Paule Mackrous is an author, a media arts curator and a PhD candidate in Semiotics at the University of Québec in Montréal. Editor in chief of the CIAC’ Electronic Magazine, she also contributes to several contemporary art journals. Her research focuses on the effect of presence, a notion that she first developed in her MA thesis as a phenomenological and anthropological (animism) understanding for contemporary art (Effect of Presence : Contemporary Art and Animism, 2006). She adapted the notion to emerging art and history forms on the Web. Strongly inspired by Aby Warburg and by an internship at CU Boulder with Mark Amerika (2010), she delves into creative art history making, i.e. making art history with images, sounds, videos and hypertexts.

An Email To A Ghost [Object : Art History As A Remix]

Dear Aby Warburg,

I’ve read your Essais Florentins some years ago. I was struck to discover what I believe is a genuine quest by an art historian. An imaginary breeze puzzled you in Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (1482). I, for one, was also intrigued by Venus’ hair. Nevertheless, you were pretty convinced that the movement, fixed by Botticelli in a Quattrocento painting, did, indeed, have an external cause.

And you found it!

You found the cause. The hair was being moved by men’s love for a young woman called Simonetta. The girl tragically died from an incurable disease.

And you made me see it!

You made me see Simonetta’s ghost through Venus’ figure.

And you made me feel it!

You made me feel the men’s love through her flying hair.

Because you brought me into it…

You brought me into the imaginary breeze.

Anecdotes, poems, songs, theory, photographs of sculptures, architectural fragments and paintings were blowing in her hair. You wrote that these cultural fragments were Simonetta’s survivances (survivals). You thought that they animated the artwork as if they were hiding in it :

I disagree!

YOU animated the artwork. These cultural elements were nothing but parcels of

your own experience
your own knowledge
your own interpretation
your own imagination

And like anyone’s imagination, its expression is neither chronological, nor exclusively textual. Rather, it is built out of anachronisms and cultural elements from various medias. By gathering all of these artifacts in a very creative way, you produced a special kind of collage :

A remix!

Another artwork. I can’t see Botticelli’s Venus and her messy hair flying on the top of her head anymore. I’m haunted. I see your Simonetta with a love halo around her face.

I feel her ghostly presence right now…

And I feel yours as well.

You’ve created many other remixes with a photographic camera and a typewriter. And let’s face it : You weren’t a really good photographer Aby :(. But making good photos wasn’t the point anyway. The point was the ‘making’ of art history along with the tools and materials you found in

your own time
your own experience
your own knowledge
your own interpretation
your own imagination

I would be curious (and amazed) to see what the hypermedia would have done to your art history making. Wouldn’t you have delve into this creative practice even more? Hyperlinks would have been such a blessing to organize your library. And emails! Wouldn’t you have written to Nietzsche and Burckhardt more often? And what about social medias, blogs, softwares and other platforms?

How many ghosts would you have created in a year, a week or a day?

I’m quite sure that your Atlas Mnemosyne, an art history made of images, would have been on a website. So many images are available nowadays that you wouldn’t even need to take pictures anymore. A software could even be utilized in order to manipulate them.

Oh but Aby, don’t get too excited, despite all the tools and material at hand, we still, in most cases, “write” art history in a ‘textual’ manner…Can you believe it? Yep, there’s still a lot to do here!

Mediumistically yours,


PS : Please, keep haunting me!