About the Project

Queen Elizabeth II State Visit to Melbourne, Australia , 26 October 2011, Royal fans wait in Federation Square © Tommaso Durante

Queen Elizabeth II State Visit to Melbourne, Australia , 26 October 2011, Royal fans wait in Federation Square © Tommaso Durante

The Visual Archive Project of the Global Imaginary

Founded in 2007, the Visual Archive Project of the Global Imaginary is a an on-going, indipendent and self-managed digital database that explores the interplay between visual culture and globalization. This research project aims to build a historical and visual account of the multidimensional process of change and transformations we are witnessing in the early twenty-first century. The visual investigation takes into consideration that, if the rise of nation-states built homogenous cultures around the core concept of nationality—national ideology and its underlying social imaginary, so that people could feel, for example, American, French or Italian—in the last few decades the twenty-four-hours-a-day-seven-days-a-week spread of global culture flows have dramatically changed this perspective. The urgency to build a visual archive that attempts to grasp and collect some concrete tracks of this process is grounded on the awareness that in the last few decades commercial culture is increasingly and dramatically affecting ‘local-national’ meanings by reshaping them around the ‘global'.

The research project is theoretically informed by the body of work of Arjun Appadurai, Jacques Lacan, Manfred Steger, John B. Thompson and Charles Taylor to better understand globalization as a material and ideational process. Steger defines the ‘global imaginary’ as a new public consciousness that rose in the aftermath of the Second World War as a consequence of the increasingly free circulation of people, ideas, theories and practices and produced in the public consciousness a sense of rupture with the past similar to the one occurred at the time of the French Revolution (2008).

The visual archive displays, in one gallery, images that represent in their own right some concrete tracks and ideological markers of the contemporary epochal process of change and transformation. They also suggests an alternative practice to look at and negotiate meaning by developing new figures of knowledge—theoretical frameworks such as condensation symbols and other visual ideological markers of globality to investigate the interplay of culture and visuality in defined socio-historical fieldwork on a local-global scale. The archive acknowledges that, beyond the emergence of the main contemporary international economic dimension of globalization, the real life phenomenon needs to be broken down into different key analytical categories such as the political, cultural and ideological. Thus, the collected images are classified and stored under categories and keywords. This research project focuses on the symbolic construction of the global imaginary as a visual-ideological dimension, approached from the alternative standpoint of aesthetics of change perspective and the lenses of social and political theory.

The visual dimension of globalization

There is an evident and unavoidable increase in global relations and cultural exchanges across world-space and world-time, which deeply drives and affects local-national meanings and social imaginaries (Appadurai; Steger; Thompson). This compression of time and space simply means that things are getting faster and distances are shrinking dramatically (Giddens; Harvey; Held; Mittelman; Robertson; Steger). People moving, the twenty-four-hours-a-day-seven-days-a-week spread of global cultural flows of images and ideas, the worldwide circulation of material goods and immaterial resources though the different materiality of the web; all this has become part of our common sense of being-in-a-globally-interconnected-world. Thus, it can be said that globalization lies at the core of contemporary culture, while cultural practices lie at the core of globalization. As a consequence, the global pervades the urban social fabrics of the twenty-first century through media representations and has the power to transform the urban space by creating a visual narrative that can ‘condense’ spatial-symbolic scales of the ‘local-national’ and the ‘global’ in one single place. These symbols of the ‘global’, however, may not be entirely unproblematic in their representations of the cultural identity of place, but they remain essential tools to access the global imaginary. Therefore, I argue that as much as globalization is an economic and cultural force, as it is a visual-ideological phenomenon.

The ideological dimension of the phenomenon

Like all social processes, globalization is embedded with an ideological dimension. The increasing production, circulation, exchange and consumption of hybrid symbolic forms are originating the ‘new visual economy of the global’. (Durante, 2011) This new visual (global) regime is the result of a shifting mindset—the global imaginary and its embedded ideologies. In his ‘Ideology in the Age of Digital Reproduction’, Terrell Carver states that ‘[g]lobalization is not much of a fact without globalism. Globalism is not much of an ideology without the normalizing concepts of nature, civilization, science, progress, and consumption that make it seem inevitable, incontrovertible, and good’ (2003). In this respect my visual exploration understands globalization as a material and ideational process, which endows the phenomenon with neoliberal systems of value. The embedded neoliberal worldview suggests, supports and sustains the production of collective meanings that contribute to the reshaping people’s cultural identities. In this respect, while the scholarship on globalization more and more focuses on the ‘objective’ dynamics of the epochal phenomenon and above all on its economic and technological aspects, this study aims to better understand how the symbolic construction of the global imaginary, the images and metaphors that constitute our everyday common sense of the global, are symbolically and socially produced. More precisely, this visual research project is concerned with the symbolic construction of meaning in defined socio-historical contexts that are affecting cultural identities and nation-states at local-global scale.

Methodology

Through the establishment of a strategic research methodology that combines tasks, thinking tools and methods, my study approaches the subjective and objective aspects of globalization that are usually investigated separately from each other. Furthermore, in focusing on the aesthetic of change occurring in the urban social fabrics of the twenty-first century, my visual research overcomes the modern dichotomy between idealism and positivism that tore the political philosophy debate of last century. As previously acknowledged, the visual archive is structured to cover the political, cultural and ideological articulations of the real life contemporary process of globalization.