Infobiobodies: Art & Esthetic Strategies in the New World Order



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Infobiobodies: Art & Esthetic Strategies in the New World Order

Yvonne Volkart


Published in: Sollfrank, Cornelia (ed.), Reader »Next Cybefeminist International«, Berlin 1999. Reprint in Axis-Reader, Amsterdam 2000

In the current reconstruction of the world order, and with respect to globalization and pancapitalism, culture and art have become important factors of more or less obvious means of policy. Especially since the overwhelming scientific and social development of communications technology and biotechnology, discourse concerning the blurring of the borders of gender and body has been producing and installing "new bodies." Therefore, the arts, as a field of the visual, hold a dominant and activist place in our growing visualized society which is dominated by styles and commodities. This paper questions several contemporary art projects in different media which all have in common that they deal with the theme of the technological and/or new biological body. From a cyberfeminist point of view, it analyses and critiques hidden ideologies and phantasms and then proceeds to question the possibilities of criticism and agency in the new world order.


Art as Factor of (Bio)Policy

The fact that for the last several years there have been so many art works dealing with the subject of new or mutant bodies whose gender is troubled is not simply an indication of real "trouble" going on, but rather, the reconstruction and production of bodies in trouble. It is visual, social and cultural control. As becoming visibile means coming to representation, it is crucial to ask: What kind of bodies are extensively represented by visual arts, bodies being influenced by and influencing popular images? Who are the most often named artists and in which contexts do they exhibit? Why do they prefer to show the dark sides of so-called scientific aberrations, and why are they so welcomed when they do? Which role does gender play in this game, and why are these artists so obviously able to reclaim the position of the symptom?


It is obvious that art actually maintains an important symbolic position in an expanding culture. Esthetics, style and beauty have become very essential and influence the everyday ways of living in a posthuman state of mind: ideas of hybridization, of constructivity and performing body and gender, i.e., the faith in the are our state of being. Although we daily practice a certain kind of esthetics, art did not mutate to everyday practices, but still keeps on holding a special and strategic position in this society. In the current reconstruction of the new world order, under the paradigm of pancapitalism, art is an important tool for the visualization of techno phantasms and global fantasies of the future and domination. It is therefore a factor of consolidation and affirmation. Sponsoring mainstream art institutions and events has became a crucial part of the cultural and political work of transnational corporations.

Nevertheless, I do also believe in the possibility of esthetic resistance, although maybe not in the long run, as too many examples of reterritorialization are well known. Artistic intentions, whose starting point is the reflection about both their own involvement in the field of culture and the ongoing universalism of technologies, are crucial from the aspect of symbolic politics. For my point of view, it is not so important to count their successes -- as it might be, and much more so, for activists. The quality of an artistic position which calls itself critical or engaged is -- in a very similar way to theory -- its function of reflection. But it is obvious that this utopian faith in the critical effects of a project or work, which can not be foreseen, has to be intended and realized seriously by an engaged agent. Thus when TV activist Dee Dee Halleck posts to the n5m3-mailing list: "What does it mean to talk of art in a society in which Philip Morris has a partnership with the Whitney Museum, in which Monsanto is sponsoring the rain forest exhibit at the Museum of Natural History? We are all living in a Banana Republic...,"1) I have to essentially agree and say, yes, What does it mean to seek out a critical issue when all these big corporations have already incorporated the critical voices? But furthermore, I think that it is an overestimation of their economic power to think that they can control everything. Therefore, I find it important to think about ways in which one can act in the field of art without supporting the consolidation of hegemonic esthetics and ideologies. How can one resist the ongoing affirmation without having to be explicitly anti-capitalist in one's work? Thus, from my point of view as an art critic, it is very important to differentiate this universal and problematic term "art," which still pretends to be more reflective than, e.g., popular culture, but with regard to the mainstream, is also stabilizing the system. Therefore it is necessary to build (symbolic) spaces in engaged contexts and to initiate critical projects -- especially since the gap between mainstream and engaged art has been enhanced and dispersed in the last several years.


