Feeds & Flows

Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Ephemeral Image Cultures

Plakat für Feeds and Flows: in großer neongelber Schrift auf violettem Hintergrund "Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Ephemeral Image Cultures"
Plakat: Wiebke Grieshop

Lecture Series, winter semester 2023/24, Bauhaus-Universität Weimar

In the context of social media platforms, images take shape and dissolve within seconds, appearing on screen only as microparts of a continuous flow that is structured by a multitude of visible and invisible interface operations. The outcomes of these flows, digital image feeds, are transitory audiovisual formations that require and produce constant movement of eyes, hands and data. Embedded within complex visual regimes, structured by economic imperatives, and processed by algorithmic recommender systems, feeds are the result of intricate human and more-than-human entanglements.

Framing feeds within the history of transitory screen cultures and vernacular media practices, the lecture series Feeds & Flows: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Ephemeral Image Cultures asks: How are platform-specific infrastructures on the surface and data practices and algorithms on the subface of social media (co-)producing a steady flow of (moving) images? How are economic incentives, platform politics and business models shaping digital image cultures and everyday practices of engaging with image feeds? Which concepts are missing from current digital image theory to grasp the ephemerality of image feeds? We suggest to investigate feeds and flows as assemblages that facilitate encounters between users, networks, images and algorithms.

Inquiring into what co-constitutes the feeds and flows of networked images, we invite contributions analyzing the roles of interfaces, algorithms, design strategies and affordances, as well as everyday practices in shaping contemporary image cultures. The interdisciplinary lecture series aims to gather knowledge from different research areas (e.g. media theory and history, digital anthropology, computer science) that can contribute to a comprehensive understanding of ephemeral image cultures and their media environments - and to image cultures within networked societies more broadly.

The lecture series will be held at the Bauhaus Universität Weimar and is part of the DFG-funded research project Curating the Feed: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Digital Image Feeds and their Curatorial Assemblages. The series of talks is organized by Jun.-Prof. Dr. Sabine Wirth and Lisa Rein (Media Studies, Weimar), Prof. Dr. Christoph Bareither and Ann-Marie Wohlfahrt (Digital Anthropology, Tübingen) and Prof. Dr. Benno Stein and Dr. Tim Gollub (Computer Science, Weimar).

Mondays, 7 pm
Location: Lounge of the University Library, Steubenstraße 6/8, 99423 Weimar
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Livestream via Zoom: Link
Meeting ID: 978 8510 0483
Passcode: 772322 (Please enter your name!)

For any questions and inquiries concerning the lecture series, feel free to contact Lisa Rein:


in English

Alexandra Anikina (Southampton)
Affective Scroll, Assembly Line: Automating Platform Spectators and Labour on TikTok

in English

Niklas Deckers (Leipzig)
From Noise to Art: User-Controlled Image Generation Beyond Prompt Engineering

4.12.2023Maria Schreiber (Salzburg)
Plattformkulturen und ästhetische Affordanzen: Hybride Bildpraktiken erforschen

Margarete Pratschke
Lost in Feeds. Über das Verschwinden von Bildern und die Archivierung digitaler Bildereignisse

in English

Haidy Geismar (London)
Is Social Media the New Ethnographic Collection?
online only!

in English
Femke Snelting (Brüssel)
Counter Cloud Imaginaries
15.1.2024Anika Meier (Berlin/Hamburg)
Does a JPEG Have an Aura? Über Kommunikation und Werte im post-digitalen Zeitalter
22.1.2024Winfried Gerling (Potsdam)
Wahrscheinliche und unwahrscheinliche Bilder


Alexandra Anikina – Affective Scroll, Assembly Line: Automating Platform Spectators and Labour on TikTok

