Joana P R Neves

Research Group: Visual & Material Culture Research Centre

Project title

Etienne-Jules Marey's graphic method and chronophotography : unravelling the dialectic between image-making and conceptualism in visual arts through the line and the trace


Optical apparatuses of the nineteenth century exerted a major influence on artistic endeavours at the turn of the twentieth century. However, it is less recognised how scientific imagery of this period contributed to the inclusion of abstract thought in visual arts. Similarly, studies of abstract and conceptual art have only recently begun to expand their scope beyond movements and artists' writings to analyse them as a correlated artistic phenomenon. And what if these two advents of scientific imagery and abstract thought in art were somewhat related?

I argue in my research that groundbreaking scientific imagery produced two paradigms, the line and the trace, and I analyse their combined influence, which reverses the still-prevalent notions of indexicality by creating abstract, linear traces of phenomena rather than replicating perceptions. The French physicist Etienne-Jules Marey (1830–1904) contributed to these innovations, with two of his technical achievements, the graphic method and chronophotography (graphic machines and photographic sequences). Together, they encode the inscription of phenomena both as their trace and as their translation into a new linear language. Marey's legacy is analysed in my research as a dynamic influence extending between apparatus / line / trace / image / concept in the art of the twentieth century. Conversely, my ongoing investigation into the few but meaningful appearances of the line in art history will illuminate the previous connections through disegno. Although it has been recognised that formal and ideological parameters were reversed through abstraction and conceptualism, I argue that a more complex unfolding is to be discovered by following the line and the trace, leading into heterogeneous material such as concept, language, form and document, at the very core of the twentieth century's porousness between life and art.


Motion capture of superimposed images of a moving pole (Étienne-Jules Marey c.1900)