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STRATEGISING CORPOREALITY Embodiment and Togetherness in Contemporary Art and Society

Frances Lightbound


The dilemma between sociality and individuality is one that underscores many facets of modern life. Existing as separate bodies in communal environments, we value our privacy highly; yet we also have the innate desire for self-extension and for connection with others. This dissertation will examine the contemporary individual始s attempts at strategising their bodily experience and interpersonal connections, as they struggle for a satisfactory position in the face of these contraries. This exploration is informed by a study of specific developments in society, culture, and technology over the course of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

Interwoven with this is an evaluation of the reflexive role of the arts in articulating, and challenging, the conflicts that arise from bodily experience and the pursuit of togetherness. Varied illustrations are drawn from fine art, literature, architecture, and the performing arts, in relation to this. A range of critical theory is employed to support the discussion, with particular reference to the works of Elaine Scarry, Jean Baudrillard, Paul Virilio and Zygmunt Bauman.


List of Illustrations




Chapter 1: The Bodily Tether


1.1: The Experience of Embodiment


1.2: Image and Illusion


1.3: Corporeal Limitations


Chapter 2: Connection and Togetherness


2.1: Language and its Failings


2.2: Nonverbal Communication


2.3: Practising Attachment


Chapter 3: Privacy and Performance


3.1: Performance, Ritual, and the Role of the Spectator


3.2: The Uniqueness of Pain


3.3: Documentation and Technology


Chapter 4: Transience


4.1: The Decline of Religion


4.2: Technological Disappearance


4.3: 驶Contemporality始: Past, Present and Future in the Age of Digital Legacy






List of Sources



Fig. 1. William Blake: The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, 1794. 
Relief and white line etching, with color printing and hand coloring 
Copy F, printed ca. 1794. The Morgan Library & Museum, New York. Sourced from URL: < age=68> Fig. 2. Sandro Botticelli: The Birth of Venus (detail). 1486. Tempera on canvas, 172.5 cm × 278.5 cm. Uffizi Gallery, Florence. Sourced from URL: <> Fig. 3. Carolee Schneemann: Meat Joy. 1964. Group performance: raw fish, chickens, sausages, wet paint, plastic, rope, shredded scrap paper. Judson Memorial Church, New York. Photograph: Al Gleese. Sourced from URL: <> Fig. 4. Rineke Dijkstra, Kolobrzeg, Poland, July 26, 1992. 1992; chromogenic print; 66 1/8 in. x 55 11/16 in.; Marian Goodman Gallery, New York & Paris. Sourced from URL: <> Fig. 5. H&M advertising image, using CGI bodies, 2011. Sourced from URL: <> Fig. 6. ʻNo Anorexiaʼ advertising campaign for Flash&Partners Group, photographed by Oliviero Toscani. 2007. Sourced from URL: <> Fig. 7. Rineke Dijkstra: Still from The Buzzclub, Liverpool, UK/Mysteryworld, Zaandam, NL 1996-1997. DVD, size variable. Tate, Liverpool. Sourced from

URL: < .shtm, 09/12/11> Fig. 8. Felix Gonzales-Torres: Untitled (March 5th). 1991. 40-watt light bulbs, porcelain light sockets, extension cords in two parts. Dimensions vary with installation, 2 parts: approximately 113 in. (287 cm) high. Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York. Sourced from URL: <> Fig. 9. Carolee Schneemann: Interior Scroll, 1975. Ilfachrome print. Photograph by Anthony McCall. Sourced from URL: <> Fig. 10. Kira OʼReilly: Succour. 2002. Photograph from live performance. Sourced from URL: <>


Fig. 11. Francis Bacon: Three Studies for a Crucifixion, 1962. Oil with sand on canvas, three panels, 78 x 57 inches (198.1 x 144.8 cm) each. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Sourced from URL: <> Fig. 12. Gaetano Pesce: Church of Solitude Project, New York, New York, Transverse section 1974-77. Watercolor, colored ink, and pencil on paper, 59 1/4 x 59" (150.5 x 149.9 cm). MoMA, New York, sourced from URL: < 570&page_number=7&template_id=1&sort_order=1> Fig. 13. Stelarc: Ping Body: An Internet Actuated Performance, 1996. Screenshot. Sourced from URL: <>

All images souced on 19/02/12.



The boundary between the human body and the world at large is blurred and shifting, and often difficult to identify.1 - Sarah O始Reilly, The Body in Contemporary Art

Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence. From these contraries spring what the religious call Good & Evil. Good is the passive that obeys Reason Evil is the active springing from Energy. Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell, 2 - William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

Error! Reference source not found. 1 2

Sarah O始Reilly, The Body in Contemporary Art, p.8 William Blake, 驶The Marriage of Heaven and Hell始, p.144


In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (fig.1), the 1790 book from which the above quotation is lifted, William Blake famously asserts the necessity of oppositions in human existence. Challenging the Churchʼs repression of those qualities classed as ʻEvilʼ, and the single-minded pursuit of ʻGoodʼ, the poet argues for the blurring of boundaries between these perceived polarities, deeming both to be essential to human progress.

Mankind is locked in an on-going struggle with many such contraries. One of the most basic of these – albeit one which perhaps may not spring immediately to mind is the conflict between the nature of the individual body as a solitary, potentially isolated entity, and the innate desire within that body to connect with others, and to pursue the ultimate goal of ʻtogethernessʼ. These two conflicting factors create tensions and dialogues, problems and progressions, in day-to-day existence and in society as a whole.

This dissertation aims to examine the effects of these conflicts upon the contemporary individual, assessing the various strategies employed in the struggle to establish the ideal balance of sociality and privacy, connection and distance, in todayʼs society. Subchapters within four main sections – ʻThe Bodily Tetherʼ, ʻConnection and Togethernessʼ, ʻPrivacy and Performanceʼ, and ʻTransienceʼ – will approach the topic from a variety of angles.

Until recent decades, embodiment – a term I will use in the sense of ʻbodiednessʼ, of the experience of existing as a human body - has been a state intrinsically woven into virtually every aspect of society: individuals inhabit their own bodies, interact with those of others, and create material objects and structures which are shaped by the hands of their makers, and which in turn influence, in some way, the lives of those makers or others like them. The early twentieth century saw the rise of certain anxieties with regards to bodiedness, as expressed in existentialist texts such as Jean-Paul Sartreʼs Nausea:

I see my hand spread out on the table. It is alive – it is me […] Wherever I put it, it will go on existing; I canʼt suppress it, nor can I suppress the rest of my


body, the damp warmth which soils my shirt, nor all this warm fat which turns lazily, as if somebody were stirring it with a spoon […]3 Despite the sensation of bodily discomfort and estrangement expressed by Sartreʼs protagonist Roquentin, this text serves to underline an intrinsic link between embodiment and existence.

With the advent and exponential growth of the digital and the virtual, however, the relationship of the physical to reality is problematised, with emphasis shifting away from tangible embodiment in favour of the impalpable virtual world. Where does this leave us, then, in our relationships both with our own bodies4, and with those of others? Does a previously unimaginable ease of communication enhance the possibilities for togetherness, or does it in fact have an isolating effect upon individuals? Conflicts arise as residents of an increasingly globalised society desire, conversely, an ever more ʻindividualisedʼ mode of living. Texts from Roland Barthes, Susan Sontag, Jean Baudrillard, Paul Virilio and many others provide useful critical reference points alongside this discussion.

The prolific recent work of sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, in which he coins the term ʻliquid modernityʼ, has also been a major source in analysing the implications of my topic within todayʼs society. Bauman posits that society has evolved into what he terms ʻliquid modernityʼ. The liquid modern society is one lacking in the fixed social and personal models of the past, resulting in a fluid and often chaotic set of goals and values, held by individuals with conflicting desires for both liberation and security.

So: why discuss this topic with reference not simply to aspects of society as a whole, but to art - or more accurately the arts, as although my primary focus will be on fine art, I will also make reference to aspects of literature, theatre, dance, music and


Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea, p.144 Vis-à-vis Cartesian dualism, for the purposes of this discussion I will approach mind and body as being intrinsically linked, as opposed to adopting a solipsistic stance. 4


architecture5 - in particular? The arts are a prominent channel of the human urge for connection, communication, self-expression and togetherness6. But their capacity for reflexivity means they are not simply demonstrative. As German curator Jochen Volz notes,

Art dwells on the incapacity of existing means to describe the system we are part of – it points to its disorder. Most importantly, art can do this because it naturally joins thinking with doing, reflection with action.7 In discussing the role of the arts in relation to the conflicts inherent in the human condition, I hope to illustrate our need to reach beyond everyday structures of expression such as language (the strengths and limitations of which will be discussed in Chapter 2), and the capacity of art not only to do this, but to simultaneously critique its motivations and effects. Whilst remaining unlikely to provide an unequivocal solution to the uncertainties of embodiment, the arts stimulate discourse and challenge accepted norms, contributing, like the contraries in Blakeʼs verse, to humanityʼs on-going progress.

Points pertaining to the arts will be interwoven throughout the discussion; there will be no separately demarcated sections for ʻartʼ and ʻsocietyʼ – after all, art is a part of society, influenced by it and exerting influence upon it in turn. This fluidity will extend throughout the essay, with chapter headings intended to guide and clarify the discussion, but not to provide rigid divisions; some repetition between sections will be employed to highlight associations between separate areas of exploration, and links between subchapters will be noted, where appropriate. Given that the parameters of this topic are exceptionally broad, my discussion will be far from exhaustive. Yet it is my hope that the eclectic range of case studies - drawn from high and low culture 5

This is in acknowledgement both of qualities particular to each art form that may add an extra dimension to my discussion, and of the increasing crossover in recent decades between visual and nonvisual art forms. 6 I will at times refer to this as the urge for ʻself-extensionʼ, in reference to Elaine Scarryʼs use of the term. (Scarry, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World, p.50) This wording also implies, at times, an element of self-motivated strategy, an theme returned to throughout the discussion. 7 Jochen Volz, ʻUncertainty Principlesʼ, p.13


and society, and examined alongside relevant critical discourse, from a contemporary standpoint - may encourage the reader to draw further connections regarding the singular body始s struggle for communal experience and self understanding.



The human body - that thing of ugly beauty, visceral familiarity, incredible strength and alarming fragility - is the most obvious shared characteristic of our species. Regardless of differences in genetic make-up, appearance, race, culture, language, and so forth, the reality of basic bodily needs is universal and irrefutable. The relationship we have with our bodies is characterised by a strange, shifting mixture of power and helplessness, infatuation and anxiety, and this chapter will explore aspects of this complex bond: corporeal experience and the portrayal of the body in art, bodily image and illusion (focusing upon bodily portrayal in the fashion industry), and human strategies for dealing with the body始s limitations.

1.1: The Experience of Embodiment

Despite our diverse genetic make-up, the experience of inhabiting the human form can be a great unifier, given the universality of embodiment across our species; conversely, it is at times the cause of feelings of intense isolation, be that due to pain, disability, or feelings of inadequacy or 驶otherness始. The body is, by its nature, an imperfect vessel; but developments such as the 1960s sexual revolution, the gradual dispulsion of myths and prejudice regarding race, gender, appearance and sexuality, and access, via television and more recently the internet, to virtually limitless images and information, have resulted in a more liberal society with a heightened awareness - and, at times at least, celebration - of the vast diversity of bodily characteristics.


Fig. 1. Sandro Botticelli: The Birth of Venus (detail). c.1486.

The art world has seen enormous shifts in its presentation of the human form over the centuries, moving away from representations

of the body as idealised object, as subject of the gaze (fig. 2), towards an increased exploration of the experience of inhabiting, rather than simply looking at, the body. After the demise of the perceived objectivity of high modernism – in which, in the spirit of the Machine Age, the corpus was abstracted, or else excluded from art altogether – the body re-emerged as a relevant subject for art, though with new emphasis placed upon its materiality, its rawness, and its imperfections.