Algorithmic automation opens an interesting discussion of the negotiation of agency and circulation of affect between the user and the network. On audiovisual platforms, the algorithmic procedure is looped into the demands of attention economy, keeping the user watching. Taking TikTok as the main case study due to its compelling assemblage of surveillance tactics tailored to techno-embodied modes of spectatorship, this lecture questions how platforms renegotiate the user-spectators’ agency and produce new modes of watching. I consider algorithmic montage and affective scroll as TikTok’s key attention capture and instrumentalisation devices, built into the lacunae of behavioural opportunity and capitalising on the affective drive of the moving image flow. I argue that users should be seen as user-spectators whose agency undergoes a double negotiation, as users who can interact with the platform and as spectators who are subjected to specific modes of attention capture; their agential dis/empowerment is, therefore, contingent and framed by the specific epistemic and aesthetic affordances of the platform governmentality. Algorithmic surveillance simultaneously participates in the aesthetic and temporal figuration of platform spectatorship and conditions the tactics of resistance to the algorithmic logic. Finally, I consider some of the aesthetic practices of TikTok content producers, such as live streaming of labour practices, within the context of aesthetic reconfiguration of the affective scroll, and interfacing of the user’s body within the rhythm, pacing and instrumentalisation of the ‘flow’ in the affective scroll.

Niklas Deckers – From Noise to Art: User-Controlled Image Generation Beyond Prompt Engineering (Niklas Deckers)

Generative text-to-image models, such as Stable Diffusion, allow users to easily generate images based on a textual description, the prompt. Recent developments around such models have sparked many applications and promise accessibility to a wide audience. This talk gives an introduction to the technical concept of diffusion models, which slowly generate the desired result from an initial noise pattern, taking into account the textual prompt. The practice of prompt engineering is addressed through the introduction of the Infinite Index. Based on recent research, user-centered methods for manipulating the generated output are outlined. This gives the user control over the generated output beyond prompt engineering. Implications for feed-based platforms are discussed in the context of possible application scenarios.

Niklas Deckers is a research assistant and PhD student at the Intelligent Language Technologies group (Prof. Martin Potthast) at Leipzig University and at ScaDS.AI. His research focuses on multimodal models for text and image data, including work with large web datasets.

Maria Schreiber – Plattformkulturen und ästhetische Affordanzen: Hybride Bildpraktiken erforschen

Bold Glamour Filter, Inspirational Quotes, Rezept Reels – Mit den Interfaces und Funktionen von unterschiedlichen Social Media Plattformen entwickeln sich auch unterschiedliche Plattformkulturen sowie bestimmte visuelle Konventionen, Genres und Darstellungsweisen. Der Vortrag widmet sich der Frage, wie das hybride Zusammenspiel von humanen und nicht humanen Akteuren in digitalen Bildpraktiken erforscht werden kann und wie Hardware und Software aus sozialwissenschaftlicher Perspektive empirisch rekonstruiert werden können. Unterschiedliche methodische Ansätze sowie empirische Beispiele werden vorgestellt und diskutiert.

Haidy Geismar – Collecting the World

We are in a moment of intense critique and reflection of the history and legacy of ethnographic, and colonial, collection. By wondering if social media is the next ethnographic collection, I propose that the reckoning with difficult histories and power imbalances of ethnographic collection be channelled not just to the past but also be used as a mode of continued reflection on the future of museums and collections and that we apply the lens of contemporary critical museum anthropology, that has focused not simply on the collection and exhibition of material culture in museums, but on the structure of power, colonial histories and legacies, and social and political relations that these collections engender to our contemporary relationship with digital culture. Perhaps paradoxically, I also propose that we take seriously the analytic issues raised by digital, and especially social media – questions of scale, the everyday, normativity, class, language, as well as corporate control and surveillance – as an important heuristic to understand contemporary collecting of cultural practice and everyday life in museums. Is there any mileage left to the conception of the ethnographic collection? Or is it so tainted by the colonial project that it is no longer viable? If so, should we be satisfied with the ways in which corporate social media has supplanted the space of knowledge of the everyday both as the form and object of enquiry?

