The irony of performance

FRAGMENTS ON THE HISTORY OF MODERN ART IN PERVERTED PERSPECTIVE
By Boyan Manchev

1. The thing in itself and the exposition of nudity. Obscene nudes and pseudo-archaic myths. The super-exposition: generalized voyeurism (Courbet – Duchamp – Fabre). The obsession with the Thing and the irony of performance.

The mute insistence of the thing expresses the requirement of the becoming-image of the immanence of world, of the advent of the sensible. The super-project to touch the thing itself, beyond any transcendental genealogy, constitutes the frame of modern esthetics. The question of truth of the thing is a question of its nudity: the bare truth of the thing, the truth of the bare thing. In two words, the thing of truth. Nudity, a completely different thing from nakedness, shy or obscene, is an invention of modernity: it is the desire for the thing, in flesh and blood.

– – –

The obscene flesh is thrown under the gaze, its obscurity transforms into a blinding light, though this dark light is nothing but the reflection of the gaze which penetrates the flesh, violates it and exposes it by force. The modern scopophily expresses the obsession of modernity to attain the thing in itself, if not the thing itself: to represent, or in other words, to extract the unpresentable and to exhibit it in the light, to force it to expose its truth (we should think of the photographic obsession, modern par excellence, with everything which resists the gaze: the ‘freaks’, the monsters, the corpses, not to mention the explosion of pornography).

To show the obscene thing is to touch the thing: to monstrate its presence. For that reason the aspiration of modern representation to put the obscene in the empty frame of the sacred is structurally inevitable: it is an attempt to present presence. There is no doubt that the exemplary case of this operation is that of Gustave Courbet’s The Origin of the World (L’Origine du monde), a paradigmatic work for modernity (even if in a ‘clandestine’ sense). Clearly, Courbet strove to represent the unpresentable in an image, starting from the naïve premise that the Thing in Lacan’s sense can be represented (or that the thing could be represented as the Lacanian Thing[1]). To paint a recumbent female body with spread legs, sinister and threatening, formless because acephalous, as a radical negativity, i.e., God, is the last breath that a degenerate apophatic theology draws, as testified by the allegorical title of the work, L’Origine du Monde. Without doubt it is a sign of the apogee of the esthetical ideology of modernity – or, in other words, the era in which the sacred was profaned, in which art offered a compensatory and substitute sacred through the sanctioned mode of representation. This is the moment when art reaches the threshold of forbidden representation, i.e., the representation of the forbidden, of the incestuous Thing, of the obscene, which because of its unimaginability has been banished from the realm of ideas: the rest which resists any imagination.

– – –
Marcel Duchamp’s famous late work Etant donnés: 1. La chute d’eau 2. Le gaz d’éclairage (Given: 1. The Waterfall 2. The Illuminating Gas), revealed in 1969, after his death, could be considered as the latest version of the apophatic theology of Courbet’s L’Origine du monde. Let us have a look at this famous work once again. It represents a viewing box whose front is a wooden door in a brick frame. There are two small holes in the door, allowing natural bifocal sight, which give access to a narrow open space before a brick wall. There is an irregularly formed hole in the center of the wall through which the viewer[2] can see the ‘installation’ inside. What is revealed to his gaze into the center of an idyllic landscape with a cascade in the background, is a nude female figure lying on a bed of leaves and twigs, her legs spread in front of the spectator. The woman holds a gas lamp in her hand. Similar to L’Origine du monde’s female figure, this woman is ‘acephalous’: her head is hidden by the edge of the brick wall. Nonetheless, despite the thematic correspondence, the distance between Courbet’s and Duchamp’s gestures of revelation, respectively veiling, is huge. It is precisely the distance between the obscene modernity and its perverted posteriority (we don’t speak about ‘postmodernity’ any more, do we?) As if Duchamp’s play with the gaze was teasing the total exposition of L’Origine du monde. Duchamp reduces the total exposition to the spectacle for the eyes, to the peepshow, i.e., to the perversion of scopophily. But his ironic gesture is not only a reduction of the movement of revelation; it is a revelation of the void of the revelation. Indeed, the enigmatic title Etant donnés is ironic par excellence. It names what the eye doesn’t care about (the waterfall, the illuminating gas), but in this way demonstrates the unsubstantial character of what falls in the centre of the penetrating gaze: its centre is the blind spot of the view, which reveals not a present empty space but the lacking space of the thing. What Duchamp’s ironic performative gesture shows, is that there isn’t any thing in itself outside the spectacle of the gaze.

