Sunday, August 20, 2006

Throughout history body has been perceived in different ways; it has been neutralized due to precedence of soul, it has been seen as an assemblage of moving anatomic parts, a bearer of action, a “charnel house of soul”, a whole, a fragment... In culture this problem reflects itself through fetishization of certain body images which were imposed by different ideological models; thus we find the Platonic body of the Greek polis, the medieval suffering body, the baroque impassioned body, the athletic body of modern totalitarian regimes, the simulated, i.e. Cyber-body of the post-capitalism, the Balkanized body of transition and similar. Body has always been used as means for cultural communication – an instrument (or differently put, a "battle field") which should embody certain ideology, direct a society/an individual, pointing out what is "politically correct". The most extreme case of body fetishization was the Nazi discourse "Entartete Kunst" ("degenerated art"), with well-known traumatic biopolitical implications, which excluded from culture and society every bodily modus that deviates from the imposed one.[1]


Experience of post-modern and (post)structuralistic thought has shown us that there is no unique identity and that identity should be perceived through social construction of human bodies in different cultural backgrounds. Although the globalization through general uniformity, at first glance, creates the identity of the man-machine whose only purpose is the recirculation of capital, micro-politics always intertwine with macro-politics. The potential man-machine consists of multitude of fluxes which construct him, as Deleuze and Guattary suggest. Creating the national (racial) identity is one of the possibilities of biopolitical construction. It is this kind of construction of "Second and Third World" in art that neutralizes other identities that permeate through human identities and show a kind of imposed norm, at the same time obeying the biopolitical "reality". The indistinctness of everyday life - "reality", moves us away from the corporeality composed both in biological and social mode (Agamben’s "zoe" and "bios"). Our small pleasures, pain, perversions, eccentricities, doubts mask themselves through great imposed "politically correct" structures – macro-politics. Making an issue out of microidentity in relation to contemporary theoretical systems could strike as retrograde but why obey any trends if one sees that certain themes are still not exhausted or perhaps eternal or of current interest to us? Also, a question whether art is the product of society or whether it is the media which constructs society should be asked. It is the Body politics that asks such questions, providing the society with both "mirror" and "screen".


Narcissistic, homo-erotic, queer body

"One of the basic insights of the lacanian psychoanalysis emerged under the influence of the whole tradition of semiotic thought; it is the insight according to which each identity is based relatively, i.e. it is constituted in relation to something external, something from the outside, which later defines internal limitations and corporeal subject’s surfaces. However, that same figure inside/outside which presents the paradigm of language structure, repression and subjectivity, at the same time signifies the structure of exclusion, oppression and denial. The latter model refers more to the subjects that have already been routinely degraded to the right of the most marginal – placed outside the system of power, authority and cultural legitimacy" writes Diana Fuss[2]. Although, according to Fuss, the inside/outside relation is interdependent - they intertwine, overt display of the "other gender" is not approved by society[3]. The works of dEIVAN (Bite, SnežANa, Symbiotic/Fruits-Head) through the contra-identification with the power system make the relation to homoerotica. dEIVAN presents gay fetish directly through travestied male bodies. Bodily "irregularity" is discovered only when one gets closer to the image and realizes that it is not a fetishized body of a woman upon whose objectification pleasure is built by our culture, but the muscular and hairy body of a man. "Bodies" by Silvio Vujičić perform AIDS virus exposure. Vujičić’s fashion performance Exposed to Virus and Fashion introduces porn actors to the scene, through their usually queer[4] sexual orientation. Marginal position of Vujičić’s performers is doubled, they are not just oriented towards queer but they belong to the most marginal and most controversial professions in our society. Patterns on the clothes worn by the performers present "stigma" of the AIDS virus that most often mark these double social margins. The title of work Exposed to Virus and Fashion itself asks the question if "political incorrectness" could/ought to be considered as fashion/fashionable? Queer position in the work of Tanja Ostojić is about something else; the work: Tanja Ostojić and Marina Gržinić: Politics of the queer- curatorial positions: After Rosa von Praunheim, Fassbinder and Bridge Markland refers to the famous queer models from art history. The work emphasizes the queer position through citating quality because it refers to both lesbo and gay images. Maniristic performative of the famous female curator and artist of "Master and Servant" roles transmits sexual power onto the field of real power through the reinterpretation of the power balance – emphasizing that knowledge, capital, social status as the lacanian Phallus are owned by a woman as well. This work is the conclusion of the cycle “Strategies of Success” in which, since 2001, the artist has cynically performed her status and "strategies of success", through the preidentification with the dependent, East-European artist role stereotype. Via Ostojić’s work one enters a field of even wider economy of power. With the Eclipse group the narcissistic, phallusoid body of the performer is the field on which the conventional phallocentric pleasure is built. Still, the performance enters the field of politics through the deconstruction of micro and macro-politics. In the work Pax Slovenica, the performed sex with the skeleton – one in front of the monument dedicated to the Partisans, the other in front of the monument dedicated to White Guardists, refers to the stories that have been present in media since the World War II and which point to the constant rivalry between those two opposite ways of thinking. The statement might be: "I don’t give a fuck about that any longer!", but "that" is still recapitulated. The work Don’t Admire Other Gods takes over the religious text which is used by all totalitarian societies. The work is the reference to the myth of Leda and the swan, i.e. to the controversial painting of the Nazi painter Paul Mathias Padua, with the difference of "insignia" being replaced – the eagle as the symbol of totalitarism replaced the swan, and Leda is decorated with eastern, oriental attributes. Through soft-porno performative of the coitus, i.e. the myth rape, the work refers to the political balance of powers.

