Embodiment and Method in Art History…


Embodiment and Method in Art History and Visual Studies

Session chair: Max Liljefors, Art History and Visual Studies, Lund University

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Manufacturing the Body: Medical Imaging as a Gateway to Visual Studies

Harun Badakhshi, MD, Assoc. Prof.

Matthias Planitzer, Candid. Med.

Charité School of Medicine and University Hospital, Berlin

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Background: The practice of clinical medicine has become visual. In the very core of medical practices and discourses, display does not belong to interpretation merely as an appendix, but plays an active role in the epistemic scenario of interpretations and subsequent decisions in medical care. Medical imaging thus gives a unique and immediate form of access to the body. Visuality is, in this context, immediately related to the body. It includes a basic epistemic strategy within the medical sciences, and at the same time, it relates to the whole history of our experiences with images.

We are witnessing an accelerated development of visualization technologies and their impact in clinical practice. Through the emergence of neuro-imaging and its novel type of pictures we can now see the convergence of all three, formerly separated body models — the sentient and sensuous, the mental and cultural, the vital and biological — into one single corpus. This new epistemic situation must be understood in its cultural implications and consequences. In this context, we ask for a critical discussion with experts and researchers from visual studies with special regard to the body and its imaging, inside and outside of medicine.

Thesis: The artificial and abstract character of medical imaging leads to ambivalent results. This is based on the involved digital machines for the production of images, which are by their nature modular and manipulable. Their mode of display determines what we see, interpret and conclude. In this gateway between the visual and the body, we have therefore to critically re-evaluate the linkage between the technologies for looking into the body and the interpretation of the images they generate for clinical purposes.

The reciprocity and interaction of the technologies and the interpretive strategies makes possible a complex set of profoundly different conclusions about the state and the dynamics of the body. Furthermore, medical imaging may not only evaluate the status quo of the body and its different manifestations. It has also recently achieved to visualize the manifold relations between these manifestations and the underlying dynamics. Thus, medical imaging is a unique tool to trace their mutual appearance in the form of neuro-plasticity, giving an excellent insight into the consolidation of three above-mentioned body models.


Globalization and the embodied Other in contemporary photography

Erika Larsson

PhD student, Art History and Visual Studies, Lund University

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Globalization is at once a function of uneven patterns of movements across the world, and the incarnation in specific situated instances of the people, objects, images and ideas that participate in these patterns. Generally, discussions around globalization tend to favor master discourses of political relations at the expense of how these more general patterns are incarnated within singular situations. In the realm of the particular, objects, images and ideas are incarnated within materially situated ‘life worlds’, and each ‘world’, although perceivable as participating in certain generalizable patterns, incarnates differently. As Keller Easterling puts it, different worlds ‘maintain their logics, fictions, and boundaries by limiting and excluding information’. Images, furthermore, while from a distance appearing to float above in hermetic ‘image worlds’, participate in these worlds, and become what they are through being instantiated in a particular situations. In order to pay attention to how images are instantiated differently, what is needed is an approach which is grounded in situated space and embodied perception, and which vows to remain with the pre-reflective and fractured being before it is structured into patterns of knowledge.

Taryn Simon’s latest photographic work A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters is made up of eighteen ’chapters’, with each chapter charting a particular family bloodline in particular a place in the world. The bloodlines are documented through series of standardized portraits as well as related photographically recorded objects. Each genealogy is shaped in differing ways by external powers of politics, religion, environmental change or cultural norms, as well as the biological forces of genetics. The chapters include, for example, the family tree of Shivdutt Yadav, an Indian man declared dead by the authorities and struggling to be recognized as living and thus able to profit from his ancestral farmland, and Latif Yahia, who claims to have been the body double of Uday Hussein, Saddam Hussein’s son. The plainness of the documentations and the painstakingly orderly way in which the documents have been presented bring to mind scientific investigation and in particular anthropological documentations of the objects and bodies of ‘uncivilized’ worlds. As such, the presentation fools us into believing that there is a wider pattern to be grasped, a general structure that governs the individuals and objects perceived. It soon becomes clear, however, that any discernable pattern is an illusion, and that the apparent symmetry of the presentation belies a multitude of difference in bodies, materiality, and ideas. Rather than a pattern of powers across globalized space, what the perceiver is left with is a sensuous and embodied meeting with the images as objects, the people and objects that they depict, as well as a sense of the incarnated worlds within which they exist.

Economic and cultural globalization continues to, sometimes calmly sometimes drastically, transform lived spaces. The result of this on-going transformation, however, is not a homogeneous space, but a world still full of difference. More importantly, it is made up of particular instances, and it is within these particulars that people meet their perceived Others; through images, objects, ideas, or as other living bodies. Rather than just looking towards images, object or the bodies of Others to see how they seemingly fit into a general discursive pattern that appears to explain the world around us, what is (also) needed is a recognition of the pre-discursive and carnal understanding of what is at stake in these incarnated meetings. With inspiration from Simon and other contemporary photographers, this paper favours the embodied, incarnated, pre-discursive and suggests that it is rather in this realm that much is left to be learned; not so much about how photographs, images in general, objects and people should to be understood, but rather about how to be in a world of difference together with the images, bodies, and objects of Others with which we share the world.