– – –
courbet11.jpg

Three years ago, in 2004, Jan Fabre tried to exemplify Duchamp’s ironic performative gesture, creating the performance Etant donnés. Etant donnés is the follow-up to the monologue Elle était et est elle est, même (She Was And She Is, Even), which Jan Fabre wrote in 1975 for the actress Els Deceukelier. The dispositive of the performance is simple and complex at the same time. The spectator, as in Duchamp’s work, sees something he is not supposed to see: the actress’ ‘thing’. The actress speaks with two voices, corresponding to the two roles she performs: ‘she’ and ‘her vagina’. The dossier of the play furnishes a perfect description of this ‘division of roles’: “While she cherishes illusions of charm and power, her sex will constantly ‘call her back’ to earthly things, to sexual desire and passion, which is the driving force behind the ideas and activity of the world. (…) As a second voice, the vagina mentions everything she does not say, but quite possibly thinks: that which she does not wish to reveal in connection with her image, the image of herself that she wants to give to others. The vagina sees the act as the only motive and objective, refers to everything by name and in this is very direct and without shame. According to the vagina her existence comprises artificiality, she is a piece of merchandise (a work of art), a toy (whore) and she only exists by the grace of her maker (Duchamp) who himself is a ‘bricoleur’ (tinkerer) and, she adds, a swindler. Above all, this ‘she’ exists by the grace of the spectators, who make her an object of lust: someone who should be looked at, a machine that produces and fulfills desires. As well as by the grace of the people who stand in line and in their staring become fossilized, become ‘puppets’. They who give her her identity.”[3]

On the one hand, Fabre’s Etant donnés obviously builds on and transforms Duchamp’ intuitions. On the other hand it also expresses, in the line of Courbet, the obsession with the Thing in itself and with its obscene exhibition (in fact, in her ‘presentation’ the actress literally repeats the title of Courbet’s work: “I am lying on my back with my legs spread. I am of all ages. Perhaps even the origin of the world.”) The ironic gesture of Duchamp, which reduced the total exposure of the Thing to the perverted spectacle of voyeurism, was in its turn reduced here. It is not by chance that this piece was often treated as ‘scandalous’ and ‘pornographic’. Its reduction of the reduction reopened the space of the total obscene exposure, the super-exposure without rest, and in that it was typologically close to the pornoscopic exhibition. But of course, at the same time it elaborates its own ironic language on the level of the performance itself. Els Deceukelier performs on stage the obsession not about the Thing but with the Thing. The Thing is placed, it is located as private and intimate, and the female subject on stage is obsessed with it. Els Deceukelier speaks about herself, about the most profound and intimate parts of herself, about her hidden core, but at the same reveals it, denudes it, exposes it. It can be said that she exposes it as a dark, profound, substantial force, substantial to the extent that libido is the privileged name for substance in late modern times. Yet, with the progression of the performance it becomes clear that Els doesn’t speak ‘about’ her ‘thing’, and not even with it (even though she is in dialogue with it), but that she speaks for it. She speaks in its place. Not only because the Thing is voiceless and she doesn’t have any other choice but to give it her ‘own’ voice (which is not her own anymore), but because the obsession turns upside down: Els is not obsessed with ‘her thing’ but she is possessed by it. It is the invisible force and the inaudible voice which finds its medium in the living body on stage. The thing speaks as with a prophetic if not divine voice, the voice possessing the oracle: this voice is the manifestation of truth. Thus the thing-in-itself reveals the truth of the thing-for-itself. On the one hand, the truth revealed by its voice is the substantial truth of psychoanalysis, i.e., the revelation of the hidden and profound core of the subject – its libidinal resource; but on the other hand, it reveals its artificiality, i.e., its lack of substance.