The Oppressed, Submissive, Autodestructive Body

The works of Goran Bertok from the “Omen” cycle show hurt, oppressed and submissed bodies during or after the S&M ritual. From the mixture of pleasure and pain emerges the "opened", hurt, banalized body as a metaphor of body vulnerability and mortality. The work of Zoran Todorović, Bite-50dm, Apatin, presents naked, phallusoid female body which holds itself onto the hook with the strength of its own jaw and thus hangs on the wall. At first glance, the work could be interpreted as the glorification of a female body which hangs on the wall like a work of art. However, the title of the work - Bite-50dm, Apatin and the cold atmosphere created by the photograph leads us to a different interpretation; 50 dm in the name of the work is the price the author gave to the prostitute from Apatin, a small, poor town, in order to take a photograph of her naked body in a very awkward position. The work may appear as an expression of misogyny, but as the visualisation of biopower, i.e. biopolitics in which certain bodies have no worth at all. Siniša Labrović’s performance Notice Board, through exposure of his own body as a "board for notes" also refers to biopolitics, especially in foucaultian sense, where "body is directly involved in the political field; it reflects the balance of powers in a direct way; they have an influence on it, they stigmatize it, dress it, torture it, force it to work and to go through ceremonies and demand certain signs from it. "

Autodestructiveness towards ones own body is present in the work of Ive Tabar, Slaven Tolj and Boris Šincek. Tabar in “Europe” trilogy and Tolj in Globalization demonstrate their negative attitude towards the totalitarianism of the globalization, through live-act. Ive Tabar, a professional medical technician, with the use of the instruments characteristic for his profession, protests against the admittance of Slovenia to EU. In the Europe I performance, Tabar inserts a catheter into the nose and fills it with blue liquid (the EU colour) and then together with gastric juice, he expels it into a bowl filled with little yellow stars of the EU. Europe II refers to the Tabar’s protest expressed as the unpleasant act of drilling his own knee; while in Europe III (also performed under the local anaesthesia) Tabar plucks out his own nail painted in the colours of the flag of Slovenia and he puts a small EU flag on it, thus emphasizing Slovenia’s subjugation. In contrast to the observer’s nausea caused by the Tabar’s statement performative, Slaven Tolj’s approach is less nauseous, but more dangerous; after an hour-long intoxication with vodka and whisky, Tolj lapses into coma and is emergently taken to hospital to be detoxificated. The performance Shooting by Boris Šincek flirts with death as well; although his torso is covered with bullet-proof piece of clothing, there is a possibility for him to be killed by a gun shot. Šincek, an ex-soldier in the regional war, repeats his traumatic experience in an attempt to suppress it.