In the field of mainstream art, of information and biotech sciences, there is much affirmative traffic currently going on, and it is mostly being sold as a marriage between art and science. In 1995, e.g., the KFA Jülich, an institution for nuclear research, and by the way, one of the main sponsors of the first "Manifesta" in Rotterdam, initiated a series of exhibitions called "Art and Brain" with Hans Ulrich Obrist as its curator. Exhibiting artists were, among others, Mark Dion, Rosemarie Trockel and Carsten Höller. The latter has earned his reputation above all as a Phd graduate of nature sciences and presents his art works as playful speculative models of science.
In 1996, German art critic Jochen Becker did some very informative research about exhibitions throughout Europe on the subject of biotechnology.2) The most often named artists were -- among the "Young British Artists" Marc Quinn and Damien Hirst -- Carsten Höller, Rosemarie Trockel, Thomas Grünfeld and Inez van Lamsweerde.

In 1998, Californian artist Jason Rhoades, who has since become one of the stars of the Biennale di Venezia, showed his new work "The Creation Myth" in the Zurich-based Gallery Hauser & Wirth & Presenhuber. A big trashy installation symbolized the brain as the site of "creation." Beyond this show, the gallerists invited some important neurologists from the university hospital for an intense, closed-door discussion with the artist where ideas and positions were exchanged.

In the fall of 1998/99 in Germany and Switzerland, five museums organized a series of exhibitions called "Gene Worlds." In the Alimentarium Vevey (CH), which is a cultural institution concerned with the history of food founded by Nestlé, was a show about genetically modified food. The other museums hosted more or less anthropological, biological and current scientific aspects. The Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn hosted a section based more on historical and cultural studies which ended in a presentation of contemporary art. Most exhibitions dealt with interactivity and slogans such as: "Mutation is something very natural; No evolution without mutation; You are a mutant, too," and people could handle chromosomes and behave like biotechnicians. I didn't see this exhibition, but I read the book3) and a review in the Neue Züricher Zeitung. According to the journalist, the art part in Bonn was the only "critical negotiation of the possibilities and impossibilities of genetic engineering."4) The rest must have been an attempt to persuade visitors of the benefits of genetics. Among the art works were, e.g., works from Thomas Grünfeld whose recombinant "misfits" have became quite famous. [image]
One year before these shows (Fall 1997), there was a referendum against genetically modified food in Switzerland, and the advocates of this initiative produced a large book which included images of art as well as Hollywood horror films and popular lyrics.5)The stated intention was to insist on a strong visuality in order to emphasize the horror of the potentially near future caused by biotech. The book included artists such as Cindy Sherman, Inez van Lamsweerde, Aziz & Cucher, Dinos & Jake Chapman and Thomas Grünfeld.

But the book, as well as the key issues of the referendum, were totally unable to outline the ideological and economical backgrounds, not only of the current development of genetically modified food, but also of the recurrent, mostly pure emotional prejudices against genetically modified food and bio-engineering. It was striking to realize how in this visual argumentation phantasms of the so-called normal, whole and sane body were called forth. Most of the represented images seemed to be an aberration of a non-declared normality. And most of the written commentaries dealt with the idea that the image was a (critical) example of a horrible mutation caused by biotechnology. The hidden agenda of the publication was at least that biotechnology will cause invalid and handicapped bodies whose sexual organs become dysfunctional. But while this very didactic ideology despised this near future, the art works were much more ambivalent and, in a certain sense, worked even against the moral intention of the book. For example, the editors commented on Thomas Grünfeld's "misfits" with the following: "The misfits become a document of bad planning and not, as genetic engineers are always promising, an example of an improvement of the world we live in." However, Grünfeld's "misfits" do not only refer to biotechnology but also to a traditional German craftsmanship of constructing so-called "Wolperdinger" monsters, a mixture of various animals. Thus he draws a red thread of man's "essential" fascination of making monsters -- a simplistic linearity in which biotechnology may be only one step. It implies that biotechnology, like all technologies, is a harmless skill, a kind of childish bricolage based on a natural human drive for border-crossing and extension. The idea that bio-engineering is only an advanced form of bricolage is a very hegemonic one which artists like Carsten Höller or exhibitions like “Gene-Worlds” or “Science for Life” provide by allowing visitors to handle chromosomes and mutate cells.