Thus, Fabre’s play executes another ironic substitution. Even if it apparently proceeds from the modern obsession with the (de)monstration of the obscene Thing, it places the untouchable Thing in the place of the subject; and consequently, in the vertiginous turn of the inversion places ‘us’, actors and spectators – ‘performers’, in the position of its own obsession. It is like a totemic super-presence through which alone we can breathе in the dark. This is the paradoxical archaic irony of Jan Fabre’s ‘pornographic’ performance.

* * *

2. The undressing. The striptease as the essence of the modern spectacle. The libidinal economy of the spectacle and the spectacularity of performing capitalism. Sexual revolution, striptease, pornography and market.

If nudity was supposed to reveal the substance, the profound libidinal substance of the Thing, the undressing would at first glance appear as the very movement of this revelation. Obviously for that reason the modern obsession with the Thing, appearing in the form of obsession with nudity, nourishes a fixation on undressing, the gradual disclosure of the body-thing. Thus the exposition of substantial nudity turns into the spectacle of undressing.

In this regard the pioneer of the transformation of the obsession with the thing into spectacle is without doubt one of the main ideologists of Modernity, who has indeed given it its name: Charles Baudelaire, a determining figure of modern eroticism, in other words – of the profound melancholy caused by the impossibility to touch the thing. For Baudelaire the obsession with the thing is necessarily its rejection. The ferocious attack on the natural, on nature in general, as it is for instance articulated in “The Painter of Modern Life”, affirms that the untouchable obscenity of nature does not have anything moral in itself, which means nothing erotic, to the extent that erotic or moral is only the artificial, the inorganic. In Baudelaire the Kantian realm of liberty, the realm of desire, turns into a realm of surface. The artificial is superficial and never profound; there is no depth other than the depth of the abyss, which means the abyss of the originary corruption of the flesh, of the infection of sin. However, erotics consists in the peeling of surfaces, in their friction, which pretends to denude the thing underneath. But the thing is not at all, there is only void. Therefore the only thingness of eroticism is to be discovered in the movement of undressing – the recovering, the folding of surfaces. In other words, the movement, like the movement of the passante in the street, like the movement of the flâneur – the passive hunter of furtive erotic pleasures, of microscopic events traversing the urban surface – which in its turn becomes an erotic screen, a new ontological relief: an inorganic skin – is the only erotic thing.

Thus the undressing, which from the point of view of a classical logic would precede the exposition of the naked body, in a historical perspective follows it. The undressing comes after the exposition of nudity, i.e., after the substance. The undressing means: to step beyond the revelation of substance, because the undressing is a spectacle and because this spectacle discloses itself as the erotic substance itself. Or there is no substance any more, there is no thing; only exposition of the thing which is the thing itself, without any revelation. The spectacle is the mode of existence of modern scopophily, it is the machinery of the hegemony of the visible. The name of the paradigm of the spectacle would then be striptease.

– – –

Obviously, the libidinal economy of the spectacle corresponds to the capitalist economy, to its modes of exchange and of production which are also, so to speak, “post-substantial” (i.e., they represent the transformation of substance-matter into substance-subject or substance-life). According to Guy Debord’s definition of the then famous ‘society of the spectacle’, the spectacle is “the level of accumulation of capital at which it becomes an image”. But from the point of view of onto-esthetical historicality, which is ours, capitalism is initially spectacular, non-substantial, that is to say – inorganic. Nevertheless, its spectacularity is originally related to the proletarization of work by the capital and consequently to the supression of finite organics of life (which is why the line of thought of Debord, Virilio or Baudrillard, the thinkers of radical immaterialization, could appear fundamentally problematic).

