An interdisciplinary conference at The Courtauld Institute of Art exploring art’s relationship with the invisible.
‘He even painted things that cannot be represented …’, Pliny eulogized Apelles in his Naturalis historia. ‘How can we with mortal eyes contemplate this image whose celestial splendour the host of heaven presumes not to behold?’, asks a Byzantine hymn dedicated to the celebrated Image of Edessa. Cennino Cennini, in the first chapter of his Libro dell’arte, writes that painting ‘…calls for imagination, and skill of hand, in order to discover things not seen, hiding themselves under the shadow of natural objects, and to fix them with the hand, presenting to plain sight what does not actually exist.’ In her 1949 essay Some memories of Pre-dada: Picabia and Duchamp, Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia tried to summarise the art of her era: ‘It would seem … that in every field, the principal direction of the 20th century was the attempt to capture the “nonperceptible”.’
Art has been preoccupied with the invisible before, between, and beyond these disparate yet kindred statements. One of artists’ greatest challenges is and has been representing the invisible subject, in its many guises. Artists working in media based on perception, such as painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, and installation, must devise strategies to visualise the invisible: It is a foundational paradox of art.