Bodies and Spaces…

Bodies and Spaces: Challenging borders and demarcations

Session chairs:

Moa Goysdotter, Ph.D. candidate, Art History and Visual Studies, Lund University [email protected]

Erika Larsson, Ph.D. candidate, Art History and Visual Studies, Lund University

[email protected]


Bio-identity, globalization, and the (in)visible body: the use of biometrics in migration control

Max Liljefors, Associate professor, Division of Art History and Visual Studies, Lund University ([email protected])

Biometrics, “measurements of life”, is increasingly used to identify and authorize people in migration control and in the “war on terror” across the globe. Technologies for automated fingerprint identification, iris and retina scanning, facial and hand recognition, sonar identification by voice patterns, DNA profile, and even brainwave patterns, have replaced manual biometric methods, such as the classic fingerprint analysis system devised by Francis Galton in the nineteenth century.

In Europe and the USA, large-scale implementations of biometrics in border control were initiated or reinforced after the terror attacks in New York 2001, Madrid 2004 and London 2005. Today biometric data are stored in so-called e-passports, and will be central in the next Schengen Information System (SIS II), expected to launch in 2013. Biometrics is also used in the EU Visa Information System (VIS), rolled out in 2009 for applicants from North Africa and the Middle East, and in EURODAC, the fingerprint database of asylum seekers to the EU, Switzerland, Norway, and Iceland. Seen in financial terms, legislative compulsions have made the biometrics industry virtually immune to the recent financial crisis: profits are near-guaranteed when the use of a product is stipulated by law.

Automated biometric methods record miniscule bodily distinctions, computes patterns from them, and matches those patterns against already existing records in vast international databases. Thus biometrics determines identity on two levels, the micro-level of diminutive physiological structures and the macro-level of electronic networks, both of which are basically inaccessible to the targeted individual and unrelated to his or her sense of selfhood.

This paper will discuss the role of the visible and the visual (Didi-Huberman) in biometrics, in connection to questions of subjectivity and citizenship (Agamben) in the era of bio-sociality (Rose). The biometrical tracing of invisible bodily characteristics transforms the body, on its basic biological level, into the source of a discourse about personal and societal identity. This discourse paradoxically originates from the unique individual body, but is at the same time inaccessible for the targeted person. In a sense then, the subject is faced with its own body speaking against it, literally in a silent “language of the flesh”. The subject is exposed by its own body to global systems of biopolicing designed to administer the movement of bodies across territories. This concretely influences the “look” of Europe: 80 % of the persons registered in the current SIS are non-Europeans.

In many ways, then, biometrics is about visibility, recognition, exposing, seeing patterns and regulating appearances. However, at the same time biometrics resists being defined as a form of “visual culture”, because it operates on or beyond the very limits of visibility and do not result in actual pictures: biometric data do therefore rarely transcend into visual meaning. Biometrics determines and authorizes societal identities and mandates through visual recognition, but tends to eclipse the process of méconnaissance, held to be intrinsic to ideological interpellation (Lacan, Althusser). Instead, biometrics inscribes statuses, such as citizenship or statelessness, onto the biological fabric of the human organism, bypassing the subject as a site of meaning. Biometrics is part of a broader family of bioimaging technologies, which are rapidly spreading in society and culture at large. Their challenges to our understanding of visuality and visibility therefore need to be addressed with an interdisciplinary approach from the humanities and social sciences.


I am Sitting in a Room – Sound Art in a Phenomenological Perspective

Stina Marie Hasse Jørgensen, University of Copenhagen, Department of Arts and Cultural Studies

stinahas[email protected]

“I am sitting in a room” – a voice speaks to us from a room different from the room we are in right now.  We are listening to a man with a slight stutter, who tells us how his voice will get transformed throughout the duration of his sound piece. His voice will be smoothed out by the sound of the room in which he is recording his voice.

The voice belongs to the sound artist Alvin Lucier, who, in his well-known artwork I am Sitting in a Room from 1969, experiments with the identity of the voice, the creation of space and how to make the inaudible depth of the room audible to us. The piece is created though a performance of recording and playing back audio in a repetitive pattern, so it creates a continuous circular movement.

In the paper presentation at the Nordik 2012 Conference, the listening experience of the character of the voice, the silence, the sound, the resonance and the sonic transformation that is created through the use of music technology in I am Sitting in a Room will be discussed in relation to the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology. We can use phenomenology to understand the process of how sound art is created and experienced in relation to the space, the body and the music technology. Even though Merleau-Ponty does not write extensively about sound, his theory includes the sensory apparatus of the whole body – which includes the ability to hear.

The phenomenology formulated by Merleau-Ponty, is based on the notion that we are situated in the world with our body and that our perception of place and time always starts with our own bodies as the center for our engagement in the world. Perception is then created through a corporeal embodiment of the world. This creates not one but many perspectives, since we move around in space and time. When we listen to I am Sitting in a Room we become aware of our existence as sensitive people. Alvin Lucier’s sonic performance can activate the listener to reflect on the notions of perception, subjectivity and the way we interact with our environment. When we sense the sound alone or together with others we become aware of our own existence as humans sensing in a historical and cultural context. We acknowledge that we exist in time and space.

Today we tend to understand the world from multiple decentralized perspectives with myriad virtual and physical connections that create experiences with no single viewpoint or center. The discussion unfolding in the following is relevant because it provides a different understanding of music through its use of philosophy as an instrument to analyze and question what sound is. In a larger perspective the purpose of this paper is not only to explore sound art in a phenomenological perspective -as a continuous process of creation in relation to the listener situated in a room- but also to discuss how we perceive the world through sound as an active act of listening.