Fig. 2. Carolee Schneemann: Meat Joy. 1964.

Performance artist Carolee Schneemannʼs 1964 work Meat Joy (fig. 3), for example, uses raw fish, chicken and sausages alongside the near-naked bodies of its performers in order to emphasise the bodyʼs fleshly qualities. Schneemann describes the performance as:


[A] celebration of flesh as material […] shifting and turning between tenderness, wilderness, precision, abandon: qualities which could at any moment be sensual, comic, joyous, repellent.8 More understatedly, Dutch photographer Rineke Dijkstraʼs series ʻBeach Portraitsʼ (fig. 4) seems to hover somewhere between empathy and scrutiny in its examination of embodiment and identity. The bodies of the photographsʼ subjects teenagers pictured in bathing costumes on beaches across eastern Europe, the UK and the USA – convey a curious mixture of vulnerability and precocity; of both compliance with, and Fig. 4. Rineke Dijkstra: Kolobrzeg, Poland, July 26, 1992. 1992

awkwardness before, the lens that surveys them.

Despite their formal reminiscence of classical portraiture (in some cases making direct references to art historical counterparts, as can be seen in the similarities between Fig. 4 and Botticelliʼs Birth of Venus, Fig. 2), these figures display a distinct awareness of self and of culture. Adolescence is emphasised through each individualʼs scant clothing, self-conscious stance, and pronounced solitude upon the shifting ground of the beach; yet the subjectsʼ slight awkwardness within their own skin is something which resonates within the wider experience of embodiment at any


Carolee Schneeman, artistʼs website.


age. Dijkstraʼs photographs seem to articulate an existentialist bodily unease, yet with an element of vibrancy and a strange beauty.

Although it is undeniable that attitudes towards the body have, in many ways, become increasingly liberal over the course of the past century, certain factors have also warped our expectations of the human form. Cosmetic surgery, Western societyʼs ever-growing infatuation with celebrity, and the saturation of the media with airbrushed images of perceived bodily perfection are all both product of and fuel for the desire to alter and perfect the natural body; the joy in fallible flesh expressed by artists like Schneemann seems alien to the modern consciousness. Two recent case studies regarding instances of distorted bodily perception are examined in the following subchapter.

1.2 Image and Illusion

It is not unusual for the fashion world to find itself at the centre of controversy regarding bodily image. In a step beyond the familiar controversies regarding ʻsize zeroʼ models and heavily airbrushed advertisements, it was recently revealed that the majority of photographs shown on Swedish clothing chain H&Mʼs website are in fact computer-generated bodies, with the heads of real models photoshopped onto them. 9 (fig. 5)

Amid outrage from press and consumers alike, H&M spokeswoman Nicole Christine commented:

This technique can be found in use throughout the industry. This is not to be seen as conveying a specific ideal or body type, but merely a technique to show our garments.10 However, given the companyʼs conscious decision to create virtual bodies (as opposed to the seemingly straightforward practice of using those belonging to the


Elle Krupnick, ʻH&M Uses Fake Bodies With Real Heads For Modelsʼ Michael Zhang, ʻH&M Photoshops Model Heads Onto CGI Bodiesʼ



heads of their models), and the fact that these CGI images certainly do conform to the body type idealised within fashion advertising: tall, thin, and toned, the statement that the images do not convey a ʻspecific ideal or body typeʼ seems less than truthful.

Fig. 5. H&M advertising image, using CGI bodies, 2011

There has for years been well-documented criticism of the fashion industryʼs persistent use of excessively skinny models and heavy airbrushing techniques within advertising. These factors, along with the emergence of the ʻsupermodelʼ in the 1980s, the glamorising, in the 1990s, of the ʻheroin chicʼ aesthetic, and an increasingly image-driven society has led underweight models such as Kate Moss to become role-models for millions of women and young girls, and to shoulder a portion of the blame for a steep rise in eating disorders such as Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa11.

The French model and actress Isabelle Caro - who battled with anorexia from the age of thirteen until her death in 2010 aged twenty-eight - posed nude in 2007 in an advertising campaign for Italian brand Nolita (fig. 6), eliciting a mixture of shock and praise from press and public alike. The pictures, bearing only the brandʼs logo and the slogan ʻNo Anorexiaʼ, were lauded for their frank depiction of the realities of this dangerous attempt for control over bodily appearance: Caro appears gaunt and 11

Various statistics supporting this may be found at: ‘Eating Disorders Statistics (UK)’ [website]


emaciated, her huge eyes peering hauntingly from a head now too large for her brittle, childlike body. However, despite the modelʼs cadaverous form, there were still those who claimed that the images glamorised eating disorders, and that their public display would in fact act as a ʻtriggerʼ for the desires of sufferers to lose further weight.12

Fig. 6. ʻNo Anorexiaʼ advertising campaign for Flash&Partners Group, photographed by Oliviero Toscani. 2007

A debate regarding the effectiveness of the campaign in demonstrating the extent of the physical and psychological effects of anorexia is outside the remit of this discussion. But despite the advertisementʼs seemingly clear intentions of promoting awareness of the potential cost of the fashion industryʼs proclivity for using dangerously underweight models – the images were purposefully displayed on billboards during Milan fashion week – it was later banned by Italyʼs Publicity Control Institute (IAP), who asserted that the campaign contravened their code of conduct.13

There are valid points to be made regarding the potential vulnerability of other sufferers and their loved ones in relation to the adverts, but the photographer Oliviero

12 13

Unknown author, ʻIsabelle Caro – Nolitaʼ Unknown author, ʻItaly Bans ʻNo Anorexiaʼ Posterʼ


Toscaniʼs claim that the ban amounted to ʻcensorshipʼ14 has an element of truth. In a visual culture saturated with a slew of edited imagery fuelling the pursuit of unrealistic bodily goals, it is perhaps problematic to suppress depictions - however troubling - of the resultant bodies in crisis.

The use by corporations of images which, despite not having even their root in reality, purport to be reality - there is, of course, no indication upon the H&M website that the bodies of their models are computer-generated - surely propagates a far more dangerous somatic illusion than the display of an abject body, the cause of which is uncomfortably close to home for many people within society. When H&M choose CGI images as the most effective means of modelling their clothing, the garments in question (albeit designed and made by humans, for humans) begin to be enmeshed in the virtual realm. Here we see an example of the estrangement from embodiment beginning to become prevalent in contemporary society (as discussed by Bauman and Virilio, whose writings on this I will later discuss); it must also be noted, however, that what is engendered in viewers by these ʻestrangedʼ bodily images is a sort of hyperembodiment, resulting in the over-acute bodily awareness which leads to anorexia and other disorders.

1.3 Corporeal Limitations

Anorexia Nervosa is a more damaging example of the many ways in which humans attempt to control the body, to ʻstrategiseʼ their corporeal existence. There are many ways in which the natural human form falls short of our ideals, and we have made numerous attempts to counter these. Scarryʼs The Body in Pain cites not only the examples that immediately spring to mind - organ transplants, for example, or prosthetic limbs - but also of much more banal, everyday attempts to improve upon the human body at its current state of evolution. Pens, gloves, scissors, she points out, are all objects that enhance the natural function of the hand.15 On a larger scale,

14 15

Unkown author, ʻItaly Bans ʻNo Anorexiaʼ Posterʼ Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain, p.254


yet still encountered on an everyday basis, architecture exists to do that which the body cannot quite manage: a room, she writes, may be seen as

[A]n enlargement of the body: it keeps warm and safe the individual it houses in the same way the body encloses and protects the individual within; like the body, its walls put boundaries around the self preventing undifferentiated contact with the world, yet in its windows and doors, crude versions of the senses, it enables the self to move out into the world and allows that world to enter […Its walls] mimic the bodyʼs attempt to secure for the individual a stable internal space.16

In instances such as this, we see an on-going interplay between made object and maker. Humans initially create a material object, into which they necessarily project something of themselves, a shadow of the body and its act of making; that object then proceeds itself to impact in some way upon the body of its maker, or another human user. The user themselves will, of course, in turn impact again upon that object in the act of using it, and so the dialogue continues. Scarry writes,

[T]he now-freestanding made object is a projection of the live body that itself reciprocates the live body [...] it will be found to contain within its interior a material record of the nature of human sentience out of which it in turn derives its power to act on sentience and recreate it.17

When we move away from the material world and look instead to the newly emerged and ever-evolving virtual one, we open up a previously unimagined realm of possibilities with regards to overcoming corporeal limitations. Yet when we speak of the virtual, the immaterial, we begin to stray from the topic of embodiment itself; the body is material, grounded, and with the virtual we move towards the possibility of disembodiment. Paul Virilio terms the trajectory of the development of mechanics and of technology which extends the bodyʼs condition and capabilities ʻthe law of

16 17

Scarry, The Body in Pain, pp.38-39 Scarry, The Body in Pain, p.280


least action始18, predicting that the logical conclusion to these advancements is man始s complete debilitation. The writings of Virilio, as well as other critics of technology such as Jean Baudrillard, inform the more in-depth dissemination of the impact of technology upon present and future bodily experience included in Chapters 3 and 4.

Another aspect discussed in Chapter 4 is that which could be argued to be the ultimate corporeal limitation: mortality itself. Over the centuries, medical science has advanced twofold; thousands of diseases have been cured, life expectancies have been radically raised - and yet not one member of our species has managed to cheat the eventual certitude of death. The final chapter will question how the awareness of mortality impacts upon our corporeal existence (also touched upon in Chapter 2.3 with specific reference to relationships), and the implications of technology today and in the future with regards to the perishable corpus.


Paul Virilio, 驶From Sexual Perversion to Sexual Diversion始, p.183



Severed from the placenta and cast from the womb, we enter the world as an amputated body [...] - Peggy Phelan, Mourning Sex: Performing Public Memories


From the moment of birth, evoked by Phelan as a violent act of separation, humans are imbued with an innate desire to connect with others. Despite the restrictions and limitations of the body, as discussed in Chapter 1, we seek both physical and psychological closeness to other individuals, and endeavour to express our inner ʻselvesʼ through various means. Through sections discussing verbal and nonverbal communication, and the strategies and problems inherent in the forming of personal relationships, this chapter will discuss the strengths and shortcomings of the modes of connection available to us, and elements of society that are a product of our desire for togetherness. It will also examine ways in which this desire is manifested and explored in the arts, alongside critical perspectives from Scarry, Barthes, Baudrillard and Bauman, amongst others.

2.1 Language and its Failings

A popular topic in twentieth-century discourse, many philosophers, linguists, writers and artists have addressed the shortcomings of linguistic communication: as Susan Sontag puts it, languageʼs ʻabstractness, and its ʻfallennessʼ in historyʼ.20 It is today widely accepted that language, as a system, is incapable of fully and precisely communicating every facet of lived experience; a word is a simulacrum for another thing, aspects of which are inevitably lost in its transfiguration. Certainly if language were a faultless method of communication, the non-lingual arts (as focused upon in the following subchapter) would be somewhat defunct; the irony of debating the linguistic system through the medium of words, the very things being derided for their inadequacies, has not been lost on scholars. Yet despite these acknowledgements, 19 20

Peggy Phelan, Mourning Sex: Performing Public Memories, p5 Susan Sontag, ʻThe Aesthetics of Silenceʼ, p.189


our use of language continues unperturbed: whilst written and verbal communication may be an incomplete system, it remains a useful and, crucially, used one. As the French literary theorist Maurice Blanchot points out,

[T[he inadequacy of language runs the risk of never being sufficiently inadequate [...Otherwise] we would all have been satisfied with silence long ago. 21 Semiotics - the study of signs - is closely linked to linguistics, and has offered some vital insights into our relationship with language, and languageʼs relation to reality. The American philosopher, scientist and mathematician Charles Sanders Peirce (1839 – 1914), states that there are three parts to the sign system, which hold a ʻtriadicʼ relationship: the sign, the ʻobjectʼ (or concept), and the ʻinterpretantʼ (the understanding we have of the relationship between sign and object). The work of Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, on the other hand, discusses the sign system as having only two parts: the word, or sound pattern (ʻsignifierʼ), and the concept (ʻsignifiedʼ). Saussure argues from a synchronic perspective, as John Leche explicates, that language:

[I]s always organised in a specific way. It is a system, or a structure, where any individual element is meaningless outside the confines of that structure.22 Saussure compares language to a chess game where a newcomer may gain all the knowledge that is useful about the game from the current layout of the pieces, and where there would be no benefit in knowing the moves that led up to that point. However, Saussure fails to take into account the fluidity (as acknowledged by Peirce) present in our use and understanding of language, which changes significantly over time. The Peircian approach accommodates the impact of contextual factors upon our understanding, as opposed to the more rigid Saussurian thinking.

In Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Ludwig Wittgenstein maintains the (now somewhat outmoded) view that language indicates the boundaries of thought: ʻthe 21 22

Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, p.337 John Leche, Fifty Key Contemporary Thinkers, p.172


limits of my language mean the limits of my worldʼ.23 This view is, perplexingly, echoed somewhat two decades later, in Jean-Paul Sartreʼs What is Literature?:

[W]e think with words. We would have to be quite vain to believe that we were concealing ineffable beauties which the word is incapable of expressing […] No. We are no better than our life, and it is by our life that we must be judged; our thought is no better than our language, and it ought to be judged by the way it uses it.24 This conclusion is a convenient one for Sartre, a skilled wordsmith, to draw, but it disregards entirely the many non-lingual forms of aptitude and expression to be found in different individuals, such as those proposed in Howard Gardnerʼs ʻtheory of multiple intelligencesʼ25. Sartre seems here to contradict viewpoints established in some of his own earlier works, such as this excerpt from Nausea26, wherein Roquentin derides words as poor cousins of real, lived experience (a view frequently expounded within existentialist, structuralist, and post-structuralist thinking).

I dream about words, thatʼs all [...] All the same, for a hundred dead stories there remain one or two living ones. These I evoke cautiously, occasionally, not too often, for fear of wearing them out. […] All of a sudden I stop: I have felt a worn patch, I have seen a word poking through the web of sensations. […] Straight away I stop and quickly think of something else; I donʼt want to tire my memories. In vain; the next time I evoke them, a good part will have congealed. 27 It is difficult to deny that a verbal relaying, however eloquent, of an experience cannot replicate completely and precisely the ʻswamp of sensations, glimpses, memories and preconceptionsʼ28 present in the original occurrence; and so we see the basis for the view that language is a divisive barrier between individuals - promising


Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico Philosophicus, p.115 Jean-Paul Sartre, What is Literature?, pp.210-211 25 Gardner identified nine separate types of ʻintelligenceʼ possible within individuals: naturalist, musical, logical-mathematical, existential, interpersonal, bodily-kinaesthetic, linguistic, intra-personal, and spatial. Whilst these proposals were met with mixed receptions, they have nevertheless proved influential in areas of education, and demonstrate that intelligent thought is not merely expressed through linguistic aptitude. - Howard Gardner, Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons, pp.5-12 26 Although Nausea is a work of fiction, it nevertheless acts as a vehicle for many philosophical ideas that Sartre would build upon in later years. 27 Sartre, Nausea, p.53 28 OʼReilly, The Body in Contemporary Art, p.66 24


connection but failing, persistently, to deliver - as lamented by Joseph Conradʼs Marlow in the 1903 novella Heart of Darkness: ʻIt is impossible to convey the lifesensation of any given epoch of oneʼs existence […] We live, as we dream – alone…ʼ29

One of the most significant observations to emerge from twentieth century linguistic analysis, in the works of Peirce, of Sartre, and of subsequent others such as Hilary Putnam, is that of the impact of context upon perceived meaning. Sartre acknowledges this importance in an appendix to What is Literature?:

Books that are handed down from age to age are dead fruit. They had, in another time, another taste, tart and tangy. […Therefore] one must write for oneʼs age. 30 But it is not simply historical and cultural factors that begin to be acknowledged as impacting upon the interpretation of language; the individual reader, too, is seen to assume a vital role in the construction of meaning, in a perceptual shift not unlike the emergence of the body as an active subject in art, as discussed in Chapter 1. Without a reader, after all, written text is nothing but marks upon a page; Sartre describes literature in terms of a dialogue between author and reader, an appeal to the ʻfreedomʼ of the reader to finish what is begun in the act of writing.31 And so, whilst language may be an imprecise means of communication, it nonetheless appeals to an active connection between individuals, stimulating the imagination of each in what is arguably a more fruitful and creative dialogue than if there were a method for complete transmission of accurate data. Whilst we cannot hope to achieve complete experiential and intellectual togetherness, we can instead stimulate the individual thoughts of those who remain ʻotherʼ, and so they ours.


Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, p.39 Sartre, What is Literature?, p.236 31 Sartre, What is Literature?, pp.33-40 30


2.2 Nonverbal Communication Given that selling is largely about communication, and that 93% of that is nonverbal communication, it would make sense for you to examine nonverbal communication as a persuasion technique, wouldnʼt it? 32 - ʻNonverbal Communicationʼ, Selling and Persuasion Techniques

We have all encountered the statistic that 93% of our communication is conducted through nonverbal channels; it is pedaled in many a marketing ʻhow-toʼ guide.

This use of the 93% statistic is in fact somewhat misleading, as the study it is drawn from - conducted by Abraham Mehrebian in 1968 - refers solely to the communication of feelings and attitudes through single words. As is stated upon Mehrabianʼs website:

Please note that this and other equations regarding relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages were derived from experiments dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes (i.e., like-dislike). Unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable.33 The flaws in the common misuse of the statistic are evident; one clearly cannot, for example, gain 93% of the meaning present in a foreign film without comprehending the language.

Nevertheless, nonlinguistic communication does play an enormous part in our day-today lives. It is this need to move beyond words, or certainly in directions that words do not, upon which visual art, music and performance thrive. The somatic elements of music and performance in particular are clear - the bass that can be felt through the floor and which seems to reverberate within the heart, the lithe agility of the dancerʼs body; visual art, in some instances, seemingly less so - but despite the attempts of high Modernism to deny it, even a two-dimensional abstract painting must be encountered spatially, must be assessed, consciously or subconsciously, in relation to the viewerʼs own body. 32

Unknown author, ʻNonverbal Communicationʼ Albert Mehrabian, ʻ’Silent Messages’ -- A Wealth of Information About Nonverbal Communication (Body Language)’ 33


In his essay The Grain of the Voice, Roland Barthes suggests that the connections possible through singing involve something almost resembling a transfer of internal bodily landscapes.

Listen to a Russian bass [...] something is there [...] which is directly the cantorʼs body, brought to your ears in one and the same movement from deep down in the cavities, the muscles, the membranes[.]34 In this way we may see this act of listening as an opportunity to borrow, almost, the body of another; music certainly provides the intriguing possibility of a transcendence of the body, facilitated by the body. The experience of listening to singing is deeply somatic in that it is a transmission, as Barthes notes, from the interior of the singerʼs body into the interior of oneʼs own; it is physical, too, in the sensation of the vibrations traveling from the floor and from the air, and reverberating, it seems, in internal bodily spaces beyond the normal realms of tangibility. Yet this heightened sensation of the flesh somehow crosses over into a state where we take leave of our habitual corporeal concerns; this is not the awareness, the awkward physicality, conveyed in Dijkstraʼs beach photographs. The prevalent thought is not of oneʼs own bodiedness: true musical immersion employs the body in an act of forgetting itself.

Dance, too, is frequently lauded as a means of ʻlosing oneselfʼ. Each weekend, nightclubs fill with patrons eager to commune, to connect: to forget the structures in place beyond those four walls and the ʻselvesʼ constructed for them by society during the rest of the week. Yet this pursuit is not always a fruitful one; Dijkstraʼs scrutinising lens again provides a pertinent articulation, this time in moving form, of the difficulties of achieving bodily abandon. The video The Buzzclub, Liverpool, UK / Mysteryworld, Amsterdam, NL (fig. 7) presents young clubbers, often alone, dancing against a white backdrop before the camera. Removed from the low, pulsing lights of the club, and from the collective safety of their peers, these figures appear less the epitome of youthful abandon, and more fragile, uncertain, almost forlorn. Despite Dijkstraʼs


Roland Barthes, ʻThe Grain of the Voiceʼ, p.181


relatively detached documentary style, it is difficult not to connect in some way with each subject, whether in empathy or amusement.

Fig. 7. Rineke Dijkstra: Still from The Buzzclub, Liverpool, UK/Mysteryworld, Zaandam, NL 19961997

Referring to the work in question, Joanna Lowry of the University of Brighton notes:

The public intimacy [of video] is inscribed with a reconfiguration of time and space that makes impossible the kind of distance or separation we feel in front of a picture. 35 Viewers, she points out, are forced into a degree of complicity with the videoʼs subject, as they share with them the filmʼs duration. This is also true, of course, of music and performance; a painting or sculpture may be dissected and digested at the viewerʼs discretion, their eye roaming across the objectʼs surface with freedom,


Joanna Lowry, ʻWithin the Horizons of Time: The Video Work of Rineke Dijkstraʼ, [p.n/a].


whereas music, theatre, and dance must be experienced for the specified time, in the intended order.

Do these mediums, then, offer a greater possibility of connection with fellow individuals than static art forms? Certainly, says Christine Macel, co-curator of the 2011 exhibition ʻDance Your Lifeʼ at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, this potential of togetherness is one of the key attractions of dance for visual artists.

Visual artists turned their gaze toward dance because within it they recognized the possibilities of the integral politics Giorgio Agamben mentioned, away from the post-human body of the ʻ90s, towards a dancing body with its rituals and popular culture.36 Yet it is the inherent solitude tempering this togetherness that provides the most fertile ground for the crossover between art and dance; there are few mediums more capable than dance of an uncomplicated illustration of both the bodyʼs capacity for physical closeness, and of its incapacity for absolute togetherness.

Artists often work on the tension between corporality and sociality ... It is not enough to be dancing together in order to create the common body dreamed up by modernity, even if we keep dancing to be together.37 And so we see that non-verbal communication cannot neatly ʻfill in the gapsʼ left by languageʼs shortcomings. Whilst the body is a great transmitter of signals, these are ʻsignsʼ with the same capacity for misinterpretation as those of the semiotics of language, and the body simultaneously becomes both communicator and barrier. Whilst there is overlap in the territories of verbal and nonverbal communication, both occupy different spheres - and both are imprecise systems. Yet without certain incommunicable factors, the intrigue of human interaction would be lost; communication would be a straightforward exchange of data, with little need for debate, supposition, or imagination. An element of isolation is essential for the existence of that which we prize so dearly in the West, the individual - meant here not

36 37

Christine Macel, ʻLetʼs Dance: Art, Dance and the Social Turnʼ Macel, ʻLetʼs Dance: Art, Dance and the Social Turnʼ


in the sense of the original Latin, meaning ʻindivisibilityʼ (that is to say, a body), but with, as Bauman observes, the latterly added connotation of uniqueness.38 2.3 Practising Attachment

The human urge for connection with others - for romantic love, in particular - is undeniably strong, yet fraught with complexities and contradictions. Love is an emotion renowned for its resultant creative outpourings, many of them the product of the aforementioned isolation of the individual in the face of the ʻotherʼ, who is, to some extent, unknowable.39 Even in the instance of this uncertainty being overcome, if one succeeds in narrowing the interpersonal divide to a barrier so slender it is nearimperceptible, a couple - despite the best attempts of innumerable romantics to persuade us otherwise - remain just that: two, never one. Each is individually bound to their fragile corpus, and no degree of success in maintaining geographical togetherness and physical proximity is capable of countering the possibility that one body, eventually, will fail before the other. Felix Gonzalez-Torresʼs 1991 sculpture Untitled (March 5th), (fig. 8), comprised solely of two 40-watt light bulbs and their cords, is a minimal yet poignant evocation of love and loss – a topic particularly pertinent for the artist, given the death of his partner Ross Laycock, from AIDS, in the year that the sculpture was made.