Grünfeld's solo exhibition shows that he is more interested in interpreting the hip and fascinating side of mutation as an arising aspect of posthuman life than reflecting on ongoing biotech fantasies and economies. He merged his "misfits" and some "informe" sculptures with Comme des Garcon's mutant fashion style of the 1997 collection. This mixture as well as the "misfits" are an example of the fact that something like the deformation of the body becomes a style of fashion before it has been accepted in reality: Handicapped bodies are the new future style which you can create and model yourself, like a skirt or a T-Shirt. It is already obsolete to say that this mutant style is more exciting to all of us than every reinstallation of normality.
Fortunately, such undertakings have not been uncriticized. The Shedhalle, e.g., an art institution based in Zurich, has launched several very good and informative exhibitions dealing with the subject of culturalization and legitimization of biotechnologies through the arts..6) In Renate Lorenz's exhibition "nature™, Fair against Gene - and Biotechnology" (1995) Berlin-based artist Natascha Sadr Haghighian showed her videotape "Touch the screen." In this documentary tape, she reveals the deep intertwining of mainstream art and so-called science, or rather, economy. During a visit to London in 1993, Natascha went to the newly opened permanent exhibition "Science for Life" sponsored by the Wellcome Trust, a company which invests a lot of money in the development of the Human Genome project. Expecting to see old medicinal tools and documents, she was overwhelmed by the obvious high tech esthetics of the show. Thus she planned to do her video research in order to answer the questions raised by her experience: "Why does a company spend so much money on an exhibition about medical research? And why does it look like an art exhibition?"7)

Male Panic


[Image] Dinos & Jake Chapman: Zygotic acceleration, biogenetic de-sublimated libidinal model (enlarged x 1000).
According to their own words, the Chapman brothers, well-known representatives of the "Young British Artists," want to create "moral panic." The horror of this sculpture is that these male and female children are grown together like Siamese twins. They do not have sexual organs where people usually have them, but instead, their noses are penises and their mouths are vaginas, and not those of children, but of adults. Except for wearing Nike athletic shoes, they are naked. The topic, as the title suggests, is cell reproduction and sexuality, a kind of reproduction which is detached from the sexual organs. Despite what many critics assume, the Chapmans do not show "polymorphously perverted, multiple, nongenital-fixated orgasms."8) In the contrary, sexuality seems to be something disgusting, ill, unfulfilling and completely lost, because the sexuality of these children seems to be determined only by the sexual organs of adults, who are indeed absent. There are no other aspects of lusty streams and fluids, there is only the invalidity of the so-called normal. Although gender dichotomy seems to have gone away, there is an obvious fixation on sexual organs, like an attempt of an additional reinstallation of something lost: male sexuality and male subjectivity. Thus one gets the impression that there is only domination of the (male) Phallus which wants to penetrate the (female) mouth/vagina. The Chapman brothers are neither critical nor do they create other possibilities than phantasms of a whole, normal, phallocentric, and therefore, only male body. Most of their sculptures, especially those of the series "Chapmanworld" are bodies made from a plastic dummy with a homogeneous shimmering surface. Although they are grown together and although their genitals are not in the right place, or the bodies of some of the other figures are wounded and some members are cut off, all these bodies are not really fragmented in the sense of a deep questioning of the phantasm of a unity of the body. Both the anomalies and the form and materiality of these sculptures effectuate first disgust and horror but then proceed to provide a conservative ideology of beauty, homogeneity and smoothness. They are, in a deep sense, not ironic, and it is no wonder, by the way, that the characters they use in the catalog are Gothic ones, which the Nazis used, too.
[image Charles Ray]

The sculpture "Mannequin, Fall 1991" from US artist Charles Ray causes similar effects of an unsolved convergence of the demonic which has turned into shimmering and at least enjoyable surfaces. Ray also uses the homogeneous body of a dummy and plays with horror and fear, in this example, caused by an oversized woman dressed like a secretary. She is obviously a cyborg monster whose gender (and class) matters, as the documentary photo indicates in which we see the artist standing beside his creation.

