Image and Gesture: A Modernistic Vision in Weimar Visual Culture

Conference: The European Conference on Media, Communication & Film (EuroMedia2020)
Title: Image and Gesture: A Modernistic Vision in Weimar Visual Culture
Stream: Media History
Presentation Type: Live-Stream Presentation
Chunyan Fu, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom


This paper introduces the issue of gesture into reflections on the emergence of a modernistic vision, drawing from Walter Benjamin’s and Giorgio Agamben’s remarks on the potentiality of gesture in the dialectical interruption and repetition. As representatives of artistic movement in Weimar Berlin, the works of Otto Umbehr and of Walter Ruttmann belong to the trajectory of urban visual culture in the 1920s. Incorporating bodily movement and gestural culture with city landscapes, their works offer a signature perspective to observe and reflect on the new vision generated by modernity. With selected works of Umbehr and Ruttmann’s Berlin, Symphony of a Great City (1927), this paper will explore how modern city life changed people’s visual perception and how photography and cinema in the early twentieth century, as an attempt to recover the lost gestures, display the potentiality of actualizing movement and what Benjamin calls a messianic, kairological time. I would argue that gesture, as itself a dialectical image, not only enables the emergence of a modernistic vision of time and movement and influences the artistic creation of visual representation, but also moves beyond the pure realm of aesthetics and reaches the field of ethics and biopolitics by exhibiting its own mediality, thus realizing the potentiality of the moving image.