The intertwining cords of the two light bulbs imply an effortless unity, emphasised further by the glow emitted by the bulbs hanging side by side. Yet this seemingly uncomplicated harmony is tainted in the viewerʼs mind by the knowledge that one bulb, like one half of the live couple, must surely burn out before the other, severing their togetherness and leaving one to shine on alone. Of course, in more religious times the Christian marriage vows of ʻ...till death us do partʼ may have been brought to mind, tempered by the hope of reunification in heaven; but given that Gonzalez-


Bauman, Liquid Life, pp.18-19 The ʻotherʼ is a recurrent topic in modern philosophy, with varying interpretations. I will use the term as Roland Barthes does, to denote literally another being, he who is ʻoutside of myselfʼ. - Barthes, A Loverʼs Discourse: Fragments, p.57 39


Torres was a staunch atheist, this piece carries no such promise of redemption. The work is perhaps illustrative of the sombre mood that hung over New York after the emergence in the 1980s of the AIDS epidemic.


Fig. 8. Felix Gonzales-Torres: Untitled (March 5 ). 1991

Yet although Gonzalez-Torres始s sculpture acknowledges the possibility of loss, it does not deal with the element of strategy inherent in forming partnerships.

Whilst we would like - and indeed have been conditioned over centuries - to think of love as the ultimate connection between two individuals, entailing an altruistic disregard for personal gain, there are, on the contrary, those who would portray love as a lone, tactical endeavour. In A Lover始s Discourse: Fragments, Roland Barthes inverts the romantic ideal of love as togetherness and, in short bursts seemingly


drawn straight from a loverʼs consciousness, dissects the solitary discourse of a lover.

If the other suffers from hallucinations, if he fears going mad, I should myself hallucinate, go mad. Now, whatever the power of love, this does not occur: I am moved, anguished [...] but at the same time I remain dry, watertight [...] at the same time that I ʻsincerelyʼ identify myself with the otherʼs misery, what I read in this misery is that it occurs without me, and that by being miserable by himself, the other abandons me: […] his suffering annuls me insofar as it constitutes him outside of myself.40 Love is seen here as a just-thwarted attempt at togetherness: a reminder of the slender yet impervious divisions present between individuals. All the same, whilst Barthesʼs portrayal of love is far from rose-tinted, it is nonetheless written from the frenzied, impassioned perspective of one who is in love.

Bauman, on the other hand, offers a far less sentimental analysis of love in a twentyfirst century climate, where traditional romantic models no longer apply, and highly paid lifestyle councillors advise the choosing of ʻnetworksʼ over relationships: ʻ[i]n a network, connections are entered on demand, and can be broken at will.ʼ41

Connections, asserts Bauman, are ideal in a liquid society as they are fast-moving, disposable, and do not result in messy emotional debris; yet they are still plagued by uncertainty, haunted by jealousy, and may ultimately lack the fulfilment they initially promised. And so Bauman highlights the dilemma of the modern individual, caught between the need for security and the desire for freedom: it is not simply the unknowability of the other that is problematic, but the unknowability of the rapidly changing social environment, and the difficulty of striking the correct balance between conflicting personal desires. Youʼll soon stop fretting ... Youʼll realise youʼre carefree, without obligations. And then the unease will start.42


Barthes, A Loverʼs Discourse: Fragments, p.57 Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds, p.xii 42 Susan Sontag, ʻUnguided Tourʼ, p.376 41


In contemporary society, more than ever before, the individual can never become complacent. A committed relationship instils doubts that not enough is being tried, experienced: that oneʼs ʻindividualityʼ is being diluted and crushed. The freedom found by cutting ties gives way to fears of abandonment, inadequacy, and instability. And so the only way forward seems to be to strategise oneʼs connections, to strive for the holy grail of a partnership that will ʻempower without disempowering, enable without disabling, [fulfil] without burdeningʼ43, and which can be easily dismantled when it ceases to please.


Bauman, Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds, p.ix



In The Body in Pain, Scarry speaks of ʻthe socialization of sentienceʼ44, claiming that self-extension in all its forms – be this through language, bodily modification, or material making – necessitates a fundamental decrease in privacy. This is ostensibly true: self-extension is an appeal to that which is outside of the body - an allowing of the outer world in, and the inner world out. In some instances this may be a conscious decision, whilst in other cases the loss of personal privacy is regarded as a cause for outrage or discomfort.

The interchange of inside and outside surfaces requires not the literal reverse of bodily linings but the making of what is originally interior and private into something exterior and sharable, and, conversely, the reabsorption of what is now exterior and sharable into the intimate recesses of individual consciousness. 45 In this section I will look at three specific topics that raise questions regarding privacy and public display – performance, pain, and documentation and technology.

3.1 Performance, Ritual, and the Role of the Spectator

The act of performing – a naturally-occurring impulse in children, before it is tempered by the inhibiting awareness of society, rules, and expectations entailed by experience – may be, in certain circumstances, viewed as a sort of spontaneous projection of the self: an honest and generous laying bare of inner consciousness. Conversely, performance may serve to mask this private domain, allowing the ʻtrueʼ identity to hide from public gaze behind role, construct and artifice. The twentieth century saw much critical discourse surrounding the traditional structures of theatre, with practitioners questioning the accepted role of the audience as passive spectator, and, in the 1960s and 1970s, with live performance emerging as an accepted art

44 45

Scarry, The Body in Pain, p.255 Scarry, The Body in Pain, p.284


form. From these developments we can identify efforts to restore the bodyʼs visceral physicality, and to examine the nature of connection and communication between individuals, as well as addressing the boundaries of public and private.

Whilst much twentieth century dramatic theory takes issue with the divisions between actor and audience that have prevailed in the theatre for centuries, these mannered conventions are themselves far-removed from the origins of drama. As Rainer Friedrich states in his research on Antonin Artaud and Bertolt Brecht:

Drama sprang from ritual, and ritual, in turn, sprang from the sacrifice involving the shedding of blood: the destruction of a particular life for the sake of universal life and its preservation; or translated into social terms, the destruction of an individual life for the sake of preserving collective life. This sacrifice of a particular to a universal, of an individual to a collective, is inscribed in the very structure of ritual and persists in all its metamorphoses. 46 Illustrated here once again is the innate human urge for collectivity and oneness, albeit without the complications of our modern concern for individuality. Theatre gradually departed from its ritualistic beginnings, evolving in ancient Greece to introduce the demarcations between performer and audience to be found in the majority of modern theatres. Practitioners such as Artaud, however, sought to shake theatre from its perceived lassitude through the reinstatement of ritualistic elements and a refusal of accepted structures.

We advocate a revolving show, which instead of making stage and auditorium into two closed worlds […] will extend its visual and oral outbursts over the whole mass of spectators […] the audience seated below, in the middle, on swivelling chairs allowing them to follow the show taking place around them […] physical lighting methods, the thunder and wind whose repercussions will be experienced by the spectators […]47 These proposals form part of Artaudʼs vision for what he terms the ʻTheatre of Crueltyʼ: a ʻcrueltyʼ to be understood not in the sense of physical violence (or, at least, not exclusively), but as a vibrant life-force, both exhilarating and terrifying. 46

Rainer Friedrich, ʻThe Deconstructed Self in Artaud and Brecht: Negation of Subject and Antitotalitarianismʼ, p.4 47 Antonin Artaud, ʻThe Theatre and its Doubleʼ, pp.65-74


Artaudʼs writings blur the boundaries between the positive and negative aspects of this ʻcrueltyʼ, in a lack of polarity reminiscent of Blakeʼs assessment of the ʻcontrariesʼ48 Good and Evil; ʻcrueltyʼ is identified both in the intensity of ʻthe flame of lifeʼ49, and in a terror ʻsuperimposed on all otherʼ50.

Artaud identifies crueltyʼs intensity as existing outside of the limitations of verbal language, a system that, he argues, Western theatre is unduly bound to. He advocates the development of a ʻspatial language,ʼ comprising ʻinflection […] visual language […] movement, attitudes and gesturesʼ51. Above all, the need to shake the spectator, body and mind, from their inertia is key: ʻ[…] the unendingly repeated jading of our organs calls for sudden shocks to revive our understanding.ʼ52

The proponents of live performance as an art form echoed this reasoning in the 1960s and 1970s. Early postmodern audiences reeled, as performers such as Hermann Nitsch and Vito Acconci vehemently discarded societal niceties, utilising the natural body - along with all of its impulses, orifices, and excretions - in order to jolt the spectator from their docility and to expel from the self what Lea Vergine terms an ʻinternal menaceʼ53. This breakdown of boundaries between performer and audience, each participating in or witnessing an act of catharsis highly reminiscent of Artaudʼs Fig. 9. Carolee Schneemann: Interior Scroll, 1975

ʻcrueltyʼ, can be seen as a return to ritual in


Blake, ʻThe Marriage of Heaven and Hellʼ, p.144 Artaud, ʻThe Theatre and its Doubleʼ, p.79 50 Artaud, ʻThe Theatre and its Doubleʼ, p.79 51 Artaud, ʻThe Theatre and its Doubleʼ, p.68 52 Artaud, ʻThe Theatre and its Doubleʼ, p.66 53 Lea Vergine, ʻThe Body as Language. Body Art and Like Storiesʼ, p.25 49


performance, something particularly referenced by artists such as Schneeman in the 1975 performance Interior Scroll (fig. 9).

Reflecting in 1974 upon the first decade of this emergent art form, Vergine declares it necessary to,

[D]emolish the conventions of decency that support the great lie, necessary to destroy the artificial screen that separates the public from the private. Every latrine is a drawing room, every drawing room a latrine.54 This impassioned throwing-off of the shackles wrought by society is very much in line with the political tone of the day – comparable to the famous Situationist slogan of May 1968, ʻsous les pavés, la plageʼ, and in a wider sense to shifts towards the prioritisation of the strategising individual in politics as influenced by John von Neumannʼs ʻgame theoryʼ55 - and its ideology perhaps pales slightly with four decades of hindsight. Vergine herself, reflecting upon the trajectory of body art thirty years later, observes that we are ʻno longer dealing with the romantic and cultivated narcissism of the seventiesʼ;56 instead, she says, we see artists such as Orlan and Janine Antoni, ʻ[utilising] the body as a vehicle, once again, for declaring opposition to the dominant culture, but also of desperate conformism.ʼ57 Thus we see articulations of the contemporary individualʼs struggle between individualism and conformity, which, as Bauman highlights, are often one and the same.58

Performance art will be further discussed in subsequent sections, exploring the use of pain in body art in 3.2, and in 4.2 highlighting artist Stelarcʼs use of technology in performance to comment upon the disembodied connectivity brought about by the Internet.