This sculpture has been shown in the exhibition "Post Human" (1992), curated by Jeffrey Deitch. This touring exhibition stands at the beginning of an extensive discourse in the arts about the importance of new digital and biotechnologies for the construction and production of new bodies and identities. The term "posthuman," though it was not new then, became an important one to many theorists, and the show has been cited very often. However, new technologies were more a metaphor than tools that were actually used. More than the show, the catalog was an interesting example of a libertarian, evolutionary-based, techno-determined ideology of posthumanism, in the sense of the praraphrase: With the right technology you can change everything, and construct whatever body you want. It contained a lot of images from popular culture and a lot of examples of body manipulations via chemistry, cosmetic surgery and Photoshop. But the art presented in the show, which included works by Cindy Sherman, Kiki Smith, Matthew Barney and Fischli/Weiss, was more or less a contradiction to the ideology of free choice and the positivism of body-altering technologies. It revealed the fears and horrors of an upcoming posthumanism by damaged, disgusting or replicant bodies. According Deitch's own statement, this selection of art had the function of showing the usually not shown.

Homogeneous Surfaces

In all the examples presented here, there is a lack of an art-specific discourse on the economic interests and its involvement in biotechnology. It is very significant that in most of the exhibitions and catalogs which treat the subject of biotech bodies, a huge part of the information has been delivered by scientists or corporate people. The more emotional, rather non-intelligible, mute, and mostly negative aspects are derived from this kind of shock art.

Furthermore, a radical, subversive and ironic pleasure regarding these body and gender troubles -- as, e.g., Donna Haraway suggested in her "Cyborg Manifesto" or Judith Butler in "Gender Trouble" -- is also lacking. In most of these examples, and in many others from the same artists and beyond, the current horror of biotech is represented not only by mutant bodies, but especially by bodies whose gender is in trouble, whose borders between the male and the female are blurring. But instead of enjoying this -- as it may be enjoyed from the utopian point of view of a cyberfeminist perspective -- it is shown as a traumatic experience, as a kind of loss and castration. Many of these artists (and others I will discuss below) perform -- as a strong contradiction to the content of the work -- very homogeneous, compact and perfect works with smooth surfaces. Maybe the intention has been to show the dark side of the glimmering surfaces. But one also gets the impression that the opposite side of the demonic is the beautiful look. Both sides are strongly linked together and seem to presuppose each other.

This current enhancement of beautiful and smooth surfaces, which art provides, is very much dependent on new technologies and new media. I will explain this by using the example of photographic work from Dutch artist/fashion photographer Inez van Lamsweerde.
[image "Well, basically basuco is cocaine mixed with kerosene," 1994]
Inez van Lamsweerde's work is positioned in the center of the very crucial interface between art, fashion, new technologies, and future body issues, where also artists such as Mariko Mori or Matthew Barney can be situated. Her "Thank you Tighmaster" series from 1992 (the same year of the Post Human show) of dummy-like women without vaginas and tits was one of the most cited in the postfeminist discourse on the constructivity of bodies (keyword: gender trouble). These closed female cyborg bodies without holes and hair caused unpleasant and uncanny feelings, too.

With "Well, basically basuco is cocaine mixed with kerosene" (1994, first publication in "The Face"), van Lamsweerde brings together aspects which are crucial from the point of view of a cyberfeminist: posthumanism as a state of being, the cultural impact of (war) technologies and the female appropriation of war and patriarchal technology. In the photographic work we see two very artificial women, dressed in hot pants, plastic-like tights and short T-Shirts, sitting on their sport bicycles, one giving a rocket ice to the other. Behind them on one side is a lake or a river, and on the other side, a lot of fire and smoke, and we see a rocket launching on the same level as the rocket ice. The sky is very blue and the sun is shining. "Well, basically..." tells us that two women are taking over and mutually sharing the phallic power of technology as it is represented by the rocket, the rocket ice and the bicycle. The time in which the image is situated is not so clear; the launch of the Challenger space shuttle signals the early 80s, while the clothing indicates the mid-70s, which are indeed also trendy today. Anyway, it may be the Cold War, which was very important for the development of high technology, synthetics (the garment industry and fashion) and bio-engineering. Or its aftermath. But it could also be today, with the rocket as a heritage of that passed time. This image shows the transfer of war technology to pop and everyday culture (rocket ice), which helps to stabilize technical fantasies. The women seem to be the offspring of this NASA technology; they are totally stereotypical beauties, one with an old-fashioned hairstyle, which we know well from (war) films of the 40s. This might suggest that although there are new technical possibilities, the women remain the same. They are still fetishes of male desire. But beyond that male desire, there are female desires, too. These women want to have the phallus, and want to enjoy what they shouldn't have. They are strong and appropriate male technoculture for themselves.

