The Icon as Cultural Model: Past, Present and Future

International Conference
25th-26th of January 2018, Amsterdam

Organized by the Humanities Department of the Open University, the Netherlands
supported by NICA

More information: See
Flyer: The Icon as Cultural Model

Journalists, artists and scholars, among others, tend to refer to iconic events or images from the past in order to better understand present-day developments. For example, in the wake of the American elections media repeatedly referred to the iconic ‘years of crisis’ of the thirties of the last century. Also, they recalled George Orwell’s iconic depiction of a dystopian society from his novel 1984 to contextualize the use of ‘alternative facts’. In this respect, the icon functions as a model that generates cultural meaning by connecting past and present. But the icon not only shapes our (collective) image of the present, nor does it merely re-evaluate our image of the past. It also opens up potential scenarios for the future – be it brilliant or gloomy.

The making of specific icons is a much-studied topic in cultural studies, literary studies, art history and even in the history of science. However, theoretical and/or synthesizing studies on how the icon functions as a cultural model from which we can learn how to act or perform are scarce. The conference ‘The Icon as Cultural Model’ wants to fill this gap.

First, it will do so by addressing different manifestations of the icon. Traditionally understood as a static visual image, the concept of the icon is also used to refer to:

  • a specific period (e.g. the thirties or sixties, the Enlightenment or Golden Age);
  • a specific place(e.g. Waterloo or Woodstock, cities like Amsterdam, Rome or New York, or imaginary places such as Orwell’s ‘Oceania’);
  • a specific person(e.g. Christ, Michelangelo, Mae West)

Static as the icon may be, its evaluation by different groups (artists, scholars, politicians) can change through time. Recently, scholars have shown an increased interest in phenomena linked to the theme of the icon: such as fan culture and celebrities, artists’ self-representation, cultural marketing and branding.

This poses the question why at present the search, and explication of, cultural models occurs to be highly relevant. By posing this question the conference’s second aim is to encourage reflection on how the icon has functioned and still functions as cultural model (and how it can be studied as such).

In addressing the icon as cultural model the conference explicitly wishes to bring together scholars from various disciplines such as art history, literary studies, history and philosophy. In this way the conference wishes to offer room for joint interdisciplinary reflection on the question how the study of cultural models may contribute to our understanding of the dynamics of culture in general.

Contributions can address, but are by no means limited to the following aspects:

  • How do periodical concepts like the ‘Golden Age’, ‘Enlightenment’ or ‘Renaissance’ function as icons? How does the evaluation of these concepts by artists and/or scholars change through time? And how can we study this shifting evaluation?
  • How do both general spatial notions such as the ‘city’ (as opposed to the ‘country’ or to ‘nature’) and specific places function as models for writers, philosophers and artists?
  • How do specific historical events become iconic? Who attributes power to these events? And how, why, and by whom are their cultural meanings rewritten?
  • How do artifacts such as novels, poems, paintings, sculptures, and films construct iconic images of the past and/or future? How can we study iconic representations within these artifacts?
  • How do specific historical persons function as icons in art, philosophy and scholarship? And how can we study these cases in the broader context of the study of cultural models?

Papers will be selected for publishing in the conference proceedings.
NB The deadline for sending in abstracts is closed.

Information on the program, the keynotes and how to register will be published soon on the conference webpage

For questions contact Marieke Winkler via or




Visual Activism, with Zanele Muholi

NICA is proud to co-sponsor a workshop by acclaimed visual activist Zanele Muholi, who is the first black womxn to have a solo exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum (July-October 2017). The workshop with Muholi will be a part of the conference Art & Activism: Resilience Techniques in Times of Crisis taking place December 13-15, 2017 in Leiden. For this event, Muholi will present with the researcher Lindiwe Dhlamini who volunteers with the Inkanyiso media collective. Since 2006, this collective of ever growing LGBTI contributors focuses on visual arts and media advocacy, and believes Queer Activism = Queer Media.

Workshop “Muholi on Visual Activism: Artistic Collaborations and Political Participation” with (Zanele) Muhole
Thursday Dec 14 11:45-12:45

In this one-hour workshop, Muholi will show images and discuss her perspective on visual activism, a term she coined in the late 1990s-early 2000s to describe her practice of documentary photography of black lesbians in South African townships. During this time, she was a co-founder of FEW (Forum for the Empowerment of Women), and working for Behind the Mask, a news/community website for LGBT South Africans. Muholi then trained at the Market Photo Workshop and became known for a keen editorial stance toward image making (it’s dangers and potential) and for creating striking portraits with participants in the Faces and Phases series. Muholi has been with Stevenson Gallery since 2004 and has a thriving artistic practice. Her success gives her access to museum spaces, galleries, and universities the world-over; and, into these white dominated spaces she brings other talented black South Africans from her communities.

