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Invisibility Studies

Surveillance, Transparency and the Hidden in Contemporary Culture


Henriette Steiner and Kristin Veel

Invisibility Studies explores current changes in the relationship between what we consider visible and what invisible in different areas of contemporary culture. Contributions trace how these changes make their marks on various cultural fields and investigate the cultural significance of these developments, such as transparency and privacy in urban architecture and the silent invasion of surveillance technologies into everyday life. The book contends that when it comes to the changing relationship of the visible and the invisible, the connection between seeing and not being seen is an exchange conditioned by physical and social settings that create certain possibilities for visibility and visuality, yet exclude others. The richness and complexity of this cultural framework means that no single discipline or interdisciplinary approach could capture it single-handedly. Invisibility Studies begins this conversation by bringing together scholars across the fields of architectural history and theory, art, film and literature, philosophy, cultural theory and contemporary anthropology as well as featuring work by a collective of artists.
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2 Mirroring the Invisible


In what follows, I will summarise some of my observations relating to the cultural history of the mirror as a medium and material in art and science. I claim that mirrors play an important role in comprehending both the ‘visible’ and ‘invisible’ while helping us to understand the close relationship between ‘observing’ and ‘measuring’ within scientific and artistic practice. As a medial and material precondition for both ‘vision’ (the natural aspect of the visible) and ‘visuality’ (its cultural aspect), mirrors produce at the same time blind spots of both ‘vision’ and ‘visuality’ that require a research focus towards the very boundaries of visual cultural studies. This article demonstrates such a research interest by addressing the complementary relation between mirrors and images in the first section, followed by a short survey of mirror-mediated scientific extensions of the human field of vision in the second section. The third section discusses some prominent examples and concepts relating to modern architecture and contemporary cultural practices (including surveillance and popular film), thus reflecting some of the impact of mirror-mediated (in)visibility on modern culture more generally.

Mirror and Image

As a surface that has the ability to reflect incoming light rays, the mirror’s distinct qualities have always inspired study within the humanities, where it has been traditionally comprehended either as a medium of self-­knowledge, or, alternatively, as a void in the apprehension of the world. Instead of either of these approaches, I have been looking at some differences...

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