In this perspective we could directly relate striptease and the society of the spectacle. The origins of striptease are credited to the late 19th century, but its revival and glory is related to burlesque theatre in United States in the 1950s. In other words, the recent interest of contemporary dance in the strip is not only a search for an easy success or just technical research on a given bodily technique among others. (I could evoke here the brand new example of Nightshade (2006), directed by Dirk Pauwels, including pieces by Vera Mantero, Alain Platel, Caterina Sagna, Johanne Saunier, Claudia Triozzi, Wim Vandekeybus and Eric De Volder, now touring in Europe). The striptease is first of all a reflection, unconscious or fully conscious, on the spectacularity itself. And it is not only by chance that a ‘priestess of love’ and porno star, Annie Sprinkle, twenty years ago decided to create performances which were ‘simply repeating’ a number of practices of her professional activities. For performance is precisely this consciousness of repetition, this meta-consciousness, this reflexive movement which gives flesh to the a-substantial. According to Linda Williams‘ terminology in Porn Studies (2004), Annie Sprinkle exemplifies the transition from “ob-scene” to “On/Scene”.

– – –

Thus, the capital which has attained the level of intensity of an (obscene) image, the intensity of the thing-merchandise, which is nothing else but the void of the thing itself, its a-substantiality – a perverted reversibility, imposes to think contemporary capitalism as a perverted capitalism. The boom of the porno following the one of the strip, and the boom of the sexual industry in general in the 1970s and 1980s, are not only an important sign of the becoming of the new capitalism (of its new modes of work, production, exchange, services, commodities) – of the New Spirit of Capitalism, to quote the symptomatic title of a book by Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello (1999). Moreover, it is an exemplification of this becoming, it is the premonitory sign of biocapitalism (according to Yann Moulier-Boutang‘s term). Biocapitalism means merchandisation of (forms of) life, or, more precisely, the production and commerce of inorganic things, whose use-value is a form-of-life. But if the inorganic things rising in the movement of a-substantial performance are the horizon of the contemporary situation, what is the destiny of the modern obsession with the substance of the things, with the substance of the world – life, subject, society, state, and universe? In one word – with the Thing itself?

The qualitative economic boom in question takes place at the horizon of 1968 and the ‘sexual liberation’. It builds on the decisive societal turn of the 1960s. The market had rapidly appropriated the acquisitions and the spirit of the ‘sexual revolution’, at the same time transforming revolutionary desire in revolutionary sex appeal. This was in fact a double movement, because capitalism tried to reduce the entire power of desire to sexuality, in order to obtain in this way the universal background of merchandisation and capitalization: since then, all merchandise has been sold as orgasmic revelation. The sexual revolution, which first of all is a revolution of capitalist merchandisation, rehabilitates the substantialist fiction about the thing. It coexists with the tragic ‘vitalist’ obsessions of Viennese actionism and all the body art pioneers of the époque, and they have in common the belief in a profound, hidden, present substance. However, capitalism simulates this belief, which is evidently a spectacle – even though it has the power to generate realities, ontological surfaces. We may give as an example the obsession with orgasm, appearing as the sublime performance of the thing, with its nth degree of intensity, which began to dominate the collective psyche of occidentals starting with the late 1960s. Orgasm became the libidinal equivalent of social status – desired and sought after. The techniques to reach orgasm quite resembled the tactics of social climbers to make progress in the social hierarchy in order to enjoy power. Sociologists researching on pornography also evoke the example of Deep Throat, cult movie of the sexual liberation, which promoted fellatio as mass practice in 1972.

– – –

Needless to say, the ambivalent tension between the obsession with the Thing and spectacularity lies at the basis of the double contemporary fixation on pornography and erotics. The conventional distinction between erotic art and pornography is thin but indeed radical. ‘Erotic art’ is that which doesn’t expose everything (i.e., ‘obscenity’); pornography is what exposes everything. This distinction corresponds with an ontological break. Erotics doesn’t expose everything because it is founded on the agnostic premise that not everything can be exposed: or, that the Thing cannot be exposed. This melancholic consciousness makes modern eroticism essentially tragic; it is destined to the limitless excess of forces – of life – without capitalization, without economy. Enjoyment is precisely this excess of impossible satisfaction. Pornography, on the contrary, tries to suppress this melancholy and to expose, to exemplify the touching of the Thing; to demonstrate a totally satisfactory enjoyment.

