CCTP725: Week 13

Seminar Discussion

The Body as Art, Art in the Body

The direct involvement of the body as art seems almost inevitable. Our body, while it does not define us, contains us. It is what we use to write, paint, sculpt, dance. It is only logical that it should become the actual object of art.

The Pillow Book, is an obvious example of how the body can be used in art—as a canvas and as a subject. The poems Nagiko records on men’s bodies seem to be inspired by their forms, and her feelings toward those forms in Jerome’s case. The skin, the largest organ and the one that exposes you to the world, becomes the page on which you are able to read the interior thoughts and feelings of their female author.

For me, perhaps the most beautiful and expressive use of the body as art is, of course, dance. Dance in itself is a hybrid of artistic forms, using the body, music, narrative and film to create something that is almost inexplicable when the parts composing it are considered individually. The film Pina is a great example of the combination of art forms to create something that is neither one nor the other, but something totally new. A hybrid art form, realized through movement of the body.

Like Erin, I think the conflation of the body and art is most easily exhibited through dance, which often also exhibits overt sexuality. One of the most prolific choreographers and dancers of the last 30 years is Bill T. Jones, who was an honoree at the most recent Kennedy Center Honors. Jones pushed the envelope, not only with his expressive body movements, but also with his frank divulgence, both in conversation and in movement, of his homosexuality. His career was catapulted through his partnership with Arnie Zane - their partnership was both professional and romantic. Zane died of Aids in 1988, but their work together, and their joint interest in the human body's movements, gestures and essence brought them to the forefront of postmodern dance. The two formed a dance company which still operates today. Below is video of the reworking, spliced with old footage of Zane and Jones, of some of their most groundbreaking early works.

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The partnering work that the pair were best known for does little to disguise the rampant sexuality, evident both in their relationships, but also in dance generally. The close examination of the body as a canvas for artistic representation is inherent in their work. Perhaps another element that is refreshing about their work is that they didn't try to separate out the sexuality, or their most base desires in producing art. In this way, they were embracing Freudian ideas - breaking from what "civilization", or society had grown accustomed to seeing. Instead they pushed boundaries and produced effective, truthful explorations of the self, and an intimate partnership.

Even after his partner's death, Jones has gone on to explore the ways in which the individual moves and processes external factors, like loss, and the grief it inspires, in solo works like his famed "Absence" which he choreographed and danced as an artistic response to the loss of Zane. And recently, Jones has expanded his creative arena to an even larger scope. He has created an even greater opportunity to look at the interplay of the body, music and theater by his recent forays into choreography of musicals. He has garnered critical acclaim for exploring these intersections in shows such as Spring Awakening and Fela (both of which earned him Tony awards). It is clear, even now, at 58, watching Jones perform, that he tells a story and records it, through his artistic vehicle, the body.


Zachary Allard

The exhibition, “Bodies” that has been touring across the country for the last several years is an interesting case study of the intersection of the human body and morality and science. “Bodies” is an exhibition that showcases bodies (obviously) that have been stripped of their skin (and sometimes more) and preserved to reveal their musculature and internal organs in fetishistic detail. The website for the exhibition describes it thusly:
BODIES...The Exhibition offers an intimate and informative view into the human body. Using an innovative preservation process, the Exhibition allows visitors to see the human body's inner beauty in educational and awe-inspiring ways. Our Exhibitions have over 200 actual human bodies and specimens meticulously dissected and respectfully displayed, offering an unprecedented and wholly unique view into the amazing body. Specimens in the Exhibition are prepared through a revolutionary process called polymer preservation, in which human tissue is permanently preserved using liquid silicone rubber. This process creates a specimen that will not decay, offering thousands of unique teaching possibilities for educators at all levels. Preparation time varies: a small organ may take only a week, while a full-body specimen may take up to a year to prepare. After quality preservation, specimens can last for decades.” Ethical issues aside for a moment, I am not entirely sure how “respectful” these are.
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These are hardly “respectful” in the traditional sense. Without passing a moral judgment, these figures are most certainly fetishistic demonstrations of the (very Freudian) obsession with the body and death. What is compelling about these figures is that they are bodies on a very visceral level (showing the organs and musculature in a tangible detail that few outside the medical profession ever experience) but also entirely synthetic. The bodies used have been modified using technology not to rot or interact with the environment in any “organic” way. It is hyperreal on some level. They are simulacrums that have no reference in “reality.” Not only that, they mirror exactly what we are talking about with this unit. They are “monsters, perversions, or new hybrid zones opening up sexual and erotic fantasies and repressions” They could be seen as “Freud's famous description of "the return of the repressed": cyborgs [that] are mostly imagined as hypersexual versions of gender, what bodies could be if freed from death and taboos.” They are bodies freed from decay, immortalized in death, more naked than porn stars.

