About

The symposium “Pointed or Pointless? Recalibrating the Index” aims to reconsider the notion of the index, its history and present-day applicability. Some recent debates – which abandon strict definitions of analogue/digital and scrutinize fixed notions of truth and medium – are taken as an opportunity to readdress the notion in the 21st century.

Deriving from the semiotic theory of American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce, the index has enjoyed a wide-reaching career. It has dominated photography’s definition as a medium for decades, justifying its specific “truth-claim”. With the rise of digital technologies the notion – in terms of a trace left behind by the photographed object on a material surface – has been challenged. Today, it serves as the distinguishing feature, which divides two states of the world (the real and the mediated) while at the same time connecting them. However this connection is not as linear as the media-ontological approach suggests, and has been recently discussed in terms of the “messy state of media”, “post- digital”, or “habitual media”.

This complex situation asks for a re-evaluation of the notion of index – taking into account its complex historical existence; challenging it as an ontological tool by tackling the asserted gap between the “analogue” and the “digital”; and shifting the focus to an epistemological
understanding.

The symposium is divided in two parts. The first event took place in London and was dedicated to the re-evaluation of the index, focusing on its historical re-assessment as well as on the steps of “stylization” of the term, following the trace from Peirce to visual theory. The second part in Potsdam will subsequently deal with the updating of the index, by taking a closer look at the use of the notion in debates on the networked image, as well as discussing gestures of authentication, which emphasize concepts of authenticity and objectivity and can be registered as indexical.