However, at this point we observe a crucial inversion. Precisely because erotic experience is substantially melancholic, its enjoyment in the spectacle of the gaze is unlimited. The Thing cannot be revealed and therefore the undressing, the tease of the strip is potentially infinite, it spreads on an infinite scale of intensity. What about the spectacle of pornography, which exposes everything from the very beginning? Pornography is a spectacle, it is a performance, no question about that. It is promoted as the omnipotent performance of the unlimited desire of the thing and of the limitless enjoyment-satisfaction. So if pornography is a performance, what it tries to perform is life itself – life in a pure and sublime state. Though precisely through this pretension, the pretension to a total exposure, it reduces life to merchandise. Super-exposure equals total reduction. Nothing to hide = nothing to see. With the porno we are re-inscribed in a radically limited economy, an infinitely limited economy. The porno represents an economy without waste (or without seduction and desire): it is always concentrated, orientated towards the ultimate goal of orgasm. But this limitless enjoyment-satisfaction turns into a pure impossibility precisely because of its infinity: the unlimited orgasmic performativity means impossible performance. In this sense the porno is the apotheosis of psychoanalysis, obsessed since its beginning with lack and loss. Psychoanalytically, the porno is totally dominated by the fear of castration. It risks exposure without rest but precisely for that reason fails to demonstrate the Thing. The monstrous presence of the Thing – as an always-opened vulva – not only castrates gazes but also and foremost the ‘conceptual characters’ of the porno movie: the ‘cocks’. If the Thing is exposed as the Thing, this means that it is untouchable. Consequently, the orgasmic fulfilment of the pornographic performance is a pure failure to capture the Thing, simulated as pure life. In other words, porno simulates life without death. It masks death as life, erasing the blind spot of the void. Thus, at the end, the pretension to touch the Thing causes the melancholy of seeing; a melancholy which, not surprisingly, very often is morbid.

* * *

3. Perversion. Performance and perverted capitalism. Perverted dolls (Hans Bellmer, Gisèle Vienne). Beyond the use-value of objects: the things-events (Jérôme Bel and ‘conceptual dance’). Towards an ontology of the perverted performance.

Contemporary performance is essentially perverted. What do I understand by perversion?

In the context of the discussion of the modern obsession with the thing in itself, perversion appears probably as the best term for designating one of the most radical attempts to ‘liberate’ the object from its use-value, i.e., to break through economy or at least to open the field of the unlimited economy of the thing. The beautiful and somehow nostalgic term ‘liberate’ is not exact though. The movement of the performance neither liberates the oppressed organic force (of labor), that is the subject, nor the object. It opens or rather enters the space of unlimited modifiability – pervertibility – beyond or beside any subject-object opposition. In other words, this is the proper sphere of the Thing, but of the Thing as the impossibility of the substance itself, of the modifiability as the only substance. Paradoxically or not, perversion appears then as the exit from libidinal economy. Perversion is what ‘liberates’ the object from its use-value, or, in other words, which re-opens the potentiality of the things.

But at the same time the perverted operation, or, in one word, the performance, becomes the distinctive feature of contemporary capitalism. This is not only a play of words, made possible by the polysemantic term performance. I have suggested calling the performing society of global capitalism, the society of economic and stock market performances, perverted capitalism. The perverted capitalism is an intensive designation of social-economical space in which an infinite exchange and functional efficiency of impersonal agents takes place, which, unlike the deterministic and finite framework of the organic (work), is endlessly reversible – and in this sense it is essentially non-hierarchised, superficial. Perverted capitalism produces a new limitless space: the neutral space of the inorganic. The inorganic opens potential space for the experimentation of new forms of life. These forms of life, as well as the potential for the transformation of life, which they actualize, are becoming the main commodity within the new ‘fluid’ capitalism. Indeed, commodity isn’t the best term: this is the global, massive but bodiless presence through which the matter-commodity appears as a form of life. Perverted capitalism transforms use-value into a form of life. It does not produce any more, it performs: or it produces only performances.