Vergine, ʻThe Body as Language. Body Art and Like Storiesʼ, p.16 Roger B. Myerson, Game Theory: Analysis of Conflict, p.2 56 Lea Vergine, ʻDiffused Body and Mystical Bodyʼ, p.288 57 Vergine, ʻDiffused Body and Mystical Bodyʼ, p.289 58 Bauman, Liquid Life, p.18 55


3.2 The Uniqueness of Pain

[P]hysical pain - unlike any other state of consciousness – has no referential content. It is not of or for anything. It is precisely because it takes no object that it, more than any other phenomenon, resists objectification in language.59 - Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain

Physical suffering is one of the clearest demonstrations of the individual isolation inherent in embodiment. The body is the vessel that demarcates the division between individuals; in the event of physical pain the vessel appears to turn upon itself, becoming simultaneously source and victim of pain. The individual becomes both trapped in, and estranged from, their own body, unable to communicate their distress due to its lack of relation to anything in the physical world; languageʼs dependence upon contextual factors renders it inadequate in the face of painʼs objectless state.

Once again the human conflict between sociality and individuality comes into play. The suffering individual desires sociality as respite, desires to somehow alleviate their pain through the understanding of others – yet this understanding cannot be entirely achieved unless those others actually share in that pain, which is often impossible (and, in rational thought, undesirable). The outer limits of the body are now - more than in any other instance - the outer reaches of meaning, with no words, sounds or gestures able to replicate an individualʼs pain within the mind, or indeed the body, of another. The individual in pain may conversely, of course, push others away and desire solitude, be this through feelings of shame, altruism, or sheer frustration at their newly perceived isolation.

Susan Sontagʼs writings on the portrayal of pain in photographic imagery (particularly war photography) argue that, despite apparently bringing audiences closer to an understanding of the events depicted, it is in fact impossible for an outside observer to share in the experience of anotherʼs pain. As she concludes her 2003 book, Regarding the Pain of Others,


Scarry, The Body in Pain, p.5


ʻWeʼ – this ʻweʼ is everyone who has never experienced anything like what they [soldiers] went through – donʼt understand [...] We canʼt imagine how dreadful, how terrifying war is; and how normal it becomes [...] Thatʼs what every soldier, and every journalist and aid worker and independent observer who has put in time under fire, and had the luck to elude the death that struck down others nearby, stubbornly feels. And they are right.60 Sontag asserts that any hope of eliminating war through the raising of awareness by photography is unrealistic; technology, in this instance, cannot defeat the real, of which pain and suffering are ineluctable elements. We must therefore, she says, develop a greater sensitivity to the ways in which these images are used. She expresses concern regarding the publication of war images in magazines alongside advertisements, an exploitation of suffering which in turn promotes apathy, rather than action, on the part of the viewer. Her essay The Image-World, published almost three decades earlier in 1977, advocates ʻan ecology not only of real things but of images as wellʼ61: it is not simply the consumption of images that troubles her, but also the consumerist approach to the assimilation of experience which this engenders.

Through photographs, we […] have a consumerʼs relation to events, both to events which are part of our experience and to those which are not – a distinction between types of experience that such habit-forming consumership blurs. 62 In this instance, photography does begin to defeat the real: vicarious experience is accumulated through our familiarity with images of people, places, things, yet it is experience in visual and theoretical form only, which bears little relation to the word in its physical sense. Sontag terms the display of images of suffering within an art gallery ʻexploitativeʼ, 63 yet pain remains a prominent subject within art, perhaps because of its persistent incommunicability through conventional interpersonal channels. A riposte to Sontagʼs criticism of photographyʼs disconnection from the real could perhaps be found in the 60

Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others, p.113 Susan Sontag, ʻThe Image-Worldʼ, p.367 62 Sontag, ʻThe Image-Worldʼ, p.351 63 Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others, p.107 61


recurrent use of pain in performance art: the wounding of oneʼs own body in the public realm necessitates a degree of bravery and self-exposure from the artist, which is not required from a photographer (who remains essentially, like the viewers of their photographs, an observer).

Pain in performance takes on a very different character to pain in any other context: it is suffered willingly by the performer, yet its endurance before spectators means it has little in common with the secretive actions of the self-harmer. In it, however, we see an overt demonstration of, as Scarry describes, the conflation of public and private which pain induces.

[This conflation] brings with it all the solitude of absolute privacy with none of its safety, all the self-exposure of the utterly public with none of its possibility for camaraderie or shared experience.64 Whilst it could be argued that performance does aim for shared experience, Vergine identifies what she calls a ʻdimension of inevitable delusion and failureʼ within performance art, resulting from the impossibility of an ʻaltruistic loveʼ, a satisfactory connection with others.65 This failure is, she claims, an inherent aspect of the art form.

The inclusion of violent acts within performance art saw its heyday in the 1970s, in an array of works such as Chris Burdenʼs Trans-Fixed (1974) and Marina Abramovicʼs Lips of Thomas (1975), but this intensely personal yet determinedly direct genre continues to be explored by artists such as Franco B and Kira OʼReilly66.

OʼReillyʼs ʻSuccourʼ (2002), (fig. 10), sees the artist seated, naked, upon a chair, systematically dividing her body into a grid using horizontal rings and vertical lines of tape. She proceeds to makes a small incision within each square of the grid using a scalpel. OʼReilly then removes the tape to reveal the pattern of cuts upon her body,


Scarry, The Body in Pain, p.53. Vergine, ʻThe Body as Language. Body Art and Like Storiesʼ, p.7 66 Live violence can also be noted within the field of popular music, with musicians such as Iggy Pop and GG Allin performing self-mutilation during the course of their shows. 65


before disrupting their order by wiping herself down with a white towel, smearing blood across her altered body.

Fig. 10. Kira OʼReilly: Succour. 2002.

In programme notes from a performance at the Brisbane Powerhouse, the artist writes:

This action is beginning where words fail me […] Using processes of measuring and cutting, the skin is (re)marked, like a text or a drawing, etching a history that can be followed on the surface of the skin, like a palimpsest. Tenderised, it brings sharply into focus a visual and visceral vocabulary that invokes notions of trauma (a wound) and stigma (a mark) towards a ʻspoilingʼ and opening of the body to explore an alterity or otherness.67


Kira OʼReilly, quoted in Keith Gallasch, ʻNational Review of Live Arts: Bloodlineʼ, p.31


This performance allows the watching audience into a very private domain: not simply the unclothed body, but into the very interior of that body and the experience of the pain that is being inflicted upon it. At the same time, however, the audience remains strangely disconnected from what is happening; they see the incisions being made, yet remain distanced from any discomfort. OʼReilly remains calm and focused on her task throughout. The body becomes the object of what she describes as ʻresearchʼ68; the taping of it is reminiscent of a butcher tying up a haunch of animal flesh. Thus we see a curious blurring of the boundaries between private and public, personal and impersonal, and are reminded once more, as in Schneemannʼs Meat Joy, of the essentially meat-like quality of the human body. It cannot be said that the utilisation of bodily wounding in performance offers the degree of interpersonal oneness yearned for by the sufferers of acute, incommunicable pain; yet it does offer a degree of connection with a directness (one which cannot be walked by or turned off, as with imagery and film), and a tie to the physical and real, which photography arguably does not achieve.

3.3 Documentation and Technology

Our definitions of ʻpublicʼ and ʻprivateʼ have undergone dramatic shifts in recent years, with the ease of connectivity provided by mobile phones and the Internet producing a younger generation imbued with what Dr. Melissa Gregg terms the ʻbroadcast impulseʼ. 69 This urge to share personal information in the public realm has resulted in (and is escalated by) the constant stream of photographic, textual and video documentation of the minutiae of everyday life on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

The motivation for this radical decrease in privacy, the sites are keen to stress, is an altruistic one: the language of social networking invariably returns to sharing. Facebook ʻhelps you connect and share with the people in your lifeʼ70; Flickr invites


OʼReilly, quoted in Gallasch, ʻNational Review of Live Arts: Bloodlineʼ, p.31 Dr Melissa Gregg, Mobile Screens Research Database 70 Facebook website. 69


you to ʻshare your life in photosʼ71; Google+ promises ʻreal life sharing, rethought for the webʼ. 72 However, it is difficult to imagine that the posting of the millions of images, comments and videos uploaded to sites such as these each day is motivated by sheer public-spiritedness. The broadcast impulse is met by responses from other users – creating discourse, yes: togetherness of a kind; but above all, it seems, offering reassurance to the individual as to their wit, their social skill, their worth. This exchange serves to reinforce the virtual identity built up by the individual, an identity removed from the prerogatives of the physical world, and able to be, as Dr. Sarah Smith notes, ʻeditedʼ73 at will.

Photography, of course, plays a large part in this identity construction. To take Facebook as an example, a user may select their ʻprofile pictureʼ - the first image seen when others view their page – and upload photos of their self and others at will, all the while ʻde-taggingʼ pictures which do not meet their approval. Thus, this visual identity becomes distanced from the ʻrealʼ, idealised and repeatedly reshaped to fit the userʼs preferences, as well as current aesthetic trends.

Yet this virtual identity is not entirely removed from reality: we form opinions, based on online personas; we also frequently apply these to the individual when encountered in the flesh, regardless of disparities between the two. And it is entirely conceivable that the digital identity we construct for ourselves does begin to impact upon our material selves. Individuals can be seen, consciously or unconsciously, to modify their physical appearance in an attempt to bring it in line with their virtual veneer: this or that expression, we note, is unbecoming before the lens; it is discarded from the repertoire. Whilst exacerbated by todayʼs culture of instantly accessible and sharable imagery, Western societyʼs reliance on photography for selfaffirmation could be noted decades prior to the advent of social media. Writing in 1977, Sontag observes,


Flickr website. Google+ website. 73 Dr. Sarah Smith, The Body and The Self, lecture 72


[P]eople in industrialized countries seek to have their photographs taken - feel that they are images, and are made real by photographs.74 The essentially narcissistic desire at the heart of social networking perhaps points to a desire not to connect or to share, but simply to understand what we already are through a process of externalisation. (Similarly, Chapter 4.3 discusses attempts to verify our position in relation to time through documentation.) As Vergine notes:

Narcissus projects himself outside in order to be able to love what is inside of himself.75 Nevertheless, we cannot forget the other, equally alluring aspect of social networking: its offer of constant access to a wealth of previously confidential information pertaining to our peers. This naturally voyeuristic dimension of the human condition has been exacerbated in recent decades, through the growth of reality television, celebrity culture, and the ease of acquiring information through the medium of technology.

An apposite illustration of the repercussions of this hunger for private information lies in the on-going controversy surrounding media corporation News International. The revelation that mobile phone hacking has been a commonly accepted practice amongst many of the companyʼs newspapers shocked the public; although largely vicarious, this outcry is indicative of the violation instinctively felt when the boundaries in place between oneself and the unknown factors of the outside world are breached without permission. Granted, the social media revolution and the broadcast impulse have prompted many individuals to rapidly and repeatedly redraw these boundaries; but numerous incidents – for example, instances of websites such as Facebook changing their privacy settings without notifying users76 - have drawn attention to the enduring importance of individually set parameters, and the ease with which these may be abused in the digital realm.


Sontag, ʻThe Image-Worldʼ, p.355 Vergine, ʻThe Body as Language. Body Art and Like Storiesʼ, pp.24-25 76 Jane Wakefield, ʻ2010: The Year That Privacy Died?ʼ 75


There is, of course, hypocrisy embedded in much discussion of the ʻphone hacking scandalʼ. Although many involved with News International are ostensibly bankrupt within any traditional moral framework, we must return to Baumanʼs observation that the moral paradigms of the past have dissolved to leave our liquid society in a state of constant flux and uncertainty77. The growth of the Internet has changed both the way that news is reported, and the publicʼs expectations of that news; the actions of journalists at papers such as the News of the World reflect a desperation to ʻstay aheadʼ in the eyes of a public already desensitised by a culture in which very little remains private. We do not like to hear of these ruthless methods of obtaining information, yet many of us have gleefully consumed the resultant articles. These thrilling insights into anotherʼs private sphere simulate a personal connection - albeit one which is one-way, and with someone we have never encountered physically and makes us eager for more. We must acknowledge the element of self-affirmation often present here, in comparison to an ʻotherʼ who is viewed as abject or inferior (as exemplified by the habitual reinforcement of social stereotypes within recent reality television shows such as My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, The Only Way is Essex and Desperate Scousewives). On our own terms, we are happy for the flow of information to be reversed, ʻbloggingʼ and ʻtweetingʼ details of our lives to unknown Internet users across the globe. Yet when we feel the sting of unsolicited intrusion into our personal domain, our feelings of security crumble.