How does one address these figures? What is our relationship to these “bodies” that were once human but now transcend the limitations often imposed in death, yet have had their individuality stripped away and replaced with silicon making them more analogous to machines? They are once-organic cyborgs. They are sculptures using what were once people to build hyperreal simulacrums of their clinical interiors. They are a physical manifestation of the fetishization of the and desire for immortality by any means necessary and disturbing example of Lyotard’s sublime because it is both pleasurable and beautiful and ugly and terrifying. The “Bodies” exhibition is an excellent example of the (beyond-)human, hyperreal, cyborg, repression, fetishization, the sublime, and undoubtedly many, many more complex and difficult emerging theories and ideas.

Saaret: I found Erin's musings about the body as a means for containment-cum-objectification as an interesting jumping off point for this discussion. Haraway's "Cyborg Manifesto" is an interesting detour so I'll attempt to navigate myself somewhere in between. The body as a means for mediation offers a very literal middle man between the art we consume and the art we produce. Tattoo's are a particularly interesting case study where the issues of appropriation and mainstreaming that we have discussed in past class discussions resurface and pose the same questions of authenticity. Tribal tattoo anyone? Yet, with the issue of skin and representation, I find that Haraways' following comment is all the more appropriate: "One consequence is that our sense of connection to our tools is heightened." Therefore, offering our bodies as a canvas brings us that much closer to the symbols we choose to represent.

Expanding from the personalized tattoo takes us to a place of phenomenon. I recall specifically the mustache tattoos that were popular for a bit. What does this seemingly arbitrary trend say about our communal constructions of art and identity?

Similarly, performative dance is another means for connecting with -- or embodying art. This Adele music video was the most readily available in my mind. How is it that we connect specific emotions with random choreography? How is it that melody mimics movement so well?

Pages and Pens

As Focault discusses in The History of Sexuality where once the state’s power relied in its regulation of death it now relies on the its regulation of life, because human life most be regulated to promote the life of the state itself. Hence, he explains that the regulation of the body has become a central theme of the state. This power is focussed on two basic aspects, on controlling the body as a source for production- what he calls the regulation of “the body as a machine” and controlling the body as a site for the reproduction of the human race. The state acts through several institutions that serve to survey the body and promote several norms that serve to control these two capacities of body. Focault argues that it is because of the necessity to control the abilities of production and reproduction of the body that sex became a political issue, for sex must be regulated to ensure productivity for the “adjustment and economy of energies”( Foucault, 145), and obviously for the reproduction of society. This regulation has been enabled by the medicalization of sexuality, which as Foucault describes has resulted from the involvement of psychiatry in sex.
In studies from the field of sociology of work this is often discussed. In the labor force the “dehumanized” body is seen as more productive, it must be disciplined and liberated of its human needs and processes to focus entirely on the workforce. It is the male body that has become a symbol of the “dehumanized body” while the feminine body which has been sexualized by the same male forces and is too expressive of this humanity due to its cycles and its ability to carry babies, is seen as a threat to this productivity. The metaphor of the “the body as a machine” is too appropriate, this is where we also get this talk about the productive robot and the identification of masculinity with these robotic machines.To be seen as productive, women most therefore try to ironically shape their bodies to come closer to those of men, concealing curves and flesh and wearing clothes such as the suit, whose shape and broad shoulders are meant to signify the male body.


It is no surprise that when it comes to the control of population’s reproduction it is the female body which is considered to be the one that must be most regulated. It is the female body which must be most docile and which must signify this docility through its containment, its lack of space, its vulnerability and flexibility. This is where Bordo’s talk about anorexia as the crystallization of culture comes in. It is the sexuality of this body which must be most contained, most private and which is most tabooed. It is to incarcerated in the household and concealed within the body and thus women must purge in order to prevent their bodies to be associated with lasciviousness as well as to portray this docility. The female body is constantly under surveillance from the different institutions around us and from the male gaze. As Foucault says, these mechanisms to discipline and survey the body are so effective because we learn to incorporate them to discipline ourselves and survey ourselves as if through their eyes and hence engage in all of these sort of processes to control the body and make it portray societal norms. Hence we are constantly inscribing our body, if not literarily, by shaping in it in order to reflect the norms we have incorporated. This is why the idea of the body as a site of inscription expressed by the works of the Whitney Museum’s Skin as Language exposition seems so obvious and yet so brilliant. They seem to very "literally" express how our bodies have been inscribed, used to communicate these societal norms. The inscriptions that society leaves upon the body might not be as traceable as Catherine Opie’ Self Portrait but for people like the anorexics that Bordo discusses they can make much deeper cuts, their traces can be more perpetual, they are in fact like “self portraits” drawn over and over again with the same knife. By incorporating the norms that have come to shape them they have become pens and papers at the same time. This is the power that according to Foucault the state has over us, "making us both their pens and papers".