– – –

Hans Bellmer undoubtedly is one of the precursors, if not the godfather of perverted performance[4]. In a way his radical work and particularly his famous ‘dolls’ (which have influenced not only artists from Cindy Sherman to Gisèle Vienne but all genres of sexual perversion as well as Japanese dolls and manga creators), could be opposed to Duchamp’s. In pronounced contrast with the Duchampean ironic fixation of the gaze, which reveals the blind spot in its center, Bellmer tried to experience the inherent transformability, the pervertibility of form. His dolls (as well as his drawings) express in the first place, beyond or besides any representative, i.e., economic value (violence, mutilation, atrocity, violent abuse of male gaze with female body), the experience of the form itself as per-version, that is as per-formance. Hans Bellmer’s dolls of course appear, on a referential level, as mutilated, crooked, violated. Are they expressing an ‘objective’ suffering or are they suffering from the author’s perversion, which symbolically humiliates the female body by producing abominations out of it[5]? Nevertheless, it can also be claimed that these perverted forms are not to be read on a referential level, but rather as an expression of the intrinsic tension, of the impossible immanence of the body. The perverted forms would then express the immanent pain of the body, an expression which obviously has historical and political connotations. Perhaps they even are a sign of the de-substantialization, of the politization of the body organics in a period in which vitalist reduction of the body to archaic vital energy corresponded to the reduction – or rather the totalisation – of politics by totalitarian regimes. Each of those possibilities of ‘understanding’ Bellmer’s work is, of course, legitimate. But what is more important for us is that his dolls translate the intuition that form itself is not adequate to itself, that matter cannot be fixed in form, that substance is the permanent tension of metamorphosis. They, the (in)famous dolls, in this way present not a fixation of the form-of-matter as the ultimate obscene/sacred thing, but the inherent pervertibility – transformability – of form. In this sense Bellmer’s works are not obscene, they are perverted. To repeat it once again, obscenity is related to the (impossible) attempt at representation of the Thing (itself). The Thing is phantasmically seen as the obscene Thing precisely because the obscene is at the limit of (re)presentation. On the contrary, perversion in our use designates a qualitatively different relation between symbolic activity and the thing. The term perversion is appropriate not only for obvious etymological reasons (because of which it appears as synonymous for performance) but also because the sexual perversion, as a displacement of the obsession with the thing, presents the general pattern of perversion. However, this displacement is not a substitution, as the psychoanalytic reduction wants it: it is an alternative relation to the object. In fact, it is the suppression of the subject-object tension (also meaning the gender division), and consequently the entering into the neutral and intense space of the modifiability, of experimentation of the forms of life, which is pure enjoyment.

All this comes to say that it is necessary here to speak about an ontological intuition, which steps beyond the opposition of matter and form, dominating traditional metaphysics, and which thus champions the idea of transformablity as the only a-substantial substance. Of course, the unquestionable sexual reference of Bellmer’s work still imposes limitations onto this unlimited pervertibility, in a way reducing it to perversion in the crypto-psychological sense of the word. But at the same time he undoubtedly opens the neutral and intense space of limitless perversion.

– – –

That is why Bellmer’s manipulation (rather than creation) of the dolls borders at performance in the artistic sense of the term. Could I go so far as to claim that Bellmer opened its realm? It is not surprising at all that he ‘displayed’ his dolls in different spaces (in interiors or in open air, in juxtaposition with different connotated micro-spaces or objects), that he disassembled and re-assembled them, that he was continuously manipulating them (and documenting them in the end as well, manipulating the documents in turn: by virtue of photo-editing, coloring the photographs afterwards, etc.): he was, in one word, performing them. If we were to approach contemporary dance and/or performance in that perspective, we would find evident examples, like the recent work of Gisèle Vienne. The question whether her pieces I Apologize and A young, beautiful blonde girl are performance, contemporary dance or ‘just’ a puppet theatre, is meaningless. They are spectacles which reveal precisely the secret core of contemporary performance as perverted performance. The inert bodies of the dolls are treated as infinitely manipulable things, which express not only the violence of the masculine gaze (which, for instance, is at the center of Caterina Sagna’s piece Viol mental in Nightshade) but the entering into the field of neutral sexuality (in the sense of Mario Perniola), where there is no subject-object opposition or fixed gender positions anymore. Perverted bodies are bodies-things. Does the Thing alterate as a thing?

