Hubertus von Amelunxen

Hubertus von Amelunxen, Walter Benjamin Chair, Professor of Cultural Studies


Hubertus von Amelunxen (b. 1958) is a theorist, curator, and artist. He holds the Walter Benjamin Chair at The European Graduate School / EGS, where he taught Media Philosophy and Cultural Studies, and acted as Provost from 2013 until 2018. He was born on December 29, 1958, in a town called Bad Hindelang in Bavaria, Germany. He studied Romance Languages and Literature (French, Spanish), German, and Art History in Marburg (Philipps-Universität) and Paris (École Normale Supérieure), and finished his PhD at the University of Mannheim with a thesis on nineteenth century French literature (Allegory and Photography). Professor von Amelunxen was a Founding Director and Professor at the International School for New Media in Lübeck (Germany). Additionally, he is a Senior Visiting Curator for Photography and New Media at the Canadian Center for Architecture in Montreal (Canada).

Hubertus von Amelunxen is fluent in four languages: German, French, English, and Danish. Hubertus von Amelunxen is a former professor of cultural studies at Muthesius-Hochschule Kiel, and was a visiting professor of art history at the University of Basel (1991), the University of California, Santa Cruz (History of Consciousness program, 1991–92), the Philosophy Faculty of Düsseldorf University (2000-01) and the Institut Supérieur des Beaux-Arts (HISK) in Antwerp. Addicted to mobility and communication, Hubertus von Amelunxen lives in Berlin, Lübeck, Paris and Montreal. In 2003 he was elected a member of the Akademie der Künste in Berlin. In 2010 he was appointed President of the College of Fine Arts in Braunschweig, Germany.

In a 2010 interview Professor Amelunxen talks about the importance of interdisciplinarity in his current work:

It is important to have dignity and respect for the different disciplines, which is the basis of my work at this university. I myself come from a background in academia but I have often worked with artists, architects and designers. It is important to show respect for the different academic and creative spheres and meet them with a curious mind. (Translation from German)

Longtime editor of Fotogeschichte, a leading journal on photography, Hubertus von Amelunxen is an internationally recognized philosopher of photography in the age of media with strong cross-disciplinary interests. He has published numerous books, chapters in books and articles in the fields of photography, media theory and poststructuralism.

Professor Amelunxen’s recent books include Cy Twombly: Photographs Iii: 1951-2010 (2011), a commentary of the photographs of Cy Twombly, famous until recently for his abstract paintings. In 2010 he co-authored the bilingual book (German-English) volume Landscape Without Horizon: Proximity and Distance in Contemporary Photography (Landschaft ohne Horizont). In 2007 he collaborated with Victor Burgin, another influential artist and thinker, as well as member of The EGS faculty, to edit and write the epilogue of Victor Burgin: Voyage to Italy. The book consists of Professor Victor Burgin's reflections on Pompeii through nineteenth-century photos. He has also co-authored Bilan Provisoire (Provisional Report), 2001, for which he wrote the text on the pictures of the French photographer Jean-Philippe Reverdot. In 2000 he contributed to the influential theoretical German series of books Theorie der Fotografie (Theory of Photography), which includes important statements, definitions from the beginnings of the medium in the early 19th century to the age of digitality that is characteristic of contemporary photography. The work has become such a classic reference that it is re-published in 2011 as one single volume of the four original ones.

Professor Amellunxen has curated many international exhibitions since 1989, among them "Photography after Photography" (which toured in Europe and the USA in 1995 and 1996), "Les lieux du Non-Lieu", Munich (1997); "Le territoire en deuil", Arles (1998); "Tomorrow For Ever – Photographie als Ruine", Krems, Duisburg (1999/2000).

In both his writing and his curatorial practice, Hubertus von Amelunxen invites us to reconsider the medium and the concept of photography in the face of current technological changes, both its artistic translation and its social utilisation. He formulates the conflict between the first photograph, or the first technically generated image, and the 'new media' as a starting point for this redefinition. According to him, the digitization of the photographic image opened up new possibilities for montage and manipulation. At the same time, this also opened a space to create the analogy between the computer screen and psychic space: in it, the residues of daily perception are collected and linked by the individual, the shocks of the everyday are absorbed into the medium, and their repetition on screen can be seen as a process of continual analytical transference work. On another level, this new procedure makes it possible to atomise and fragment patterns of identity. According to Hubertus von Amelunxen, the digital imaging techniques have literally turned off the photographic model of representation. With this altered ontology of the photographic image, he notices the limitations of the language we use to analyze photographs. We are still naming something that actually no longer exists, and von Amelunxen underlines the necessity for a new grammar, a new syntax, and a new logic of elements within mutating historical circumstances.

One of the main questions that interests Hubertus von Ameluxen are the ways in which Western culture, with its pictorial tradition based on analogical pictorial worlds, will be able to refer in the future to a predominantly numerical presence created in both images and writing, sounds and forms. Contrary to this analogical tradition, the digitized photographic image will no longer be able to qualify as a translation of a spatio-temporal moment, thus producing a disturbing effect on memory, which is grounded in representation. In this transformation of the noema of the photograph as something that 'has been there' (Barthes) into 'perhaps it was not there', Hubertus von Ameluxen finds the kernel of the new terror not in what is represented but in the possibility of presentation. This new, digital world 'no longer permit[s] a distinction – if ever one actually existed – between the real impression (how the light "impresses" itself into the surface and also marks the mental image in the translation) and a "representation" generated in the darkness of the computer' (von Amelunxen). And precisely this darkness becomes a defining point from which the new grammar and the new language of the photographic image might be born.

Fully engaged with new technological developments and digital imaging techniques and their accompanying ontological and existential realignments, Hubertus von Amelunxen finds all of the modern analyses of photography, brilliant and incisive as they were, to be no longer applicable to the postmodern constellation. As a result, he has found it necessary to rethink in philosophical terms the medium of photography, which is no longer purely analogical, nor entirely digital. The term he uses to describe this new form is 'analogo-numerical photography'. The curiously unsettling nature of this new interstitial photographic form, 'which cannot be traced back to a material origin', is its free-floating numerical status within infinitely manipulable data sets. The rift opened up by the digitization of the analogical photograph parallels the developments in genetics and biotechnology in which the human being is conceptualized, in the form of the genome, as an object of technical manipulation and the body becomes an artificial assemblage, at once fragmented and reconstituted. Hubertus von Amelunxen describes this disjunction as both terrifying and intoxicating, in that the possibility of finding one's way back to the origin is indefinitely foreclosed, and the moment is freed from the temporal constraints of past and future.

In his curatorial work, Hubertus von Amelunxen strives for a truly cross-disciplinary orientation in alignment with his description of the infinitely interchangeable possibilities within the new digital methods of archiving and presentation. This is most evident in his extraordinary exhibit "Notation: Calculus and Form in the Arts" (2008/2009), which was created in collaboration with Dieter Appelt and Peter Weibel and presented at the Akademie der Künste, Berlin in 2008, and at ZKM, Karlsruhe in 2009. The exhibit charts the intersection(s) of literature, dance, architecture, music and photography as experiments in notation. The crossing of disparate formal dimensions is traced with minute detail, from Walter Benjamin's invented system of notation used in his studies of Baudelaire, to choreographer Mary Wigman's lyrical, quasi-abstract notation of movements of the body, to the eccentric musical scores of Iannis Xenakis, in which the individual musicians are dispersed among the audience and circulate like free radicals. Hubertus von Amelunxen pays equal attention to the more obscure artists as he does to the more publicized ones, often lamenting how the brilliance of their work has been neglected by the established institutions.