The image is an ontological paradox; it is made of dead matter, yet appears to be alive. For centuries, artists have created images of the living world – images that are static and yet possess the power to bring to life a frozen moment in time. While this tension has constituted a fundamental challenge for as long as theories on the nature of images have existed, recent scholarship has rekindled interest in the question of what images ‘do to us’. Despite the rational discourse of Modernity, we must acknowledge that we view images as half-living entities.
Dead or Alive! addresses the perpetual relevance of images’ enigmatic life-likeness. Each of the twelve chapters, written by scholars of art history and visual culture, conveys how the materiality of images generates this powerful effect of animation. Covering a wide range of practices, from early paleolithic stone engravings, medieval tomb sculpture, renaissance death masks and baroque painting to modern fashion, park design, early cinema, robots and bio art, the book demonstrates that the ontological paradox of the image is not limited to a specific historical period or certain types of images, but can be seen throughout the history of images across different cultures.