Between Seeing and Believing (Symposium)

What hidden secrets, what situations, and what stories do images betray? So as to unlock these quandaries, and possible agendas, Witte de With presents an interpretive afternoon symposium entitled Between Seeing and Believing this Easter’s eve. On the surface of things, the event will explore the faculty of imaging, both pictorially and descriptively, by focusing on how belief can be constructed through the process of envisioning, and through that vision’s representation. Tacking a novel course, the day interweaves two different forms of ‘reading’, the first art historical, and the second, fictive, essayistic, and poetical.

To this end, we are joined by a group of four scholars whose expertise stem from art history, history of psychology, politics, and religion. Each gives a short 20-min iconographic explanation of a selected image of their own design, respectively. Organized like partners in a dance, the subjects of each of these talks are twined so that two of the scholars take up the subject of the afterlife and the image of the dead or reposed body, while the other pair discuss dreams and their visual depiction. All of these talks tackle different traditions from differing time periods so as to add enriched tones, and textures to the day. Leveling this mode of analysis, Between Seeing and Believing intersperses these presentations with its second group of thinkers, 3-literary authors.

Eschewing the idea that a single image holds a single narrative, these writers have been tasked with composing their own replies to a shared source image independently. The image in question: the first permanent photograph from nature, View from the Window at Le Gras, 1826 by Nicéphore Niépce. Through the collective live readings of these pieces, a new subplot for the day develops; the way an author constructs a sense of place, and a belief in such, through the creative process.

By way of backdrop, and by way of a point of departure, this gathering is held adjacent to Tulkus 1880 to 2018, Witte de With’s current exhibition of over 1,000 photographic portraits of Buddhist masters and religious leaders, who, according to the terms of Tibetan Buddhist tradition, are reincarnated teachers.


Andrei Pop (Postdoctoral fellow Art History, University of Basel), Minou Schraven (Assistant professor Art History and Museum Studies, Amsterdam University College), Sonu Shamdasani (Professor at the UCL Centre for the History of Medicine, University College London) and Francesca Tarocco (Co-director at the NYU Institute for Shanghai Studies).

Each of the above guests round out the historian group, while Angie Keefer, Maria Barnas and Quinn Latimer constitute the literary corps.

Between Seeing and Believing is conceived by Adam Kleinman, with organizational support from Renée Staal (Interim Curatorial Assistant).


2.00 PM: Opening and introduction by Defne Ayas & Adam Kleinman.

2.15 PM: Minou Schraven on Pope Benedict XVI standing in front of the remains of Pope
Celestinus V in L’Aquila, April 2009.

2.40 PM: Angie Keefer on Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s View from the Window at Le Gras (1826).

3.05 PM: Andrei Pop on Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare (1781).

3.30 PM: Maria Barnas on Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s View from the Window at Le Gras (1826).

3.55 – 4.20 PM: Break

4.20 PM: Francesca Tarocco on The Nirvana of Master Hongyi (1942) by anonymous.

4.45 PM: Quinn Latimer on Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s View from the Window at Le Gras (1826).

5.10 PM: Sonu Shamdasani on Jung’s hermeneutics in his Red Book (1914-1930).

5.35 PM: Roundtable discussion moderated by Adam Kleinman.

6.15 – 6.45 PM: Drinks

Practical Information

Date: Saturday March 30 2013, 2-6.45 PM
Location: Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Witte de Withstraat 50, Rotterdam
Admission fee: €5 / €3 with discount
Language: English

About Tulkus 1880 to 2018

Aimed at creating a complete collection of portraits and basic information on all the tulkus of the world – who in Tibetan Buddhism are the recognized reincarnations of previous Buddhist masters* – from the beginning of photography until today, from all the schools of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon, and from all the areas of the world where this religion is practiced, this growing survey has until now collected over 1100 photographic portraits.

Manifesting in a stunning array of forms, from high production color prints to inexpensive photocopied reproductions, and in scales ranging from pocket-size to large format, these images are the same ones commonly treasured in monasteries, hung in private households or shops, or collected by the faithful. These photographs are considered holy by the believers.

Tulkus 1880 to 2018 uncharacteristically lays bare these objects of specific veneration within the confines of a religiously plural, and often secular art institution–an institution that conversely is not known for presenting nominally sacred objects to its audience, and is itself enshrined within a long history of aesthetic discourses that attempt to establish a ‘visual neutrality’.


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