by Alicia Dillon

An author which I would like to introduce, as I believe is useful to elaborating Haraway and the discussion of posthumanism, sexuality and the body is Cary Wolfe. In his book “What is Posthumanism?” Wolfe attempts to position and to analyze these intersections through an extensive analysis of Derrida in discussion with defining the area of posthumanism. Though a large portion of his focus is dedicated to issues of the human in relation to animal ethics, his discussion of this is relevant to relating the ways in which we as a society define what is human and what is not.

Especially useful to the discussion and the idea of closed and open loops is systems theory, which deploys theories of technology to assist in the understanding of the human as constructed. Wolfe writes that: “Acknowledging that [humans are a] fundamentally prosthetic creature that has co-evolved with various forms of technology and materiality, forms that are “non-human” and yet have nevertheless made the human what it is.”

Take for instance the example of an artist such as Cathy Opie who uses the technology of photography to explore readings of human sexuality and ideas of ‘what counts’ as an identity; dealing especially female butch identity and identities in the gay and lesbian community, but more recently she has branched out into photographing High School football players.

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Cathy Opie, Self Portrait (Pervert), 1994
Cathy Opie, Self Portrait (Pervert), 1994
Cathy Opie, Self Portrait (Cutting), 1993
Cathy Opie, Self Portrait (Cutting), 1993

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Her photography of herself, her LGBT community, and now other subgroups such as football players and surfers, leverages our reading of human sexuality and the body (or really what is understood as the correct body). Furthermore, through using her own body as a site for exploring taboos and revealing her own identity as butch lesbian and mother, Opie calls into question the ways through which technological mediums (here, photography) have the ability to capture and propose particular identities as more legitimate than others. To address Foucault and The History of Sexuality, the idea of biopower is an important and crucial part of any discussion of the sexed body and what it symbolizes in culture. In addition to the ethical constructions which are derived from definitions of the living (ie: what counts as human or personhood), not only does. In one definition, biopower can be understood as: “A combination of biology with politics; social organizations and narratives which seek to control (define) and subjugate the human body. Moreover, the concept of codification, or, “interrelations between those who theorize the rules and norms and those who legislate and enforce them” (Wolfe 2010, 51).

Lastly, I would like to note that Wolfe concentrates his argument around Derrida. As such, he continues here to state that for Derrida, language is of course the main faculty which distinguishes us as humans (and not just spoken language, language activated through text is paramount). Therefore, if we take into account the fact that particular chords, instruments, etc. cue specific cultural referents, and moreover understand that music as a form of language, we can see that sound’s ability to engage with digital and analog technology to create and even consecrate particular bodies is paramount.

Moreover, as a tie in to our previous discussions of audio, particularly notable in Wolfe’s discussion of posthumanism is analysis of Brian Eno and David Bryn’s digital and analog “echographies” in the album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, a record that “abstracts the vocal material from its original anthropological, religious, or political context” (297). Wolfe utilizes issues of sound, voice, and visuality to discuss the relationship between analog and digital media and moreover to relate this back to the discussion of systems theory and autopoiesis versus allopoiesis. As mentioned in the title, Wolfe raises the idea of the ecography, or, “an electronic medium whose apotheosis is the digitalization-of-all-media,” discussed in Lev Manovich’s The Language of New Media (284).


Violations of the Body and Videodrome
NB: This a horror film with some very graphic imagery - I wouldn't watch the clips I've included if you're averse to body horror.