This image, which condenses the posthuman state of being in which everything is artificial and not innocent, may also be a reflection of Lamsweerde's own technologically based work with Photoshop and Paintbox: The homogeneous surface, often transformed into an enjoyable and consumable image, is not neutral, but rather, forms our way of perceiving and living in reality. Compared to real life and to technologies which intervene in the real body (biotech, e.g.), it is quite simple with these new visual media to redesign beautiful, smooth surfaces in which every disturbing object is eliminated. Unfortunately, especially in the arts, there is not very much discourse about this performative aspect of new technologies and media and how this visual control is taken as real. Thus the ideological effects of the seemingly formal means are one factor in the process of redesigning new bodies. The other one lies more directly in the concept of the drawn bodies whose homogeneity and closeness come mostly from white male fantasies.

The symptom is always female

Thus, in this discourse of homogeneous surfaces, which provide uncanny feelings and dominate the so-called "critical" visual discourse about future bodies, follows another significant variation. Its appearance is not demonic and dreadful but sweet and lovely. I would like to illustrate this topic with the works of New York-based Japanese artist Mariko Mori, whom the art world actually regards as representative of the approaching cyborg world.

[Image: Miko no Inuri]

Mori began her work by posing and exaggerating stereotypical female situations of Japan's everyday life. She performed "Tea Ceremony" (1994) in a shopping mall, dressed like a woman from outer space, or ventured into the subway system wearing an astronaut's outfit. In the photo “Empty Dream” (1995), she was a mermaid in an artificial, covered Japanese seabath. She captured these strange situations in her double-bind role as a Japanese girl and woman from outer space in monumental, perfect photographic works. Later, the subject of her photographs and 3-D installations became more esoteric. In many works, she performs as a priest/goddess/Madonna/woman staged in a virtual, cosmic and esoteric world of fluidity, femininity and desexualised eroticism. In the photograph "Mirror of Water" (1996-98) [image], we see her, replicated many times over, with blue hair, wandering around in a mysterious stalactite cave in which a strange, futuristic vehicle is located. In a similar way to van Lamsweerde's "Well, basically...," this image could demonstrate in a very ironic sense the idea that old female stereotypes (in this case, romantic ones of virgin/water/cave/uterus/Novalis's blue flower) do not cease to exist with new technologies, but that on the contrary, new variations have been developed. On the other hand, this image is not so clear in its historical and social references in the way that van Lamsweerde's is, and it lacks the acerbic humor which turns the image from Lamsweerde into a precise visual statement. Here, the romanticism represented falls back to the image itself and seems to reconcile nature, femininity and technology. Thus one has to ask: What does it imply to recite female stereotypes without at least contextualizing them precisely? It seems that only because we already know these clichés so well is Mori able to play so sovereignly with them, to make allusions and to create wonderful and strong images. But she has nothing else to add to these popular codes, and so, in the end, these images remain boring and meaningless.

