The Body as an Indexical Reader

Screening #4,

She witnessed the pollution of history. Her body, a battlefield of depraved privacy, loneliness, and terror, succumbed to the inevitable.

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Seduction of a Cyborg, 1994

Against the backdrop of post-socialist transformation, this screening chapter looks at the body politic as a collective, a singular unit, a web of relations, or as part of a staged “social choreography.” In juxtaposition are images of bodies: as organless, cerebral networks in the cognitive-capitalist functional mode and as sites of textual, discursive, and technological inscription and ideological impression. In the selected works, the body travels through the history of the last four decades as a knowledge carrier and as (post-)human hardware.

From mass-choreographed Yugoslav state rituals (Marta Popivoda and Ana Vujanović) through complications around the democratic formation of political will in the moment of revolutionary change (Elske Rosenfeld) to the Berlin street interviews of Shelly Silver, the years before and after the temporal threshold of 1989 are full of dissonances and contradictions. This first part of the chapter is dedicated to the years of systems change, where the goals and agendas that the civil rights movements had lined up in 1989–1991 had to give way to the bitter truths of real capitalism.

The relational and affective aspects of personal and political youth experiences of this period stand at the center of Henrike Naumann’s work, which portrays the members of the right-wing terrorist organization NSU (National Socialist Underground) in their youth in Jena in 1992. Meanwhile, Lene Markusen renders atmospheric images of a morbid urban landscape marked by decay in the post-Soviet era.

The ideological flavor of “catching up on modernization,” as the liberal faction of 1990s transformation researchers defined sociopolitical developments, forms the background to Harun Farocki’s documentary film Die Umschulung (eng. Retraining, 1994). In the series, The Common Sense (2014) by Melanie Gilligan, total control overcomes the subject of the 21st century: a neurologically implanted program multiplies the cognitive capabilities of the protagonists. The interconnections between these works make clear how the techniques of manipulating the human psyche and optimizing work capacities have changed over the course of only two decades to meet the demands that growth paradigms require of so-called human capital’s cognitive resources. Reconditioning is part of an accelerated present where living beings are upgraded with ever novel technical applications.

Lynn Hershman Leeson’s Seduction of a Cyborg (1994) heralds this structural shift in productivity. As economist and philosopher Yann Moulier Boutang (2011) describes in his concept of cognitive capital, besides hardware acting as the physical component and software as the logical part, “wetware” and “netware” have taken on increasing importance as the cerebral, physical element and the networked, collective constituent of intelligence respectively. The belief that recombining new and old forms of knowledge shapes healing, progress, and empowerment informs the work of Tabita Rezaire, who supplies an idiosyncratic sci-fi approach to an epistemology of the future.

  • In 1957, Roland Barthes stated that in “Western” mythology the USSR would be a world halfway between the Earth and Mars to exemplify that the communist world was considered as foreign as another planet. Similar to Barthes’ literary method in his Mythologies book, curator, filmmaker and artist Xandra Popescu scripted three semi-fictional short stories to introduce major paradigms of her screening program O’ Mystical East and West.

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  • Screening Preview

    Preview: THE SUSPENSION AND EXCESS OF TIME

  • The curatorial selection The Suspension and Excess of Time explores the role of time within a period of radical political, social, and economical change. The selected video works focus on the changes different societies were going through during the Perestroika era, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the collapse of the soviet empire. Paying tribute to speculative temporalities, curators Becker and Seehusen will trace people’s everyday experiences in the former “East” and “West” before and after 1989 / 1991.

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  • The changing role and function of language before and after the “transition” cannot be discussed without considering the dimension of authoritarian speech acts in the last phase of socialism. Anthropologist Alexei Yurchak shares the observation that during the authoritarian speech act, sign and reference, language and gesture, word and action merge into each other. This thesis is the foundation for an understanding of the variety of linguistic and performative experiments in post-socialist video art. The curators will focus on video works that reflect upon shifts in language and meaning and employ diverse silent, verbal, performative, activist, and other strategies to discuss collective and personal memory, identity, power relations, gender roles, and socio-political change.

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  • Political protocol tends to dispossess, overwrite, and refurbish unwanted narratives. Parallel to this, there are new agencies that enhance the intersections, reciprocities, and movements between bodies, spaces, objects, and memories. The video art and experimental film works of COSMOS COSMETICS: Unresting Memoryscapes and Corpofictions are concerned with architectural, corporeal, and phantasmatic materializations of internalized mnemonic, and bio-political regimes. Meanwhile they address surface porosities and subcutaneous layers of post-socialist cities. Hence this chapter of screenings in D’EST brings together artistic strategies and methods for unsettling, decontaminating, and queering artificial mono-histories, which stem from the urge to untag and distance the subject from the constraints of conformity, imposed belonging to a certain ethnic group or community, and identitarian politics in general.

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  • The chapter examines the body as a collective, as a singular entity, as a social choreography of an alliance of states, as an organless, cognitive-capitalist, cerebral network, as a corporeal reading instrument of past, former socialist indices, as a place of textual and discursive inscription, but also as a genuine place of affective encounters and material practices. The curators focus on video works and films that flare up the affective, somaesthetic, relational and transformative potentials of the body after 1989 / 1991.

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  • Screening #5

    We are Family

    Entwining autobiographical, historical, and fictional narratives, this screening program examines generational, personal, and political frictions, breaks and entanglements, taking place in the dystopian context of post-1989. The tension bears down on the sphere of the personal and the political maintained through the relationship of the four figures: the figure of Neighbor, the figure of Mother, the figure of Lover and the figure of Other.

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  • Screening #6

    ReTopia

    The screening chapter ReTopia acknowledges “post-socialism” not only as a continental but also as a global phenomenon, though with palpable regional specificity and intensity. It looks at transitional shifts and modes of remembrance of historical processes that evoke forms – rejected, outmoded, disposed from power, gender political, architectural, and even full of potential. Without being afraid of utopian ideology, it looks back and forth and sideways in search of radically different futures. Both curators, Bettina Knaup and Katja Kobolt ask these questions against the backdrop of their individual and collective endeavors to create “temporary archives”: re.act.feminism (2009-2013), a travelling performing archive Bettina Knaup initiated with Beatrice E. Stammer; and Perpetuum Mobile. The Artotheque, a collection of videos and other digitized works initiated by feminist curatorial collective Red Mined within the Living Archive (2011-2015) through the simple act of giving.

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