This paper traces the communication of one particular nanoscientific image depicting subatomic features in the scientific journal Science, the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and in an art print known as Erster Blick (2000) made by one of Germany's leading artists today, Gerhard Richter. The specialized knowledge about the image is communicated in three very different contexts with three very different outcomes. The paper uses Niklas Luhmann's system theory to describe science, science journalism, and art as autonomous social subsystems of communication. Also, Luhmann's notions of irritation and interference are employed to frame an interpretation of the complex relations between communicating knowledge about the image in science, science journalism, and art. Even though the functional differentiation between the communication systems of science, science journalism, and art remains intact, in this case study there is evidence of both irritation and interference. Richter's artistic appropriation of the image highlights the paradoxical nature of observation and emphasizes the specialized codes of communication used by scientists and by journalists. Therefore, the paper concludes that Richter's Erster Blick ends up questioning the epistemological and ontological grounds for communication of knowledge in science and in science journalism.
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Encompassing knowledge: 2nd International Conference of the 360º conference series, 2008