The US art historian Norman Bryson wrote about Mori: "I surmise that there may be a good deal of resistance to Mori's tableaux, often taking the form of an unspoken accusation that this is the work of a Sailor Moon princess, utterly spoiled by the luxuries of their techno-toys. But there may be a rather different way to understand her strategy, which is to m i m e the process of capitalist production/ consumption, to personify the energies of the current stage of the social formation, and by wholly yielding to popular culture's power-from-below, to give it an intelligible outline and form, portraying the present psycho-social moment by occupying, not the place of the critical analysis, but the place of the critical symptom."9) Bryson is right when he assumes that Mori is positioning herself at the place of the symptom. But this position has nothing to do with something critical or resistant. Mori's highly seductive and hybrid visual quality, her condensation of female stereotypes, her perfect images of reconciliation fit too well with mainstream esthetics, not only yielded by popular culture, but also from so-called high art, which still maintains the status of being more critical than "culture from below." I don't believe that in this time of medial homogenization of real differences on the one hand, and of the intensification of ideological differences on the other, the strategy of mimetics is subversive enough. A critical position is one which opens the gap and shows us that there is no reconciliation, that there are breaks and shifts and scars. A critical approach needs metaphors of system crashes and possibilities of intrusion. For me, this kind of symptomatic art, however interesting it may be in the construction and hybridization of ongoing phantasmatic and ideological images of women and capitalism, plays too strong a creative role in the consolidation of a homogenic universal techno world without differences.

Beyond Bryson's remark that Mori occupies the place of the symptom of capitalism, I have to add that she occupies the traditional symptomatic place women have always occupied: She represents the crisis with her body and reconciles nature with technology, mankind with the machine. And it is not clear what -- beyond this significant function as a mediator -- the profits for women might be. Or does Mori in her function as artist/model/priest/cyborg tell us of a future which will be female only? Is that the reason why there is so much peace and harmony in her works, for there is no longer a male subject who struggles against the loss of his manliness and subjectivity as in many of the works discussed above? Does Mori show us in her work that the takeover by technologies in posthumanism leads -- as Sadie Plant already assumes -- to a universal femininity? If that is so -- and I think, if you look at contemporary art you can realize how strongly the male subject is represented and still represents itself as one who is in a crisis and that a lot of his horror and fear is about becoming female, in other words, the crisis of male subjectivity and the loss of manliness is traditionally represented as effeminization10) -- there are many indications which reaffirm this thesis.

Enter Body Space

Thus the question remains: What kind of profit from this posthuman effeminization of bodies (and working conditions), from its mechanization and virtualization do those "agents" have who call themselves "woman," not in the future, but already, now, and here, in the technically highly equipped Western World?

Unlike the artists discussed above, New York-based artist Kristin Lucas asks in all of her works this basic question. Like Mori, she is the protagonist in many of her works, which are video and internet works and installations, but unlike her, she uses low-tech, old computers and programs, and the surfaces are not perfect and homogeneous.

In "Host" (1997, a 7 min 36 sec single channel video), she is a young woman seeking help for her computer problems. "As the participant indulges in a virtual conversation about a troublesome relationship, the session instantly becomes an amalgamation of daytime television and tabloid, wherein the surveillance camera becomes the eye of the media." (From a flyer's description of the exhibition "Zonen der Verstörung," Graz 1997). Although the computer voice is very nice in the beginning and promises help if she enters her personal code, there is no help for her and she has to leave, remaining frustrated and lonely. Lucas writes: "The ending mimics the mundane routine of a bank transaction, yet with the seriousness of religious propaganda, 'if you would like to save your life...', 'please enter initials...'‚ 'To exit this program, please use the escape button.'"

The woman/artist/cyborg/worker is located on both sides: She is a user and a system operator at the same time. What we see here is not a new homogeneous and closed techno-body with new abilities. We see the performing of a body, the female body, as one which is overwhelmed, intruded and completely constructed by new technologies and media. But not in the sense of an upgrade or enhancement of possibilities. It's rather a new body condition of total fluidity and porosity. For such a body it makes no difference on which side of the system it is positioned: The borders are blurred, subjectivity is lost, agency is drawn into a machine-like play of interactivity. So the sysop, though she seems to have the more active role, is performed by the flows and streams of the technologies like the user, too. Lucas also poses the position of the symptom, of the convergence of a real body into streams of data and information processors. However, this symptomatic position does not lead to the state of a posthuman goddess in a decontexualized techno future. The situation represented by Lucas could be a separation from living conditions which do not lead to heaven but to traumatic experiences of powerlessness which seem to be especially female.