While no life of dignity or gratifying human life [is] conceivable without an admixture of both freedom and security, a fully satisfying balance between the two values is seldom achieved…78 The modern individual struggles, in this as in so many areas already identified, for a comprehensible stance between these opposing factors.

77 78

Bauman, Liquid Life, p.31 Bauman, Liquid Life, p.35



When dealing with the topic of embodiment, the brevity of human existence can never be far from mind. The certitude of death is a factor that has plagued and enthralled for millennia; but whilst past generationsʼ awareness of mortality was widely tempered by spiritual belief, the decline of religion over recent years has engendered attitudes to transience and legacy that may differ from those of previous generations. Rapid technological developments have bred a culture of impermanence seemingly at odds with the ease of documentation and storage that we have become accustomed to in the digital age. Where does this leave us with regards to the modern individualʼs relationship with the past, the future, and the possibility of leaving behind a trace of their corporeal existence? This chapter will explore questions and examples relating to all of these points.

4.1 The Decline of Religion

The influence of religion upon individual and collective attitudes to the body is one that has spanned continents and millennia. It is unnecessary for us to delve into history to demonstrate religionʼs infiltration into every conceivable aspect of consciousness and behaviour in many past societies. Many of the dilemmas already spoken of in this thesis simply did not arise for the inhabitants of centuries past, for whom religion offered seemingly unequivocal solutions to the problems of embodiment and mortality. In Catholicism, for example, the transubstantiated body of Christ is situated at the centre of faith, and, by extension, at the centre of consciousness. The fragility and imperfection of the body is acknowledged, alongside the potential weakness of humanity; yet the possibility of resurrection, free of the mortal concerns of pain and suffering, provides an aspiration and raison dʼêtre. Death is only to be feared by those whose own sins condemn them to an eternity of damnation.


In a 2009 British Social Attitudes survey, 50.67% of participants stated that they had no religion. 79 Modern society comprises an unprecedented number of individuals for whom the traditional models of Christianity and other religions no longer hold any sway.

Fig. 11. Francis Bacon: Three Studies for a Crucifixion, 1962

Despite its ceaseless citation, the work of Francis Bacon remains an important example of artʼs capacity to reflect upon the nonreligious modern individualʼs relationship with the mortal body. Bacon was an atheist, and works such as the seemingly religiously titled Three Studies For a Crucifixion (fig. 11) are in fact reflections upon the inherent brutality of mankind as seen by Bacon, an inhabitant of a Godless, post-war world. Ernst van Alphen claims that Baconʼs works recontextualise death as something underpinning our lived experience, as opposed to an isolated event.

We cannot narrate or describe death in the first person, present tense. Baconʼs paintings about death [...] are an attempt to challenge that limit of representability [...] Death [...] is not an event which comes after life; it is a situation which lurks within the experience of the body.80

79 80

ʻDo you regard yourself as belonging to any particular religion?ʼ, British Social Attitudes survey, 2009. Ernst van Alphen, Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self, pp.95-96


This highlights not only our awareness of the mortal bodyʼs fragility, but of the effect that this awareness has on our behaviour and experience in bodied life itself; an autonomous bodied life that, without theological promises of transcendence, is the sum-total of contemporary existence.

The declining religious allegiance, and resultant anxieties, of the latter twentieth century Western world fed into the generally dystopian mood prevalent in much postmodern art and design. Gaetana Pesceʼs unrealised plans for the Church of Solitude (or Church of Isolation), 1974-1977 (fig. 12), propose a subterranean vault hidden beneath the bustling streets of Manhattan; a place of physical and psychological space for a city lacking in both.

Whilst informed by Pesceʼs studies of Jewish and Christian catacombs, the designs are not an attempt to incite a return by the modern individual to organised religion; as Meira YagidHaimovich, curator of an exhibition of Pesceʼs work at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, comments, the space offers ʻa public space as a variant of spiritual shelterʼ81; the term ʻchurchʼ is employed, then, in a descriptive but not specifically Christian Fig. 12. Gaetano Pesce: Church of Solitude Project, New York, New York, Transverse section 1974-77

sense; the space could in fact be viewed as an alternative to religion as provider of

comfort, contemplation, togetherness and isolation.

The Church of Isolation does mimic the Churchʼs aim of ʻgathering people who want to feel isolatedʼ82, says Pesce. Yagid-Haimovich describes New York as experienced by Pesce:

81 82

Meira Yagid-Haimovich, Gaetano Pesce, p.27 Gaetano Pesce in Yagid-Haimovich, Gaetano Pesce, p.20


[The] desperate need for isolation, the lack of communication as an attribute of city life, the craving for transcendental symbols, the longing for security […]83 This description directly mirrors the dilemmas facing residents of Baumanʼs liquid society; perhaps the tentative togetherness achievable in this space for isolated individuals is the ideal situation for the liquid modern city-dweller, conflicted between desires for both individuality and collectivity.

Bauman is heavily critical of the Western obsession with individualism, with its inherent links to consumerism and, paradoxically, to conformity; our ever more fastpaced society means that the achievement of any goal simply creates an increasingly hectic chase for new ones84. Indeed, the perpetual reconstitution of identity deemed necessary in contemporary society is, he says, simply a substitute for the rebirth promised by religion.

If only one moves quickly enough […] one can go on squeezing into the timespan of mortal life ever more lives; perhaps as many as eternity could supply [...] ʻIdentityʼ, after all, is (just as the reincarnation and resurrection of olden times used to be) about the possibility of ʻbeing born againʼ – of stopping being what one is and turning into someone one is not yet.85 Thus the culpability of the bodied religious individual is removed, and we find ourselves in a constant state of flux, erasing our past and racing towards a neverfinite future. Our ties to a static ʻselfʼ and to the corporeal body are not as strong as those of our ancestors; having explored the modern interplay between digital and physical identities in the previous subchapter, I will go on in Chapter 4.2 to expand upon this seeming move towards disembodiment, and in 4.3 to assess the modern individualʼs relationship to temporality.


Yagid-Haimovich, Gaetano Pesce, p.26 Bauman, Liquid Life, pp.23-24 85 Bauman, Liquid Life, p.8 84


4.2 Digital Disappearance

The slippery issue of digital technology, and its implications for embodiment and interpersonal connection in todayʼs world, has underpinned much of my discussion so far. A point which has been alluded to in several other chapters and which seems, in many ways, the logical conclusion of modern technological advancement, is the possibility of disembodiment - the potential relinquishing of the physical world in favour of the virtual. This topic alone is vast, and, as such, my analysis will be a mere sweep through just some of many apposite examples and possibilities.

In the late work Why Hasnʼt Everything Already Disappeared?, Baudrillard addresses this potential ʻdisappearanceʼ:

[I]t is clear that mankind exists only at the cost of its own death. It becomes immortal only by paying the price of its technological disappearance, of its inscription in the digital order [...]86 This conclusion is logical when we consider, as we have, material making and technological advances as extensions of the body, and as means of countering corporeal limitations - presumably this dialogue must eventually result in the total subsumption of the body by technology. A conveniently glib illustration of this can be drawn from the fact that computer wiring is, as Scarry points out, a conscious replica of the human central nervous system87. Mankind creates a projection of the body into the world, designed to carry out processes that the original corpus cannot, yet as the development progresses it not only extends the bodyʼs capacities but also makes defunct bodily functions that can now be performed better by technology.

Whilst dystopian visions of the ʻpost-humanʼ - popularised in the 1980s by films such as Blade Runner88 - still seem far-removed from reality for most of us, it is not difficult to identify the shifts away from embodiment brought about by the assimilation of the Internet into the everyday workings of society. We may speak of the ʻrealʼ and ʻvirtualʼ 86

Jean Baudrillard, Why Hasnʼt Everything Already Disappeared?, p.62 Scarry, The Body in Pain, p.282 88 Blade Runner, Dir. Ridley Scott,1982 87


worlds as separate entities, yet already their boundaries are becoming blurred to the point that these definitions may soon cease to be useful; as discussed in Chapter 3.3, the consciousness and physicality of many users of social networking sites is significantly influenced by the modes of behaviour prevalent in the online world.

Fig. 13. Stelarc: Ping Body: An Internet Actuated Performance, 1996

In 1996, the controversial performance artist Stelarcʼs piece Ping Body (fig. 13) responded to growing fears regarding the potential physical estrangement posed by online communication (see illus.). The performance places control of Stelarcʼs physique in the hands of remote Internet users, whose clicks upon an interface generate impulses through electrodes attached to the artistʼs body, causing it to move. The result of this, Stelarc says, is ʻa psychological collapse in distance and timeʼ89, as traditional structures of connection and control are relinquished. Yet despite the exploratory nature of Stelarcʼs practice, the effect of the surreal, puppet89

Mark Fernandes, ʻThe Body Without Memory: An Interview with Stelarcʼ


like dance enacted is more disturbing than celebratory, and works to highlight a potentially sinister aspect of virtual connectivity.

In her 2009 lecture ʻShifting Identity: Sex, Gender and Online Identityʼ, Dr Sarah Neilly speaks of the ʻelasticity of embodimentʼ90 available in online ʻvirtual worldsʼ such as Second Life91: here, the problematic elements of embodiment discussed in Chapter 1 dissipate entirely, with users able to select and change their appearance, race, and even gender at will. The obvious drawbacks of this – anonymity providing, at the outset, a potential cover for bullying, sexual harassment, paedophilia – are tempered somewhat by case studies such as that of a group of disabled people, mentioned by Neilly, for whom the bodily emancipation of Second Life provided a new mode of social interaction, free from preconception or prejudice.92

This freedom of embodiment inevitably gives rise to new modes of sexual interaction. Cybersex, writes Sarah OʼReilly, author of The Body in Contemporary Art:

[…] demonstrates how the pleasurable intermingling of senses, from the tactile and olfactory to the more subtle psychological nuances, can be compressed into a linguistic medium, transmitted, and reassembled in the imagination of the recipient.93 Considering, as we have discussed, the imprecise nature of language as a communicator, it is doubtful as to how accurate this reassembly is; yet is accuracy important here, in view of the radical economy of truth already being employed with regards to physicality? Do the benefits of the freedom brought about by disembodiment in virtual sexuality in fact outweigh the loss of the physical sensation that we traditionally regard as inexorably bound up in sexual pleasure? Sexuality in the virtual realm features none of the mess, none of the effort, and none of the insecurity entailed by real-world physical interaction. Away from mere biology, this is also true of virtual relationships, which proceed further down the path of 90

Dr. Sarah Neilly, Shifting Identity: Sex, Gender and Online Identity, lecture Second Life website. 92 Neilly, Shifting Identity: Sex, Gender and Online Identity 93 OʼReilly, The Body in Contemporary Art, pp.128-129 91


disconnection begun by the modern individualʼs strategising of physical relationships. Virilio views this not as positive progress, however, but as acquiescence to the least challenging option.