The Abject Body

With the term "abject" Julia Kristeva signifies the act, image which resists the phallocentric lacanian "symbolic order". "Abject" is, according to Kristeva, most visible on body as a membrane which separates us from the outer world; as a kind of bodily, i.e. social interface. "It is not the lack of cleanliness or health that constitutes abject, but the thing that disturbs identity, system, order. The thing that does not respect limits, places, rules".[5] The works by Rajko Bizjak, Jelena Radić and Marijan Crtalić could be interpreted with this Kristeva’s term. Rajko Bizjak’s cycle “Kanaan” (biblical “Promised land”) glorifies woman’s sexual organ. By blowing up the vulva or the interior of a vagina to enormous proportions (2x3m), Bizjak portrays the "poetic" quality of the Kristeva’s semiotic order, of the female principle which resists the strict norms of the phallocentric "grammar" quality of the lacanian symbolic order. Vanitas by Jelena Radić documents an eye of a corpse by means of a photograph, it destroys the phallocentric discourse of an eye as a field of pleasure in phantasmic images. The video-performance Living Dead by Marijan Crtalić shows the artist who is peeling dead skin cells off his head with his nails, which in time accumulate enough to create a mass big as a human fist. Crtalić, through the performative of the initiation cleaning ritual, collects the dirt of his dead skin and creates a kind of "abject-art".


Using the abject theory we could interprete all the works shown, because they present a "mixture". Different "body politics" deconstruct phantasmic images of the "transitory body", a fetish constructed from the outside which both "exists" and "does not exist", but which is necessary to keep an identity of the "Big Other".[6] By deconstruction and fragmentation of the still imposed identity, the micro-identities intertwine with the macro-identities thus showing what could be found both "inside" and "outside". Body politics present different positions of the contemporary body, both through the process of its documenting (a document of the real, photo/video record of live-act) and through the performative photography. Body is presented as dirty (Crtalić), helpless (Todorović), "pathological" (Bertok, Tabar), sexualized (dEIVAN, Ostojić, Vujičić), pornographical (Bizjak), orgasmic (Eclipse), suicidal (Šincek, Tolj), dead (Radić); via the document which could shock with the narative itself (Bizjak, Radić), or via the performative which is carried out brutally (Bertok), cruelly (Todorović), disturbingly (Šincek, Tabar, Tolj), cynically (Eclipse, Ostojić)... Aware of its instrumental position, the "disobedient body" is narcissistic, homo-erotic, queer, oppressed, submissive, autodestructive, "abject", performing the identities which are fluctuating, evasive, perplexing...

Tatjana Orbović

[1] "Entartete Kunst" exhibition was opened in Munich in 1937 under the patronage of the National Socialist Party of Germany with the goal to juxtapose "real" art (Aryan) with the so-called "degenerated" art. The works of modernistic art were displayed together with the figurative works of mental patients. Using this method, the conservative, reactionary body (best constructed in Leni Riefenstahl’s films) German nation was supposed to be identified with, was symbolically juxtaposed with artistic experiments in progressive artistic movements where body was not presented according to the constructed canon. "Life-and-death struggle finds its place in art as well, just like in politics, the battle for art must be fought with the same seriousness and decisiveness as the fight for political power " (A. Rosenberg and P. Schulze Naumburg, “Kampf um die Kunste”)

[2] D. Fuss, Unutra/izvan, Gej i lezbejska hrestomatija, Centar za ženske studije, Beograd, 2003

[3] One should recollect the Gay Parade which took place in Belgrade in 2001 when physical violence of the right-oriented groups escalated and the parade participants were attacked

[4] Queer presents every sexual orientation that is not heterosexual

[5] J. Kristeva, Moći užasa. Ogled o zazornosti, Zagreb, 1989

[6] It should be noted that Slovenia, although legally admitted to the EU, still goes through a kind of process of transition