Aesthetics of the Third Dimension

In view of the special qualities and their artistic potential, the long-neglected reception of stereoscopy in an art-scientific context — between and beyond painting and sculpture — is indeed an astonishing desideratum. The brief reconstruction of the history of spatial image representation from its beginnings in cave painting to the analog and digital stereoscopy of the present treats some of the ensuing questions and possibilities of connection to aesthetic and epistemic aspects of the production of medial spatiality.

In the way in which artists of past times depicted space and depth, their perception of the third dimension is mirrored, examples of art history allow their visual criteria to be read off: pre-perspective spatial image and pictorial concepts have existed ever since people resorted to charcoal or chalk. In Greek and Roman antiquity, a linear perspective comes into play, based on the geometric foundations of Euclid. At first it seems to correspond more to our viewing habits, but was replaced in the Middle Ages by the quite differently motivated perspective of meaning in which people are represented according to their social or clerical position correspondingly large or small, regardless of their position in space. The art of the Renaissance then returned to the ancient approaches and, with the development of the central perspective, made it possible for the first time to reproduce proportionally the three-dimensional extent of bodies in space on a flat surface.

Finally, the discovery of the principles of binocular vision and the invention of the stereoscope by Charles Wheatstone produced a completely new and unique type of image in the nineteenth century, historically unprecedented, but as an artistic medium it has rarely been the subject of serious research. The study of the stereoscopic image in terms of formal aesthetics is really interesting: even its basic form as a pair of images — at the same time the prerequisite of its medial existence — and the structural affinity of parallax panoramagrams — no less but also of anaglyphic images — with the stylistic features of Futurism are obvious examples.

Abstract of my lecture on November 4th, 2018 on the occasion of the “3Dimensionale” in the Vienna Museum of Science and Technology. — The lecture is the abridged and edited version of my presentation on the occasion of the conference “Mediale Räume” on October 24th, 2012 in Berlin, which is available as an audio transcription of the freely spoken text in the anthology of the same title Mediale Räume published by Kadmos Verlag (ed. by Stephan Günzel, ISBN 978-3-86599-378-6).