To prefer the virtual being – at some remove – to the real being – close-up – is to take the shadow for the substance, to prefer the metaphor, the clone to a substantial being who gets in your way, who is literally on your hands, a fleshand-blood being whose only fault is to be there, here and now, and not somewhere else.94 Virilio has a pertinent point. Virtual relationships seem to be just what the liquid modern individual desires: fluid, fast moving, easily formed, and just as easily dissolved. They occupy that coveted midpoint between freedom and security: offering sufficient reassurance that one is desired, needed - yet without the necessity of surrendering the autonomy we so preciously cling to. But if, as we concluded in Chapter Three, the holy grail of togetherness and accurate self-expression is so difficult to achieve with bodily communication at our disposal, what hope have we when this physical aspect is removed? Are we, as Virilio implies, making do with a poor simulacrum for the simple sake of convenience?

Of course, it cannot be said that our current state of technological progress was reached through sheer idleness. On the contrary, it is the perpetual desire for extension, for betterment – ʻthe Promethean project of mastering the universeʼ95, as Baudrillard puts it – that drives modern societyʼs perpetual acceleration. The mythical overreacher is an apposite metaphor here, for what else could logically conclude the steady advancement of digitisation but humankindʼs superfluity? Baudrillard asserts that this is the case, prophesying:

[…] the virtual disappearance of the human species, as though that destiny were programmed somewhere and we were merely the long-term executants of the programme (which irresistibly brings to mind apoptosis, that process by which a cell is pre-programmed to die). 96


Virilio, ʻFrom Sexual Perversion to Sexual Diversionʼ, p.176 Baudrillard, Why Hasnʼt Everything Already Disappeared?, p.16 96 Baudrillard, Why Hasnʼt Everything Already Disappeared?, p.19 95


Virilio does not concede mankind such an alibi of helplessness, however, laying blame upon:

[…] those who desire nothing so much as the revolution of the end, that nihilism of an omnipotent progress which runs through the twentieth century from the Titanic to Chernobyl, with an eye always to the coming of the Survivor, the messiah so fervently desired by the cult of madness of the present times. 97 Whether this destructive tendency is conscious or otherwise, the future mapped out for humanity appears bleak. Perhaps the conclusion of our technical endeavours will not be the supersession of the human by machinery – there is the possibility that the perpetual aspiration of immortality will be realised in the transcription of mortal life into the virtual realm. Yet at what point of the transition to technological singularity is that precious thing known as the ʻselfʼ lost irretrievably? Without conceding to notions of duality or solipsism it is inconceivable that Homo sapiens may continue to ʻbeʼ in the absence of the physical body; if the ʻbrain in a vatʼ were to be realised, its perception of reality, whilst ʻauthenticʼ, would (as Hilary Putnam argues98) have no point of reference in the real.

This argument does, of course, depend on how we define ʻthe realʼ, and here we paddle murky waters, the conclusions of which may be beyond the scope of this discussion. Rex Butler, however, offers useful insights as to the premise of the real in Baudrillardʼs writings:

[…Baudrillardʼs] problem is how to think the real when all is simulation, how to use the real against the attempts by various systems of rationality to account for it. In a surprising twist, then, Baudrillard emerges as a defender of the real against all efforts to speak of it – including, of course, his own.99 This designation of the real as that which refuses classification - the fleeting yet immutable state of what is - is perhaps as close as we may come to a definition of the real within the limited parameters of this thesis. The real may be linked as much 97

Paul Virilio, ʻThe Information Bombʼ, p.203 Hilary Putnam, ʻBrains in a Vatʼ, pp.1-21 99 Rex Butler, Jean Baudrillard: The Defence of the Real, p.17 98


to the temporal as to the physical; perhaps, in todayʼs fluid society, it is a term that denotes all that is at a given moment. Far from excluding the virtual, the real, by this argument, includes it as a constituent aspect of modern life. What we are dealing with is perhaps not a loss of reality, but simply a shift in that realityʼs prioritisation of the physical or the virtual. It is the potential effects of this shift that must be considered with regards to the corporeality of the individual, perhaps taking, as Virilio advocates, something of an ʻeschatological approach to technical progressʼ100. Such foresight, however, is not always prioritised in contemporary society; the next subchapter, finally, goes on to discuss where the modern individual may situate themself in relation to past, present and future.

4.3 ʻContemporalityʼ: Past, Present and Future in the Age of Digital Legacy

If I go this fast, I wonʼt see anything. If I slow it down ... then I wonʼt have seen everything before it disappears.101 - Susan Sontag, Unguided Tour The metamorphosing ʻrealʼ of the fast-paced societies analysed by Bauman, Virilio and Baudrillard poses ever-evolving challenges for inhabitants, not least with regards to each individualʼs relationship with time. The predicament evoked above by Sontag, from her 1984 short story Unguided Tour, refers in its intended context merely to the dilemmas of a sightseer; it could just as easily, however, describe the existential quandaries with which the liquid modern individual must grapple. The speed with which we careen through life in todayʼs world leaves no time to luxuriate in static experience. As Virilio exclaims, ʻit is always a race!ʼ 102: a race, as society, toward the technology that may eventually make us superfluous; a race, as individuals, towards the next commodity, the next experience, the next identity. The new is constantly sought, yet never quite obtained; it perpetually eludes our grasp, as by the time we reach it, a newer new can be glimpsed upon the horizon.


Paul Virilio, ʻThe Museum of Accidentsʼ, p.257 Sontag, ʻUnguided Tour, p.374 102 Virilio, ʻThe Information Bombʼ, p.202 101


Contemporary living is characterised by a rapid obsolescence of experience. The past no longer informs our future as it has in bygone years – indeed, there is little time to reflect upon it at all. Accelerating beyond postmodernismʼs irreverent and fragmented historicism, our modus operandi becomes to eradicate past experience, both personal and vicarious. This does not, however, indicate a return to the deliberateness demonstrated by modernism; it is merely a side effect of our unforgiving velocity. According to Bauman, this effacement, combined with a lack of desire to commit to a fixed future, has the result that:

[…an individualʼs] identity is forever stuck in its present, denied now its lasting significance as the foundation of the future.103 For, although the persistent forward-thrust of modern society would seem to prioritise the future as opposed to the here and now, the liquid modern individualʼs priority is upon flexibility, upon loose ties and commitments of the sort discussed in Chapter 2.3: a fixed plan for the future is, then, undesirably binding. Aside from this, in the time required to formulate such plans, one might find oneself already left in the past. Virilio cautions against this obstinate presentness, which he argues allows no provision for contingency.

A society which rashly privileges the present – real time – to the detriment of both the past and the future, also privileges the accident.104 This modern relationship to time – ʻcontemporalityʼ, as we might refer to it – must also take into account that which Sontag identified in 1977: the phenomenon by which present is transformed into past almost instantaneously. This is, of course, a side effect of the rapid pace of modern society; yet Sontag raises an important point with regards to the role played by documentation in our relationship with the present.

Cameras establish an inferential relation to the present (reality is known by its traces), provide an instantly retroactive view of experience.105


Bauman, Liquid Life, p.33 Virilio, ʻThe Museum of Accidentsʼ, p.256 105 Sontag, ʻThe Image-Worldʼ, p358 104


Thus, we see that the urge to document, in images – as mentioned in Chapter 3.3 every facet of lived experience means that each of these moments is encountered with the detachment of one already regarding the past. It must be noted, of course, that Sontagʼs writing predates the advent of digital photography; in the 1970s, even a Polaroid necessitated a few seconds of waiting - of dead time - whilst the present transformed itself into a reviewable relic. In todayʼs world, an image may be viewed virtually as soon as the shutter is released. Ironically, what is lost by this instantaneity is immediacy; the direct and experiential is sacrificed, in favour of the optical and analytical.

Curiously, given our lack of time to dwell upon the past (and our urge, as Bauman claims, to efface it through an on-going revision of our identity), this accelerated demise of the present is brought about by the compulsive creation of legacy. These ʻtracesʼ by which we know reality are perhaps an effort to counter the terrors of transience: to assert the self not only on a personal, temporal level, but also as having significance outside of the fleeting ʻnowʼ. In her analysis of Marx, Scarry describes his designation of objects as the ʻmaterial memorializationʼ106 of the labours that went into their making. In this way, then, the material world preserves and reconstitutes the body and sentience of generations past.

Yet if this is the case, what is the nature of the legacy created by the inhabitants of the digital age? Newly coded and virtual, our ʻtracesʼ relinquish their claim upon the body twofold: firstly, with their lack of physical ʻmade-nessʼ they are a memorialisation of immateriality only; second, this immateriality frees them from having any direct impact upon the physical world. A virtual legacy cannot be touched, cannot be physically encountered in any way. It does not impinge upon the individual through its weight, its materiality, or its size; the traditional dialogue between body and object is lost.

In a sense, the legacy left by the individual of the digital age is infinitely greater than that of our predecessors: files, photographs, videos, and data can be stored ad 106

Scarry, The Body in Pain, p.247


nauseam without concern for the limits of physical space. Indeed, the plummeting costs of digital storage have virtually removed the need ever to press ʻdeleteʼ. The ʻtimelineʼ feature recently developed by Facebook creates an accessible document of each userʼs online ʻlifeʼ in its entirety, the only limits to which are each individualʼs ʻeditingʼ of their virtual identity, as discussed in Chapter 3.3, and the date at which the user joined the website. This, more than anything before it, serves to demonstrate the extent to which contemporary identity and legacy are defined by online interactions.

Far from providing individuals with the reassurance they seek as to their solidity in the face of time, however, the contemporal individualʼs denial of evanescence serves only to exacerbate it. What is achieved by the great preservability of digital legacy is a sort of transience through multiplicity, as the dense mire of information and imagery rapidly becomes superfluous, irrelevant. One may chronicle the trivialities of oneʼs entire life within the digital realm – but one cannot guarantee, as the clock ticks ever faster, that these traces will be reviewed.



Irrespective of societal shifts and technological advancement, we see that the individualʼs conflict between connection and isolation persists. The intention of this discussion has not been to propose solutions to this, but rather to explore shifts in the nature and implications of this inherent dilemma over the years, and of its effect upon life within contemporary society.

Despite the many obstacles to achieving complete communication and togetherness, we have not resigned ourselves, as a species, to a life of isolation. On the contrary, the perceived difficulties of obtaining a satisfactory connection with others have prevented stagnation, fuelling creativity in the search for new channels, new technologies, and new strategies that may help us to achieve our goals. Blakeʼs designation of contraries as catalysts for progress remains as apt in the twenty-first century as it was in the eighteenth.

Rather than closing interpersonal divides, however, technology has served in many respects to create a greater distance between individuals: ʻthe law of least effortʼ makes life ever easier for the individual, and diminishes the necessary reach of our self-projection, moving seemingly towards an essentially introverted and narcissistic existence which Virilio compares to a ʻhabitable comaʼ, in which ʻthe key feature will be control over ego-centric (introverted) space.ʼ107

If this total isolation were to be mankindʼs fate (which does in fact seem improbable, given our enduring struggle for connection in the face of adversity), our resultant loss of physicality would leave the human with very little. The cybernetic individual, in the words of Virilio,


Virilio, ʻEnvironmental Controlʼ, p.151


[…] effectively loses the capacity to experience himself as a centre of energy; he becomes useless and will eventually become totally superfluous when faced with the automation of his productive and perceptual functions.108 This experience of the innate vitality of the self – of rawness, aliveness, fleshiness; of ʻCrueltyʼ109 and ʻEvilʼ,110 if we are to quote Artaud and Blake – is the essential core of being. The human condition resists rationalisation, and therein lays its perpetual intrigue.

Art is the articulation of these struggles, pushed onwards by our dilemmas; it retains its potency and importance because of the impossibility of total resolution. The body is central to these struggles; even if the struggle pulls consciously away from it, it is nevertheless the object that is pulled away from.