For example, in Muholi’s recent solo exhibition at the Stevenson Cape Town (August 2017), Muholi presented her own self-portraits from the Somnyama Ngonyama / Hail the Dark Lioness series alongside the growing Brave Beauties series.  For this extension of Brave Beauties Muholi flew nine trans women, pageant winners from the Johannesburg-Pretoria area whom she had previously photographed, to Cape Town. They did a 5-day photo shoot, made media videos, shared their stories, and then opened the exhibition of their portraits. To raise awareness of trans experiences in South Africa and to foster trans love, inside the gallery space their images were displayed together with a wall of their personal writings about their lives.

More on Muholi:
More on Inkanyiso:
More on the conference program:

Participants that register for this event will have access to the 3-day conference (free entrance), and should prepare readings selected by Muholi, participate at the workshop, and attend other conference events to receive 1 EC.  Space for up to 10 RMA/PHD students is available by registering through NICA at (before December 6, 2017). Please briefly state your motivation for attending the workshop, and whether you wish to receive 1 EC.

The event is co-organized by Eliza Steinbock (Leiden University Center for the Arts in Society), conference chair of Art & Activism: Resilience Techniques in Times of Crisis.

Transmission in Motion

2017-2018 Seminar Program Transmission in Motion

Technological developments inform the ways information travels through media, turn archives into ‘dynarchives,’ and set knowledge cultures in motion. Such developments foreground the performativity of practices of transmission and the materiality of mediation; moreover, they point to movement and embodiment as key to both transmission and mediation. Moving images, motion capture, virtual mobility, mobile and algorithmic media, and haptic interfaces are some of the technologies which exemplify the way in which movement, embodiment and performativity are increasingly part of both what is captured and communicated by media, and how media afford interaction. Movement, motion and gesture are also at the crux of new insights into practices of teaching and learning, health, and embodied cognition. This new centrality of movement, motion and gesture opens up a transdisciplinary terrain for research and development, and new possibilities for cross-sector collaborations between the humanities, sciences and the arts, as well as with partners from within industry, care and education. This is the terrain of Transmission in Motion.

To participate, please send an email to to receive additional information and readings. RMA Students can acquire 3 EC if they attend all meetings and write blogposts after each meeting. Please register at For more information, contact Maaike Bleeker at

Seminar program

1 November 2017 (15-17h):  Nicolas  Salazar Sutil (University of Leeds)  “How to get a Wall to Dance: Transmission Media from a New Materialist Angle”

Place: Parnassos, Kruisstraat 201.

In this presentation, Nicolas Salazar Sutil will unpack a few ideas developed in his latest book Matter in Transmission (Bloomsbury, forthcoming). Transmission media does not only concern forms of telecommunicational transmission (via electricity, radiowaves, microwave, infrared and so on). Transmission media can also refer to raw matter—rock, for example. Calcite rock, which are rock made up of the same chemical component as human bone, can convey energy in the form of vibrant movement. Drawing on the depiction of animal motion in European Upper Paleolithic cave graphics as his example, and based on site-specific work carried out in Altamira and Chauvet caves, Salazar Sutil argues that limestones and limestone caves are cultural media in their own right, akin to what neomaterialist media theorists call “nature-media”. His presentation will also explore the possibility of combining two different movement disciplines— dance and climbing— as research methodology.  As such, climbing and bouldering are unique embodied perspectives that can be performed to gain a tacit knowledge of movement in the rock itself. Moving with rock acknowledges the raw wall as agent for embodied cultural transmission. Underground walls ring and dance.

Nicolas Salazar Sutil (PhD Goldsmith, London) is a Chilean author, researcher and creative practitioner whose practice cuts across theatre, dance, psychogeography, social choreography, computer-assisted choreography and eco practices. His writings concern various aspects of movement such as its representation in symbolic language and code, the technologization of movement, and movement as transmission media. Key ideas that recur in his work are: kinetopoiesis, jism, paleocyber, transmission media, landesque immersion, and critical creativity.  He is the author of Theatres of the Surd: the influence of Mathematical Thinking on Avant-Garde Theatre, and of Motion and Representation: the Language of Human Movement (MIT Press, 2015), Digital Movement: Essays in Motion Technology and Performance (ed. with Sita Popat, Palgrave, 2016) and Matter in Transmission: Mediation in a Paleocyber Age (Bloomsbury, 2018).

Next meetings:

13 December  2017 (15-17h, please note: place tba): Frank Kessler (Utrecht University) Media and the Reconfiguration of the Senses”

17 January 2018 (15-17h, Parnassos, Kruisstraat 201):  Aud Sissel Hoel (Norwegian University of Science and Technology) “Image Classification Using Deep Neural Networks: Some Thoughts from the Point of View of Operative Images and Embodied Perception”

21 February 2018 (15-17h, Parnassos, Kruisstraat 201): Melvin Wevers (Digital Humanities Group KNAW HUC) “Using Neural Networks to Study Conceptual Shifts in Text and Image”

28 March 2018 (15-17h, Parnassos, Kruisstraat 201): Emilia Barakova (TU Eindhoven, Designed Intelligence) & Roos van Berkel (Choreographer and Movement Researcher) talk about their collaborative research in the field of behavioral robotics and intelligent systems.