Femke Snelting – Counter Cloud Imaginaries

Feeds and flows of networked images both depend on and constitute the centrally managed computational infrastructure of The Cloud. The Cloud provides digital storage, content-delivery and on-line applications across industries, from entertainment to financial markets, from military technology to agricultural applications. Large amounts of hardware are brought together in strategically placed data centres, connected through public and private networks that extend into our pockets by way of smartphones which demand continuous streams of content. This computational infrastructure is mainly managed by Big Tech companies owned by shareholders, who need to prove growth year on year. They expand into new areas continuously, increasing the need for more Cloud services, or more compute. The expansionist, extractivist and financialized modes of The Cloud deeply affect our aesthetics, how we organise, and care for resources. It turns all lively and creative processes into profit, including ways to resist it. Now our dependency on The Cloud seems intractable, it is time to imagine different infrastructures for collective life with and without computation. Counter Cloud Imaginaries include collaborative file hosting, low-energy graphics, queer circuits and slow sustainable tech-maintainance. They center trans★feminist and anti-colonial server practices and organise collectively towards joyful, systemic techno-political change.

Anika Meier – Does a JPEG Have an Aura? Über Kommunikation und Werte im post-digitalen Zeitalter

Ist es nur ein Hype? Ist das überhaupt Kunst? Was passiert mit der digitalen Kunst auf dem Markt? Und welche Rolle spielen dabei soziale Medien wie X, ehemals Twitter? 

Die Medien berichten allzugern, dass NFTs entweder überteuert, wertlos oder tot sind. Was sind überhaupt NFTs und was haben NFTs mit der Geschichte der digitalen Kunst zu tun? Die Blockchain und NFTs haben digitale Kunst radikal verändert. Es gibt plötzlich einen Markt für digitale Kunst, die bis vor kurzem noch schwer verkäuflich war. Jetzt erzielen JPEGs Rekordsummen in Millionenhöhe. Es ist von Gänsen und Drachen die Rede, von Punks und Affen, von Squiggles und Gazers. Als der Hype um NFTs im Jahr 2021 im Anschluss an die Auktion von Beeple bei Christie’s einsetze, war von einer Revolution die Rede: von der Demokratisierung der Kunst. Was ist aus der Revolution geworden? Haben NFTs tatsächlich zur Demokratisierung der Kunst beigetragen? 

Anhand der kurzen Geschichte von NFTs lässt sich zeigen, welche Rolle soziale Medien bei der Entstehung einer neuen Kunstwelt online spielen. 

Die kleine Geschichte der NFTs beginnt mit früher Blockchain Kunst wie Bitchcoin von Sarah Meyohas und dem Jonas Lund Token von Jonas Lund und endet (aktuell) mit den Pionieren der algorithmischen Kunst wie Vera Molnár und Herbert W. Franke. Die Pioniere von gestern und die Avantgarde von heute zeigen, wie neue Technologien künstlerisch genutzt werden können. Wer ist heute erfolgreich und warum? Und warum spielen die sozialen Medien und die Distribution von Bildern dabei eine so wichtige Rolle? 

Winfried Gerling - Wahrscheinliche und unwahrscheinliche Bilder

Das digitale fotografische Bild basiert in seiner Produktion und Distribution auf unterschiedlichen Formen von Empirie und Statistik und damit auf Wahrscheinlichkeiten. Schon der Ursprung einer digitalen Fotografie ist als Ergebnis einer Messung durch einen Sensor und deren Digitalisierung zu verstehen. Das jeweilige Erscheinungsbild des erzeugten Bildes wird maßgeblich durch Algorithmen bestimmt, die die Messungen digitalisieren und in Pixel mit bestimmten Farbwerten umwandeln.

Dieser Vorgang ist grundlegend für das was die Bilddatei als Maschinentext von ihrer Sichtbarkeit für den Menschen unterscheidet. Hier wirken Parameter wie Farbraum, Farbtiefe etc., die das Bild - aufgrund spezifischer empirischer Übertragungen - als statistische Normalität erscheinen lassen. In der Prozessierung von Bildern durch Kameras werden Tonwertverteilung, Farbsättigung und viele weitere Einstellungen automatisiert auf der Basis von Massendaten vorgenommen. Im Vortrag wird die Wahrscheinlichkeit als nichtbewusste Bedingung für die gesamte Produktion, Speicherung und Distribution digitaler Fotografien untersucht.