Yet, far beyond the obvious connection between Bellmer’s pioneering work and Gisèle Vienne’s recent pieces, Bellmer’s perverted manipulation could be directly related to the leading and tacit intuition of what is so vaguely and incorrectly defined as ‘conceptual dance’ (as to this, nobody is in doubt any more). After contemporary dance and performance actualized the originary techniques of body and through performance experienced the body as a perverted Thing, ‘conceptual dance’ entered the neutral space of the things themselves, the space of the unlimited transformability of substance (or of substance as transformability). If there is something conceptual in conceptual dance, it consists rather in its exemplary value, in the sense that ‘conceptual dance’ exemplifies the way in which thought operates with concepts. At the same time, it executes a true political gesture, doing politics of the things: “making things public” in the terms of the ambitious project of Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel, presented in 2005 at the ZKM in Karlsruhe. That is why philosophers could – and should – take inspiration from contemporary dance and performance (and that is why myself, a philosopher, a sheer amateur in the field of dance, dance history and dance theory, dare to think on dance or even to think the dance).

– – –

Perversion is what ‘liberates’ the object from its use-value, or, in other words, what re-opens the potentiality of things. If the object circulates in the economical circuit, the thing flashes as an event. In Jérôme Bel’s Nom donné par l’auteur (1994) the objects, liberated from their use-value, play the play of the coincidence of events. Each coincidence is a miracle, that is to say an event, and each event – coincidence. The things enter into relations and together build configurations on ontological surface, which means on the surface of the event, precisely because they are exterior to any economy. The things – ball, vacuum cleaner, flour – re-appropriate their physical qualities, perhaps also their soul, perhaps, in the end, their world. Nom donné par l’auteur is in this sense one of the purest examples of perverted performance.

[1] Speaking about Lacan begs for an anecdotal remark. Is it surprising that the illicit (because considered as pornographic) Courbet’s painting, commissioned by the Ottoman Ambassador in Paris, had mysteriously disappeared for decades before reappearing on the walls of Jacques Lacan’s flat, covered with a painting by André Masson? In other words, did psychoanalysis succeed in overcoming the modern obsession with the (revelation of the hidden present) Thing, the origin of the world?

[2] Or ‘voyeur’, according to Duchamp’s own word in the instructions he wrote in 1966 for assembling Etant donnés.

[3] Dossier of the spectacle on Jan Fabre & Troubleyn web-site: http://www.troubleyn.be/

[4] It is necessary to note that in her important essay “Defigurationen. Zur szene des anagramms in zeitgenössischem tanz und performance”, Krassimira Kruschkova has insisted on the conceptual and (a)figurative connection between Bellmer’s dolls and the work of Xavier Le Roy’s Self-Unfinished: “Ein anagrammatischer Körper also – Körpersätze, die die Syntax des Körpers immer neu setzen. Auch Arme und Beine, Hände und Füße tauschen choreographisch andauernd ihre Plätze: bei Le Roy wie bei Bellmers Puppe. Ein Organismus entstellt seine Organik.” Kruschkova’s text can be read on corpusweb.net.

[5] Indeed the feminist critics didn’t remain silent to the violence induced on the female body by the artist, just like in the last decades Japanese feminists reacted to Nobuyoshi Araki’s photographs of bondage (considered as a photographic practicing of bondage). It is clear that such accusations imply a broader questioning of the ethical responsibility of the artist and of the relation between ethics and esthetics in general. Of course, there is a simpler but reasonable question: why didn’t Bellmer use male mannequins, too? However, the questions of the artist’s psychology (or of his perverted obsessions) are not of primary interest to us here.

(23.4.2007)

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