Contemporary dilemmas of visuality

Tuesday 4 to Saturday 8, September 2012
venue: Faculty of Law, University of Buenos Aires
Figueroa Alcorta Av. 2263, Buenos Aires, Argentina

A dilemma (from the Greek, dis = two, lemma = topic or premise) is a problem whose
solution allows for two possibilities, but none of them is completely satisfactory, so that a
difficult choice comes out, upon which ethical and moral issues often impact. When a
dilemma appears it is not possible to choose from a correct or an incorrect issue, but
between two options that may be correct at the same time, but contrary to each other in a
certain sense; between two equally appreciated values which, however, come into a
conflict. In the field of visuality the dilemmas appear frequently, and seem to have
multiplied themselves in the contemporary world, where images and their implications
have acquired new strength in the infinite web of global connectivity.
It is perhaps in the field of photography –and particularly in press photography,
traditionally linked to the greater effects of reality– where the most dilemmatic situations
arise today: to make visible –or not– the often terrifying image of the present conflictive
scenario, with its wars, attacks, famine, forced migrations, that put us “regarding the pain
of others”, as Susan Sontag pointed out, and that may elicit undecidable political dilemmas
that involve power factors in a worldwide level.
In this extreme visibility, which expands the limits of the knowable, where the many
forms of art also are displayed, images seem to recover the symbolic power that worried
the ancient people, putting them at the risk of new idolatries. Visibility is assumed as a
condition of democracy, as an imaginary of transparency, but also as an erasure of the
uncertain threshold between public and private domains, another of the dilemmatic zones.
The dilemmatic visual situations are not limited, however, to moral or cultural
questions; they appear equally in the more primary context of visual perception. In this
sense, visual ambiguities, paradoxes and antinomies have also a place in the theme we are
concerned with. The identification of the referents may suffer from the hesitations coming
both from the perceptual organism and from the organization of the object. Even images
that are generated and used in the context of scientific practices (diagnosis,
experimentation, demonstration, explanation, etc.), which are often endorsed with a
pretension of objectivity and unambiguity, do not escape from these situations.
Thus, visual contemporary dilemmas concern both ethics and aesthetics, politics, human
and social sciences in general, as well as natural sciences, perhaps with special emphasis
on biology. Since all knowledge relies on signs, the semiotic perspective allows precisely
for an interdisciplinary and integrating view. Is in this vast territory that we want to pose
the semiotic reflection on the dilemmas of visuality, calling to questioning, thinking and

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