25 April 2018 (15-17h, Parnassos, Kruisstraat 201): Maaike Bleeker (Utrecht University)  “Corporeal Literacy as Perspective on Human-Technology Interaction”

23 May  2018 tba.

Transmission in Motion is a hybrid research community that brings researchers from across disciplines together with artists and other partners from outside the academy. Transmission in Motion provides a platform for seminars, meetings and presentations, and mediates the development of partnerships and research projects.


Masterclass: Ann Laura Stoler

Where: University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam
When: 7-9 December 2017
Contact: David Duindam,; Paul Bijl,

Ann Laura Stoler is Willy Brandt Distinguished University Professor of Anthropology and Historical Studies at The New School for Social Research in New York. She will deliver a keynote lecture at the 2017 AHM conference “Materialities of Postcolonial Memory” from 7-9 December in Amsterdam. Stoler has worked for some thirty years on the politics of knowledge, colonial governance, racial epistemologies, the sexual politics of empire, and ethnography of the archives. Her books include Race and the Education of Desire: Foucault’s History of Sexuality and the Colonial Order of Things (1995), Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Race and the Intimate in Colonial Rule (2002), Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense (2009) and the edited volume Imperial Debris: On Ruins and Ruination (2013). Duress: Imperial Durabilities in Our Times was recently published with Duke University Press.

On December 9 2017, Stoler will teach a masterclass hosted by NICA. During this masterclass, she will address the trajectory of her work and how subjects change both the form and content of the writing process. How do words, concepts, and style matter? Time of the masterclass: December 9, 4pm – 6pm, location: Vondelzaal, University Library in Amsterdam (Singel 425). Students who wish to participate in the masterclass are required to participate in the AHM conference, and especially attend prof. Stoler’s keynote lecture. After the masterclass students write a 1,500 word paper. If you wish to participate, please send a brief motivation of no more than one page to before Novemer 15, 2017. A selection of articles and chapters will be distributed to all participants.

ASAP: As Slowly as Possible

A Symposium of the Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, 24-26 May 2018

Call for Papers

ASAP/Amsterdam invites proposals from scholars and artists addressing the contemporary arts in all their forms since the 1960s—literary, visual, performing, musical, cinematic, design, and digital. We are interested in work across disciplines and media that examine the formal, cultural, social, and political dimensions of the arts today.

The 2018 international Association of the Study of the Arts of the Present symposium will be hosted by the CLUE+ Interfaculty Research Institute for Culture, Cognition, History and Heritage at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and dedicated to exploring notions of slowness.

Keynote Lectures/Performances

Mieke Bal (NL)

Wolfgang Ernst (DE)

Jeremiah Day (US/NL)

Maria Fusco (IE/UK/NL)

Contemporary ideas of slowness, as introduced by such movements of the 1980s including Carlo Petrini’s “slow food” and other projects, have gained increasing relevance in our ever-accelerating present. Far from denoting merely a claim to slow down, slowness encourages us to address the complexities of contemporary production and reception processes with a heightened sensibility to multi-layered interrelations from the economic to the ecological. The relational nature of speed can serve as a fruitful metaphor for the complex interrelations of spatial/geographical and temporal/historical orders, as well as aesthetic and political discourses. Its relationality encourages us to question other binary notions of hot versus cold media, digital versus analogue, culture versus nature, local versus global, as well as any categorization of the arts according to disciplines, genres, or media.

The symposium encourages papers exploring the notion of slowness, including:

·      multi-layered temporalities and time-scales as effective in artistic practices and works

·      relations of any of the slow movements (slow cities, science, film, food) and the arts

·      ecological, durational, activist, processual, systems-oriented approaches

·      multi-modal and cross-medial approaches to slowness

·      challenged binaries of aesthetics vs. politics, digital vs. analogue, local vs. global

Participants are encouraged to think as broadly and imaginatively as possible about the intersections between and among the contemporary arts and their institutions, economies, policies, and traditions. Proposals may focus on individual artists, writers, designers, composers, or performers and/or their works; they may consider artistic movements, collectives, and local scenes, including those online, or underground; they may discuss any theoretical, intellectual, or aesthetic formation that figures in the world of the arts as we know them now.

*For further information and conference updates, please visit

Abstract Submissions

Applicants to the symposium are invited to submit a 250 word abstract and short biographical note by 17 November 2017 to the organizers at

Organizing Committee

Erin La Cour, Katja Kwastek, & Diederik Oostdijk


Should you have any questions, please contact us at