[image cyborg W2, 1998]

This dark side of the so-called female future is shown by South Korean artist Lee Bull, too. In one of her various works and installations she constructed sculptures made of silicon, hanging from the ceiling and called "Cyborg W2." She shows that the cyborgs are above all female, that they are male projections. However, these incarnations of male fantasies are damaged; they are sinister, even uncanny -- a feeling which results from the contrast between the smooth surface of the material used, the obvious elaboration of female sex characteristics on the one hand and the fragmented bodies/corpses on the other. It becomes evident that biotechnology has not been invented for female emancipation.


I would like to end my argument with Australian artist Francesca da Rimini's web work "Dollspace" (1997) which explores female desire under the conditions of virtuality. It is a complex web environment with various sites, hypertext fictions set in pictorial backgrounds and links to politically engaged sites. Gashgirl, or Doll Yoko, the female fictive figuration is constructed above all by texts (summaries of Lambda MOOs, etc.) which reflect her history and her (sexual) desire. Doll Yoko has risen from a muddy pond in Japan where women used to drown their unwanted, female children. She is a ghost, as in "all women are ghosts and should rightly be feared," and has among other things monstrous desires for young boys ("riverboys"). As doll/gashgirl/ghost, she is not a natural born woman, but rather, a posthuman copy/"essence" evolving from the dark abysses of patriarchal society. Though she is a doll, she is not smooth and homogeneous like Barbie; she is gashed, killed, violated, full of fantasies of power and losing control, of cum, of fucking and killing, of getting fucked and killed herself. Doll Yoko, who is at the same time dead and alive, who wants to destroy and to be destroyed herself, is a deeply paradoxical figure, situated in an in-between space called "deep doll space zero" -- a space behind the closed eye through which the visitors have to enter in the beginning.
So far, this symbolic space has not been investigated and represented much by female cultural workers, whether because of its deep political incorrectness or for other reasons. Doll Yoko's/the narrator's/the author's (the sentences are often articulated with "I") wild feelings and emotions, circulating between activity and passivity, focus on the topic of losing boundaries in digital space: of sex, gender, subjectivity, agency, of the writer and the reader, of the figuration and the user. Who is this "I" in the end who says: "genderfuckmebaby"? This "I" is totally splitting into various agents and we, the readers, participate in this dissolution. What does this sentence and all the other sentences in this piece imply? They talk of experiences, of enjoying loss and the violation of boundaries, and they have a kind of jouissance which goes beyond the mere textual "death of the author" we know from male theorists like Roland Barthes. These sentences and their images become stubborn figurations of many voices and embodiments of Doll Yoko. The kind of jouissance which is proposed here completely deconstructs gender dichotomies and stereotypes. It is far beyond any relief; it is "haunting" and allows us to fall into the depths of psychic streams and desires in virtual and real worlds.
***

Stubborn Bodies of Work



The common topic of all the works discussed in this paper is the fact that the obvious fear of the current social and political enforcement of new information and biotechnologies is represented as a body and gender issue. In most of the rather male works I have analyzed in the beginning, the trouble with losing identity, subjectivity and agency in the posthuman world is visualized as gender trouble, as a horrible thing going on with reproduction, sexuality, sexual organs and sex/gender. It is represented as the fear of losing sexual identity, of getting a closed body without holes, and in the end, of becoming female, i.e., a female cyborg. In opposition, Kristin Lucas and Lee Bull make evident that the worst thing which new technologies may cause for women would not be the loss of their reproductive abilities or sexual identity, but rather, that they would never cease being woman. While Mori shows this arising female state of being as a kind of reconciliation with patriarchal culture, Lucas, Bull and da Rimini reveal the social and political functions of these expanding new technologies as tools of visual, and therefore, cultural control.
Lucas's and da Rimini's cyberbodies convinced me that the display of phantasmatic aspects and dark sides of society and the posthuman condition can still be critical if the contexts which cause fear and inequality are articulated precisely and beyond simple demonization and the universalism of new technologies. The elaborating of the shifts, or even breakdowns of ideological systems, is important. Therefore, I see the representations discussed above of the dark sides of the promised future as being less problematic than the affirmative handling of a homogenized repetitive esthetics of whole bodies. However, what seems to me most problematic and ambivalent is that both are linked together, as I pointed out in the discussion of the works of the Chapmans. Thus, I would appreciate seeing many more works developed which are at the same time critical, ironic, hybrid, monstrous and joyful.
After all, I still believe that criticism, distance and engagement are possible positions in a ongoing virtual world. But I consider the strategy of mimicry and exaggeration -- as it has been developed (beyond the quotation of Bryson) especially in the feminist and postfeminist discourse (Luce Irigaray, Judith Butler, Rosi Braidotti) -- in the age of posthumanism as highly problematic. Although it became a truism that simulation and virtualization are massively constructing reality, people do not cease to believe in "what they have seen with their own eyes" (see, e.g., the film "The Matrix"). In a time in which the original is one image amongst others, it makes no sense to exaggerate or mime something in the same way. As in posthumanism, everything is constructed and exaggerated, i.e., the strategy of mimicry has already become a capitalist strategy, and you have to engage in constructing a change of perspective. If you really want to reflect something, you have to subvert the codes in a deeper sense than with mere mimetics. You have to name, appropriate, subvert and pervert the ongoing codes (of information, bodies, etc.) as especially Lucas and da Rimini do. In a world in which everything is laid out on the same visual level and in which everything is situated within, including yourself, you have to create symbolically an outer space or an in-between space, but you cannot reduplicate the same one-dimensional, condensed hegemonic space and think that this wouldn't be affirmative, or rather, not stabilizing ongoing hegemonies.