The most fitting filmic example I can think of to embody this discussion of technology and sexuality is David Cronenberg’s 1983 cult classic Videodrome. This horror extravaganza brings the term “torture porn” to a new level, as it tells the story of an S&M graphic violence television program – Videodrome – that causes hallucinations in its viewers. These hallucinations present the convergence of man and machine, at first through highly sexualized and seductive imagery. As president of a smut television station, lead character Max Renn discovers and is captivated by Videodrome. The first scene where we are sure Renn is hallucinating – though one could argue Debbie Harry’s character was entirely fabricated after her first appearance – presents what Donna Haraway calls the organism-biotic dichotomy. Renn’s television seems to speak to him, and as he interacts with it, it turns into a sex object, breathing and pulsing. In a moment that must be unique across film history, the TV grows veins and its lips extend beyond the screen. Renn decides the best course of action is to make out with his television set. Here, the television is no longer machine, as it has become some sort of biotic hybrid that ostensibly respires and circulates blood. Videodrome, Television Scene
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After the TV makeout scene, Renn’s world is continuously penetrated by appearances of similar cyborg-esque hybrids. He learns that Videodrome hallucinations the effect of brain tumors caused by the video frequency, and so the program’s producers plan to use it to purge North America of the “impure” people who would watch it. Renn is programmed – via the insertion of a VHS tape into a vertical opening in his abdomen, how’s that for sexualized technology – to kill anyone who would stand in the way of the producers’ mission. As the film progresses, and Renn is successfully seduced, the imagery is less sexualized and more violent. The clear line from one to the other, however, suggests that in this world where man is a programmable technology and technology can have desires, sex and violence are two parts of the same continuum.
The Hand Gun Scene: unfortunately it can’t be embedded, but start at 5:50 if you can handle the ick. As the film goes on, we see the gun becoming more and more a part of his hand, until the whole appendage is an inextricable hand-gun organism.
Renn goes to kill Bianca O’Blivion, head of the “Cathode Ray Mission” and daughter of “media prophet” and “Videodrome’s first victim” Brian O’Blivion, but she succeeds in “reprogramming him” to destroy Videodrome. The O’Blivions advocate for a “New Flesh”, in which mass consciousness and mass communication are joined – a final, complete hybrid of man and machine. Weird? Yes. But the film speaks to a common discussion as our world is increasingly reliant upon technology. Are our machines a prosthetic, like a set of glasses or artificial leg that improve our quality or life, or are the fully ingrained into our consciousness and identities?
The film tells Renn’s story as he descends into the world of Videodrome, but because of the hallucinatory nature of the programming it is impossible to discern what is his imagination and what is true. For this reason Cronenberg creates an especially visceral type of horror – Max Renn is arguably hallucinating all the terrible body horror images in the screen, but we can see them too. Does that mean that Videodrome has gotten to our mind as well? This sort of violation of the body with technology is what Cronenberg chiefly explores throughout the film.

-Liz Kneuer

As we all have sort of touched on in this week's discussion, there seems to be a constant between posthuman mechanization and body/gender fetishism that seems to only seems to be deepening in current times. While I don't agree completely with some of Foucault's approaches to unraveling sex and gender, his approach of beginning from the side of repression and moving outward is a perspective that deserves some attention.

However, at the end of the day, America is very occupied with the notion of sexual identity, which is a problem that is further compounded by the burgeoning theories of post-humanism. Perhaps one of the most indicative examples of this now technological and social struggle is illustrated by the film Blade Runner which already dives deeply into the question of "What defines humanity?" I raise the point of this film over others like Surrogates, The Matrix, etc. because it reflects a much more "realistic" progression of events, without employing over-the-top plot twists at the end (where the protaganist or antaganist is actually a cyborg). This key revelation ties into a lot of the sub-cultures that we are observe, from tattoos to interpretive dance and everything in between, in that the gender/identity post-humanist quandary can only be slowly surmised or understood in hindsight.

Lian Han

Tinkering with Evolution

We have always worked to modify or alter our bodies: skin marking, wigs, corsets, earrings, clothing, make-up, body reshaping through exercise, diet, or more extreme methods. These changes represent who we are and/or who we are attempting to become. With the rise of the middle class, women have become increasingly able to afford the ability to alter their looks.This means that she can choose to change features of her physical self that she considers to be unattractive. Her ideas about attractiveness have been shaped by the ideals of beauty prevalent in her society. As her body morphs into a container she and others find more attractive, she is able to acquire a greater degree of power, over both men and women. Now more than ever, the ideas of beauty are attainable to women. That women can and do change the way they look in order to fit societal definitions of beauty presents a dilemma: how will this affect the human species, now that females can “trick” their mates into reproduction?


Foucault’s History of Sexuality builds upon an “analytics of power”: a set of tools designed to be able to analyze of sex in terms of power. Recreation of self, self as semiotic object, the body as symbol: of power, of weakness. This week’s topic I couldn’t help but think about the extremes that have emerged within society, in an attempt at attention getting, as an act of expression, as identity becomes embodied within the body.