Embodied and esoteric. Is this the future of photo-methodology?

Moa Goysdotter

PhD student, Art History and Visual Studies, Lund University

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This paper discusses the future of combining methodological perspectives on visuality and photography from photographic theory and methodological perspectives on embodiment in philosophy of technology and cognitive science. The use of mobile cameras has made much of photo theory outdated. We are faced with a new embodied and immediate relation to our cameras. Photographic research thus needs new complementary methodology, and this paper raises a question of where the methodological perspectives of cognitive science and philosophy of technology can take photographic methodology in the future.

Embodiment theories in philosophy of technology and cognitive science has during the last decade become influential on visual studies research, much due to that these theoretical disciplines often are exemplifying their arguments with examples taken from visual perception. This can be explained by pointing at the impact of Merlau-Ponty’s phenomenological theory – where the visual is of great importance – on these theories. Though the high frequency of visuality examples, different types of visual technology are often lumped together into one large generalizable entity and simply called visual technologies.  Images produced by visual technologies are often only treated as passive products without individual features or power. Cognitivist Andy Clark has for example explained contemporary information-processing technology, which we use to carry out cognitive operations, as extensions of the mind where mind and body are seen as non-separable parts of one cognitive loop. Clark means that our contemporary information-processing technology has become more suited to serve us with the tasks that the biological brain carries out and that this family of new technologies are like “(n)on-biological circuits that come to function as parts of the material underpinnings of minds like ours.”

If Clark’s theory is applied on a more specific level onto the camera, it becomes clear that such a view on camera as an integral part of cognition and the mind long has been excluded from photo theory, where constructivism has been dominant since the 70s, and dismissed as essentialist or occult understandings of photographic practice. The theory has clear connections to the ideas flourishing in the esoteric discourse of the late 19th century, when experiments on thought-photography was practiced. Camera was believed to have an immediate access to the mind – partly because the long tradition of anthropomorphic explanations of the mind and perception as a camera obscura, and later a camera.  Is this where photo theory is going again faced with the new embodied use of cameras? In that case there are some important questions to address from a visual studies point of view: How should visual studies deal with the influence of embodiment perspectives from other disciplines, generally and specifically when it comes to photo-methodology? And what will be the contribution from visual studies in a plausible new photo-methodology?


‘because i am a canvas for pain’: on trapped bodies in fields of representation

Hans Sternudd

PhD, senior lecturer, Art Science, Linneaus University

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Self-injury raises questions about the body: questions that emanate from the predominant articulation of self-injury as a communication that uses the skin for communicating inner, unspeakable experiences of pain. Self-injury also raises questions about bodily perceptions and how feelings and affection are interpreted and acted on. In this paper I would like to address the questions: are these interpretations and actions related to bodily constitutions, and if so are differences a ground for the diversity in individual practices?

The feelings and affections that self-injurers find so hard to handle are generally understood as being situated inside the body. Discursive articulations of the body are therefore of the greatest importance for everyone who is interested in understanding self-injuring practices and cultures. Self-injury is predominantly constructed as a medium with the power to communicate unbearable feelings and emotions. From a semiotic perspective, cutting, burning, branding and other forms of self-injury that are visually perceived are signs that are materialised on the border of the body. These are signs that can be of special importance for those who study visual communication.

Pain can certainly be articulated in a multitude of ways; the question concerns why some individuals choose to articulate pain through self-injury and some do not. As a starting point, I will use a photo from my on-going study on photographs of self-injury. This photo depicts a young women with bleeding wounds; over this image a series of phrases are written, starting with: ‘because i have no sense of boundaries.’

In the discussion on how different articulations construct different bodies, I use the phenomenological perspectives from the feministic writings of Iris Marion Young and Toril Moi as a starting point. In a convincing and sympathetic way they both put, theoretically put the lived body at the centre of their writing. Moi’s central argument in What is a Woman? is that bodies initially are experienced as physical entities and that they are gendered later due to specific sociocultural contexts. My question is whether these distinctions clarify anything; following the constructionist approach of Butler and others, I argue that in the end it all comes down to discourse. Or, to put it another way: what is phenomenology good for? Why am I so seemingly hostile? The answer can be traced in my research and my critique of widespread notions on the differences between girls’ and boys’ reactions to feelings-of-badness. Stereotypically, girls turn their anger inwards and boys turn theirs into outward acts.

From a phenomenological perspective the perceived body is crucial. If a type of body has special feelings then it is easier to attribute it with special properties. Self-destructive behaviour among women can be explained this way – it is more natural for particular bodies to be interpreted in a certain way (and to execute certain activities). With the help of the (neo-)psychoanalytic writing of Lilian Munk Rösing, I will argue that these kinds of constructions of the body are random and part of discourses, and that these articulations govern the actions of the individual (in my example direction of action that is taken as a reaction to bad-feelings). Bodies thereby are trapped in a field of representation grounded on a phenomenologically limiting and repressing concept of the body.