Some of the works discussed here are good examples of "artworks" as useful tools for reflecting the current techno universalism, gender conditions and female fantasies of desire and subjectivity. The technologies they use, and quite simple technologies they are, by the way, prods them to take a distant view of the current techno armament and shows clearly that for critical reflection, it is not necessary to use the latest equipment.

It's not important for me to think about the idea if such statements may finally be eaten by the global capitalistic machine. It should be enough to build different esthetics and symbol spaces, for I believe that a work, if it has precise reflective standpoints in its visual negotiations, can not be completely reterritorialized by pancapitalism. A resistant work has to be very clear, but even then, it is not safe from becoming a productive part of the capitalist redesign of the world.

Yvonne Volkart [edited by David Hudson]


1)qoted in the n5m3 program folder.

2)Jochen Becker: Abenteuer Forschung. In: Springer, Hefte für Gegenwartskunst, Oktober/November 1996, p.30-36

3)Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland GmbH (Hg.): Gen-Welten. Köln 1998

4)Stefana Sabin, Fröhliche Gen-Welten, in: Neue Zürcher Zeitung, October 13, 1998, p.46

5)Daniel Ammann/Zvjezdana Cimerman (Hg.): Kunst und Gentechnologie. Werkbeispiele aus bildender Kunst, Photographie, Musik, Literatur, Film, Theater und Kabarett. Basel 1997

6)Important exhibitions were "game grrrl" (1994) , “nature™” (including CD-ROM) and “when tekkno turns to sound of poetry” (1994, Berlin 1995). Publication: “geldbeatsynthetik” (ed. by BüroBert, minimal club, Susanne Schulz), ID-Archiv, Berlin 1996. Further texts were: Sabeth Buchmann: "Von der High-Tech-Tauglichkeit der Kunst oder Wie Reaktion mit Dissidenz verwechselt wird", in: Die Beute, Winter 1995/96, Yvonne Volkart: “Mutieren oder sterben? In: Springer, June-Sept. 1997

7)Natascha Sadr Haghighian: Science for Life. Wellcome Trust. Quoted from geld.beat.sythetik, p. 248

8)Klaus Biesenbach und Emma Dexter in the foreword of the catalogue ”Chapmanworlds”, London/Manchester 1996

9)Norman Bryson: Cute Futures. Mariko Mori’s Techno-Enlightment. From: Parkett, No.54, 1998/1999, p.80



10)I discussed this topic of the crisis of male subjectivity and his horror of becoming female in some former (German only) essays: ”Hysterie. Zur Symptomatik künstlerischer Strategien heute. In: Springer. Hefte zur Gegenwartskunst, Vienna, June/July 1995. Or: Phantasmen der Reproduktion. Katalogtext zu den Videoarbeiten von Björn Melhus, Hannover 1999



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