This discussion is not to be read as a condemnation of technological advancement, of online connectivity, of the creation of virtual data. The effortless exchange of information via the Internet has allowed a flow of linguistic, aural and visual stimuli to be circulated between previously disparate individuals, and although, as seen in Chapter Three, these systems of communication may not create absolute connections between people, they nevertheless provide fertile ground for thought, creativity and action. The immense value of this online freedom has been reasserted in the light of widespread opposition to the ʻSopaʼ and ʻPipaʼ bills recently proposed in the USA111. What this discussion hopes to express is simply that this virtual communication cannot be prioritised at the expense of physical experience; rather, the two must be allowed to engage in a dialogue together. If none of the information transferred online were grounded in a reference to the corporeal, all virtual exchange would become hopelessly self-referential, and its energy would be lost. There remains a strand of vibrancy to be found in the physical world – in the body, in organic and made objects, in face-to-face interaction, in experiencing the moment 108

Virilio, ʻFrom Sexual Perversion to Sexual Diversionʼ, p.183 Artaud, ʻThe Theatre and its Doubleʼ, p.77 110 Blake, ʻThe Marriage of Heaven and Hellʼ, p.144 111 The ʻStop Online Piracy Actʼ (Sopa) and ʻProtect Intellectual Property Actʼ (Pipa) are proposed as a means of tackling online piracy, yet many have expressed concerns as to their potentially adverse effects upon online freedom, drawing comparisons to the Internet censorship currently in place in China and Iran. – Unknown author, ʻSopa and Pipa anti-piracy bills controversy explainedʼ 109


(prioritising the present in a directly experiential sense, as opposed to prioritising its petrification) â&#x20AC;&#x201C; that can be greatly complemented by the virtual, but which itself eludes simulation.

We need not nervously await further technological advancement to see the human become redundant in its own lifetime; the twentieth centuryĘźs rejection of metanarratives, both religious and manmade, outlines our condition as essentially superfluous beings. Without assumptions of significance outside of our personal sphere, we must embrace significance within it; without hope of an outright togetherness, we must use our flawed communications to our advantage, as a catalyst for discourse, creativity, and progress.



Articles: Barthes, Roland, ʻFrom Work To Textʼ in Image - Music - Text (Oxford: Flamingo, 1984), pp.155-164 Barthes, Roland, ʻThe Grain of the Voiceʼ in Image - Music - Text (Oxford: Flamingo, 1984), pp.179-189 Friedrich, Rainer, ʻThe Deconstructed Self in Artaud and Brecht: Negation of Subject and Antitotalitarianismʼ, in Forum For Modern Language Studies, 1990, XXII, pp. 282 – 297. Gallasch, Keith, ʻNational Review of Live Arts: Bloodlineʼ, in RealTime Issue 52, DecJan 2002 p. 31 Lowry, Joanna, ʻWithin the Horizon of Time: The Video Work of Rineke Dijkstraʼ, in Rineke Dijkstra: Location (London: Photographersʼ Gallery, 1997) [pp.n/a] Macel, Christine, ʻLetʼs Dance: Art, Dance and the Social Turnʼ, in Flash Art July – September 2011 Orbach, Susan, ʻBody Politicsʼ, in The Guardian, 26th June 2000, p.2 Putnam, Hilary, ʻBrains in a Vatʼ, in Reason, Truth and History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), pp. 1-21 Sontag, Susan, ʻThe Image-Worldʼ from ʻOn Photographyʼ, in A Susan Sontag Reader (London: Penguin, 1982), pp. 349 - 370 Sontag, Susan, ʻThe Aesthetics of Silenceʼ from ʻStyles of Radical Willʼ, in A Susan Sontag Reader (London: Penguin, 1982), pp. 181 - 204 Sontag, Susan, ʻUnguided Tourʼ from ʻI, etceteraʼ, in A Susan Sontag Reader (London: Penguin, 1982), pp. 371 - 384 Vergine, Lea, ʻDiffused Body and Mystical Bodyʼ, in Body Art and Performance: The Body as Language (Milan: Skira Editore, 2007), pp.269-291 Vergine, Lea, ʻThe Body as Language. Body Art and Like Storiesʼ, in Body Art and Performance: The Body as Language (Milan: Skira Editore, 2007), pp.7-27 Virilio, Paul, ʻCandid Cameraʼ, in The Paul Virilio Reader, ed. Steve Redhead (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004) pp.121-134


Virilio, Paul, ʻEnvironmental Controlʼ, in The Paul Virilio Reader, ed. Steve Redhead (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004) pp.135-154 Virilio, Paul, ʻFrom Sexual Perversion to Sexual Diversionʼ, in The Paul Virilio Reader, ed. Steve Redhead (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004) pp.175-190 Virilio, Paul, ʻThe Aesthetics of Disappearanceʼ, in The Paul Virilio Reader, ed. Steve Redhead (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004) pp.57-82 Virilio, Paul, ʻThe Information Bombʼ, in The Paul Virilio Reader, ed. Steve Redhead (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004) pp.197-208 Virilio, Paul, ʻThe Museum of Accidentsʼ, in The Paul Virilio Reader, ed. Steve Redhead (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004) pp.255-262 Volz, Jochen, ʻUncertainty Principlesʼ, in Frieze Magazine January / February 2012, p.13

Books: Ahrens, Carston, Jaume Plensa (Barcelona: Ediciones Poligrafa, 2003) Artaud, Antonin, ʻThe Theatre and its Doubleʼ, in Antonin Artaud: Collected Works, Volume Four, trans. Victor Corti (London: Calder and Boyers Ltd., 1974) Barthes, Roland, A Loverʼs Discourse: Fragments (London: Vintage, 2002) Baudrillard, Jean, Why Hasnʼt Everything Already Disappeared? (Calcutta: Seagull Books, 2009) Bauman, Zygmunt, Liquid Life (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2005) Bauman, Zygmunt, Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2003) Blake, William, ʻThe Marriage of Heaven and Hellʼ, in The Early Illuminated Books (London: Tate Gallery Publications, 1993) pp.113-224 Blanchot, Maurice, The Infinite Conversation, trans. Susan Hanson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993) Butler, Rex, Jean Baudrillard: The Defence of the Real (London: Sage, 1999) Conrad, Joseph, Heart of Darkness (St Ives: Penguin, 1973) Dijkstra, Rineke, Rineke Dijkstra: Location (London: Photographersʼ Gallery, 1997)


Foucault, Michel, Language, Counter-Memory, Practice, ed. Donald F. Bouchard, trans. Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977) Gardner, Howard, Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons (New York: Basic Books, 2006) Laing, R.D., The Divided Self (St. Ives: Penguin, 2010) Lechte, John, Fifty Key Contemporary Thinkers (London: Routledge, 1994) Myerson, Roger B., Game Theory: Analysis of Conflict (USA: Harvard University Press, 2007) OʼReilly, Sally, The Body in Contemporary Art (London: Thames and Hudson, 2009) Phelan, Peggy, Mourning Sex: Performing Public Memories (London: Routledge, 1997) Sartre, Jean-Paul, Existentialism and Humanism (London: Methuen, 1980) Sartre, Jean-Paul, Nausea (Aylesbury: Penguin, 1967) Sartre, Jean-Paul, What is Literature? (Bristol: JW Arrowsmith, 1986) Scarry, Elaine, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988) Seiff, Jeanloup, Dance (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1999) Singleton, Brian, Artaud: Le Théâtre et son Double (London: Grant & Cutler Ltd., 1998) Sontag, Susan, Regarding the Pain of Others (St. Ives: Penguin, 2004) Van Alphen, Ernst, Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self (London: Reaktion, 1992) Wittgenstein, Ludwig, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, trans. D. F. Pears & B. F. McGuinness (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1961) Yagid-Haimovich, Meira, Gaetano Pesce (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv Museum of Art / New York: Peter Joseph Gallery, 1991)



Madeleine Bunting, ʻPhone hacking scandal outrages human decencyʼ. The Guardian. <> (13/02/12) Mark Fernandes, ʻThe Body Without Memoryʼ, CTHEORY online journal, 11/13/2002. <> (18/02/12) Sigmund Freud, ʻOn Transienceʼ. Freudʼs Requiem website, 2005. <> (11/11/11) Dr. Melissa Gregg, Mobile Screens Research Database (profile), 2008. <> (11/12/11) Elle Krupnick, ʻH&M Uses Fake Bodies With Real Heads For Modelsʼ, 06/12/11. Huffington Post website. <> (12/12/11) Albert Mehrabian, ʻʼSilent Messagesʼ -- A Wealth of Information About Nonverbal Communication (Body Language)ʼ, Albert Mehrabian website. <> (20/02/12) David Rudrum, ʻLiving Alone: Solipsism in Heart of Darknessʼ. Project Muse website. < html> (20/10/11) Jenna Sauers, ʻH&M Puts Real Model Heads on Fake Bodiesʼ, 05/12/12. Jezebel website. <> (12/12/11) Dennis Smith, ʻZygmunt Bauman, Strategic Disengagement and Sociological Hermeneuticsʼ, Loughborough University website. < ,%20Strategic%20Disengagement%20and%20Sociological%20Hermeneutics.pdf> (05/01/12) Alexandra Topping, ʻFashion Industry Faces Airbrushing Clampdownʼ. The Guardian website, July 2010. <> (20/02/12) Jane Wakefield, ʻ2010: The Year That Privacy Died?ʼ BBC News website. <> (14/02/12) Michael Zhang, ʻH&M Photoshops Model Heads Onto CGI Bodiesʼ, 07/12/12. Petapixel website. <> (12/12/11) [From hereafter, authors are unknown; websites are listed alphabetically by title]


ʻAlienation Effect (Theatre)ʼ, Britannica Online Encyclopedia website. <> (14/02/12) Disordered Eating: Information About Eating Disorders website. <> (13/12/11) ʻDo you regard yourself as belonging to any particular religion?ʼ British Social Attitudes survey. 2009. < FW&SurveyID=348>(15/11/11) ʻEating Disorder Statistics (UK)ʼ. Disordered Eating website. <>(15/02/12) Facebook, social networking website. <> (03/02/12) Flickr, photo sharing website. <> (07/02/12) Google+, social networking site. <> (06/02/12) ʻʻItaly Bans ʻNo Anorexiaʼ Posterʼ, 20/10/07, BBC News website. <> (13/12/11) ʻIsabelle Caro – Nolitaʼ, Disordered Eating website, 2011. <> (19/02/12) Jean-Paul Sartre, Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy website. <> (13/02/11) ʻMeat Joy, 1964ʼ, Carolee Schneeman, artistʼs website. <> (25/01/12) ʻNo Anorexiaʼ Model Isabelle Caro Dies Aged 28ʼ, 29/12/10, BBC News website. <> (13/12/11) ʻNonverbal Communicationʼ, Selling and Persuasion Techniques website. <> (06/02/12) ʻSopa and Pipa anti-piracy bills explainedʼ, BBC News website. <> (12/02/12) Twitter, social networking website. <> (03/02/12) ʻVirtual Worlds, Avatars, free 3D chat, online meetings – Second Life Official Siteʼ, Second Life. <> (19/02/12)



Visits and lectures: Dr. Sarah Neilly, ʻShifting Identity: Sex, Gender and Online Identityʼ, lecture, The Glasgow School of Art, 26th November 2009 Dr. Sarah Smith, ʻThe Body and the Selfʼ, lecture, The Glasgow School of Art, 1st October 2009 ʻFrancis Baconʼ, retrospective exhibition at Tate Britain, London, November 2008. ʻPostmodernism 1970-1990ʼ, exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, October 2011

Film and Television: Blade Runner. Dir. Ridley Scott. Warner, 1982. (Warner DVD) Stalker. Dir. Andrei Tarkovski. Artificial Eye, 1979. (Artificial Eye Film Co Ltd DVD) The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom. Dir. Adam Curtis. BBC, 2007 (Sourced


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