Ambiguous Self: Gender-blending and transvestite performance in fin de siècle Berlin cabaret

Carin Jorgensen, Dept. of Art History, University of St Thomas

[email protected]

The notion of men portraying women, and conversely, woman imitating men- often referred to as cross dressing or transvestite performance-usurped the bourgeois stage of the fin de siècle1. The fascination with gender blending and sexual ambiguity had been popularized by the theatre for centuries, dating back to Shakespeare’s all male cast; however, the social and sexual rebellion of the cabaret, made the concept of cross-dressing a decadent obsession.

Lenard Berlanstein’s2 article, “Breaches and Breeches: Cross-Dress Theater and the Culture of Gender Ambiguity in Modern France,” examines the social and political constructs surrounding the transvestite behavior in Europe. Berlanstein argues that theatrical gender ambiguity was produced to evoke unfettered individuality and sexuality within a society confined by conservative moral and historical standards of self representation. Author, Nancy Davies3, bolsters Berlanstein’s claim in her article, “ Women on Top,” which posits that early modern France’s, “hierarchical society, lacking metaphors of popular participation, privileged cross dressing as a way of making potent statements about authority.”

The modern cabaret of the turn of the century was an artist’s reflecting pool- mirroring the concern, chaos, and crises of a war-stricken century through the medium of dance, song, poem, and satire. The postwar societies throughout Europe reacted to the surge of nationalism by reviving the idea of individuality and self expression, a concept synonymous with the Arts and Crafts movement of the nineteenth-century. The cabaret developed in France as a blending of the artistic minds; Le Chat Noir 4(The Black Cat) was formed in 1881 to interpret the political injustice through art of all media; “the cabaret audiences demanded and got direct reference to current events. The excitement of what was happening in the streets was mirrored on the cabaret stage not as abstract opposition but as specific and circumstantial criticism.”5

Contemporaneous to the allegations within the borders of France, in 1916 Germany, amidst the rise of anti-establishment and self expression, the cabaret movement of DADA originated, with the intent of “mirroring [the] debacle of western civilization by demolishing art and even language.”6 Bolstered by the pioneering elements of cabaret, DADAism elevated the artistic experience to that of surrealism, with strong undertones of sexuality, decadence, and symbolism. Summarized by Hulsenbeck, a creator to the movement, DADAism epitomized the question, “For the first time in history the consequence had been drawn from the question ‘What is German Culture?’ (Answer: ‘shit’) and this culture is attacked with all the instruments of satire, bluff, irony and finally violence. Beyond anything else, DADA was the artist’s revolver.”7 If cabaret was the revolver, then sexuality, gender blending, and ambiguity were the bullets.

This paper will discuss the cabaret movement’s exploitation of social standards through gender blending and transvestite performances, as it relates to the interpreter and the performer’s blurred definition of self- be it gender, sexuality, language, or stimulant. Moreover, the paper will analyze the transformation of individual from the ‘known self’ as defined by the gender roles of society, to the ‘ambiguous self,’ as defined by the reaction to a stimulant or environment.

To limit the generalization in the discussion, I will construct the paper, and the underlying arguments, within the context of the Weimar-era cabaret scene in Berlin, Germany, with additional focus on Eric Kastner’s perverse poem, Ragout fin de siècle (1930). Among conclusion, the cabaret will inarguably be defined as a catalyst of trickery and temptation; a degenerate society created to counterbalance the fettering social and moral standards of the fin de siècle.


Size Matters: Print culture versus museum spectacle in Denmark post World War II

Karen Westphal Eriksen, PhD, Research Fellow, Dept. of Arts and Cultural Studies, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

[email protected]

The paper challenges the reigning definition of modernism with regards to Danish post war art. It discusses the issue of controversy and politics with regards to modernist media, particular that of small scale graphic art as found in the avant-garde art magazine Helhesten (The Hell-horse) in the 1940s and the Danish left wing journal Dialog (Dialogue) in the 1950s. The political and medial context of the journals displaces the art from the museum space and as a consequence they have historiographically become separated from the canon of art history.

I propose a discussion of the spaces of the modernist museum and its art history versus the space and page – the magazine as site for art – and argue that the controversies raised by a museum such as the Danish museum of modern art Louisiana (opened in 1958) with e.g. the 1961 exhibition Bevaegelse i kunsten (Movement in Art) was less of a controversy compared to the marginalized and generally forgotten political issues raised by art and writing in modernist magazines such as Helhesten and Dialog. One could argue that in forgetting the ephemeral and minute art in favor of large scale and traditional art forms such as painting and sculpture, politics and aesthetics have become separate, and in the case of exhibition policy the provocation has failed to enter the modernist museum. This however does not mean that politics and aesthetics was not connected in the 1940s and 1950s, only that is has been left out, perhaps due to both its mediality and its political context.

The focus on art in the context of print culture, rather than in the museum, engages with e.g. Sholette’s debate on New Media Art. The re-integration of print culture into modernism raises topics such as public vs. private space, the politics of reception; and of commodification in the current understanding of high modernism.

Further, it raises the issue of how we might want to exhibit these objects today, in order to counter the neutralizing effect of the art museum and its tendency to privilege large before small, and the visual before discursive.