HomeThe visual forms of the collective, 19th-21st centuries

HomeThe visual forms of the collective, 19th-21st centuries

The visual forms of the collective, 19th-21st centuries

Les formes visuelles du collectif XIXe-XXIe siècles

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Published on Tuesday, January 15, 2019 by Anastasia Giardinelli


The symposium will deal with all visual medias from the 19th to the 21st centuries, and all visual forms of the collective.


InTRu Lab (Tours)

7-8 November 2019


« […] one of the most profound conflicts inherent in modernism itself: that of the historical dialectic between individual autonomy and the representation of a collectivity through visual constructs »[1]

From 19th century history painting to the contemporary cinematographic super-productions, visual works have a consistent tendency to deal with collective actions, emotions and events, by embodying them and emblematizing them in a single character.

This strategy has proven its great efficiency, both from the visual and the narrative perspectives; nevertheless, it induces very few visual forms of the collective in itself.

More difficult to represent, and maybe tougher to read, the « collective » is, however, a constant topic of contemporary visual representations and narrations. Peoples, masses, crowds, multitudes, groups, classes, through their importance in the world’s contemporary history, never cease to question of the existence of a collective subject, thus making its reprensentation an urgent and captivating issue.

How can the collective be given a visual form without it being transformed into an anonymous mass? And without it being reduced to a single individual who would simultaneously represent it and erase it ?

How can we render the polyphony of the multitude on a visual level? The city is a frame in which those questions make sense : as the very place where crowds gather and cross paths, the city is an issue for visual and prose narratives in that they have to deal with the representation of the multitudes’ diversity, whether it be in Victor Hugo’s Paris or in the TV show The Wire (2002-2008), Frank Miller’s Sin City (1991-2000), or Guy Delisle’s Chroniques de Jérusalem (2011) – in all these works, the city emerges as a full-fledged fictional character.

Moreover, the representation of the collective also raises issues regarding the representation of the collective values, perceptions and ideas through it: collective representations, as Emile Durkheim defined them, are « forms of the collective » and, as such, carry political meanings and adress the critical issue of what gathers and distinguishes us[2]. Thus Edward Steichen in the exhibition The Family of Man (1955), through a collection of various images, shapes a definition of the « great family of men », drawn by the humanist ideology. Yet, at a time of ecological urgency and shared geopolitical issues, the representation of our common belonging to humanity might be a matter of outmost relevance.

Finally, one might raise the issue of identity in representations of collective protests, revolutions, or wars, which call for an iconography of plurality. From Eugène Delacroix’s La Liberté guidant le peuple (1830) to the representations of the collective body of the soldiers given by Horace Vernet, a topical figure of the collective emerges. After the First World War, this pattern undergoes a strong shift, witnessed in the works of Fernand Léger and Otto Dix. Closer to us, the growth of the fight for the acknowledgment of cultural, ethnical and sexual identities leaves room for new reflections on representation of the collective as a political force[3]: for instance, the film Black Panther (2018) has been received by a large part of its audience as an empowering medium for Black people, following the steps of the Black Lives Matter movement’s mediatic impact. Therefore, we need to question the place and role of the visual in these struggles, and its political use in the symbolic shaping of a collective.

The symposium will deal with all visual medias from the 19th to the 21st centuries, and all visual forms of the collective. We will particularly, but non-exclusively focus on the following themes:

  • The collective in the city and the city as a collective.
  • The visual representation of collective identities
  • The tension between the narrative requirements and the collective.
  • The representation of the collective in conflict (revolutions, wars, demonstrations, protests).
  • The visual forms of the collective inasmuch as they imply a political commitment.


[1] Benjamin Buchloch, « From Faktura to Factography », October, n. 30, 1984, p.114. The author adresses the transformation of Lissitkzy’s or Rodchenko’s Soviet modernism into a massive weapon of propaganda.

[2] The controversial philosopher Carl Schmitt even deems the antagonism between friend and enemy to be the foundation of politics. See Schmitt, The Concept of the Political (1932) and Theory of the Partisan (1962).

[3] This issue has been the theme of a symposium of the EHESS in 2007, organized by the EHESS, the CADIS and the INA, entitled “Représenter les minorités : visibilité, reconnaissance, et politique des représentations”.



  • Friday, March 15, 2019


  • collectif, ville, lutte, politique, représentations


  • Margot Renard
    courriel : margot [dot] renard [at] univ-tours [dot] fr

Reference Urls

Information source

  • Louis Boulet
    courriel : louis [dot] boulet [at] univ-tours [dot] fr

To cite this announcement

« The visual forms of the collective, 19th-21st centuries », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Tuesday, January 15, 2019, https://calenda.org/540829

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