’s back?
Aurora Fernández Polanco is Professor of Theory and History of Contemporary Art at Universidad Complutense in Madrid. 
Maurizio Ghelardi teaches European Culture and History at the Scuola Normale Superiore, in Pisa, Italy. 
Christian Jacob is director of research at the CNRS (National Centre for Scientific Research) and director of studies at the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. 
Juan José Lahuerta is an architect, writer and professor of History of Art and Architecture in the School of Architecture of Barcelona. 
Philippe Alain-Michaud is film curator at the Musée national d'art moderne-Centre Georges Pompidou.
Matthew Rampley is Professor of Art History at the University of Birmingham.
Elena Tavani is Professor of Aesthetics at the University of Naples L'Orientale. 
Claudia Wedepohl is head of the archive at the Warburg Institute in London. 
Sigrid Weigelis Director of the Center for Literary and Cultural Research and Professor at the Institute of Literature at the Technical University of Berlin.

Credits: 1 academic credit for Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Universidad Carlos III (Liberal Arts credit), Universidad Complutense and 2 credits in Universidad Rey Juan Carlos I (Registration only for students who require to validate the credit. From January 15th to February 28th, 2011 in programasculturales2@museoreinasofia.es)