At the AAANZ Conference, Image Space Body, at GOMA last week I chaired a panel, The Violent Body: A History of Forgetting, with artist Daniel McKewen and author Sally Breen. The panel abstract and each of the individual author abstracts can be found below.
Dr Mitch Goodwin (James Cook University) (Panel Chair)
firstname.lastname@example.org | mitchgoodwin.com
Dr Daniel McKewen (Queensland University of Technology)
email@example.com | danielmckewen.com
Dr Sally Breen (Griffith University)
firstname.lastname@example.org | fb.me/AuthorSallyBreen
The Violent Body: A History of Forgetting
The 20th century constitutes a rich historical archive of images imagined, constructed and documented. Artists, authors, photojournalists and citizens alike have contributed to a dark, troubled history of the human form compromised by violence in a world dominated by the ongoing repercussions of the technological accident. The end as it were, has a deep history and is presented in an endless stream of iconic images: the stricken body in war (Capa, 1936), the body in violent repose (Warhol, 1962), the body adrift in space (Kubrick, 1968) and the falling man (Drew, 2001) being obvious touchstones. These media objects are evidence of an ongoing neo-gothic tendency in contemporary image making that is reflective of not only an intensely visual culture but also a culture of visualization. It is the visualization of the body in particular that is the active operant here, acting as a buffer to the more violent components of our collective existence.
This virtual representation of the body as digital image promotes an absence of tangible violence – a complex mind trick that is indicative of our times. A time of endless war, of invisible weapons conducting invisible acts of violence, of software and of hardware that watch and listen and capture. As Slavoj Žižek has observed, it may be the “endlessness” of the present-future state that may in fact deny us the possibility of a new beginning. Does this also include the possibility of a new body in a new space in a different time? Have we become somehow enslaved to the violent body and its virtual history?
Falling Man – The Virtualization of the Violent Body
by Dr Mitch Goodwin
Paul Virilio has noted the lowering of the horizon line in contemporary culture as the vision machine steps into the breach scouting the skies for suspicious vectors and surveying the Earth’s crust for glacial imperfections. At the same time our animal eyes turn away from the skies. We recoil at the violence of the heavens and bend our heads toward the safe glowing virtuality of the black mirror. As the millennium ticks over we are caught in an image loop defined by the vague outlines of the future. It was always a fabricated space, this technological promise, where the image of the body was defined by clean pale fabrics, glistening walls of chrome and pine amidst luminous trails of data. Always on the ground, always safe in the glass vestibule of progress. Our common shared reality is far different however, here the human form is rendered in a more vulnerable state of flux. On the mediated horizon line between the Earth and the atmosphere exists the figure of the falling man. The victim of our romance with vertiginous space and with our technological rush to colonize the air. This redrawing of the human form as an anonymous accomplice of the historical narrative is burnt into the infrastructure of the global network whose very survival is dependent on the repetition and repatriation of the image.
This paper seeks to assess the virtualization of this networked body in violent repose – in flight, in space and in descent. Images such as Robert Drew’s photograph of the Falling Man on the morning of September 11 2001, of Commander Stone in Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity and Warhol’s Death and Disaster series which, while fixated with death, also wears the markers of mankind’s doomed quest for verticality. It is indeed as Donna Haraway has observed, a cyborg of convergent renderings, but not as she intended. Rather it is a rerouting of the body in digital form into something that does in fact return to dust – bent and contorted by the bloody mess of machine intervention. The most despairing of images, weary with the weight of Virilio’s accident of technology, is almost imperceptible now behind a shroud of pixels. This magic trick, this cyber-friendly blurring of the machine’s interpretation of the body is now a familiar mode of visual discourse. A deliberate act of obscurification – to protect us, to shield us, to remind us of unspeakable things to push back against the glare of that ominous shimmer on the horizon.
Running Men: The precarious, paranoid body in screen culture
by Dr Daniel McKewen
This paper discusses my video installation Running Men as an example of how an artist’s appropriative engagements with screen images of the perilous body can reflect the technological zeitgeist of the last hundred years but also create a space of meditative and mediated reflection in Slavoj Žižek’s “endlessness” of the present-future. In this artwork, iconic male characters from Hollywood films are recontextualised to create infinitely looping scenes of running; trapping the characters in a kind of Nietchzen eternal recurrence that suspends them between impending violence and uncertain futures. Stemming primarily from my investigation into anxiety as a shared social experience, one perhaps primed by the increasing intensity of visual culture in the 21st century, these digitally reconfigured bodies become avatars or surrogates for myself, and for the viewer. Through selective editing, these emblematic figures are caught in a space of relentless confusion and paranoia – they run with, and from anxiety. They are never caught by any unseen pursuers, but are equally unable to catch up to any unseen goal. These figures map an historical trajectory of violence and masculinity as it has been projected through various iterations of screen culture Simultaneously, as celebrities, they are also fictions of the media sphere, both real and ethereal, they are impossible to grasp but paradoxically are objects of identification and emulation. In this duality, the work also references cinema’s tangled conflation of character and celebrity identity.
This discussion will address the two distinct but connected sites and activities of body/image engagement. Firstly, the artistic process and conceptual ramifications of this activity, and secondly in the artwork’s potential as an installation to provide an opportunity for the viewer (like the artist) to reflect on the
We Weren’t in the Same War – Dispatches from the Other Side
by Dr Sally Breen
This paper, positioned as creative practice as research, examines a selection of popular culture responses to the Vietnam War from a range of art forms – film, literature, music and visual art in order to highlight the enduring power and subsequent erasure of multiple points of view by Hollywood driven celluloid images regarding this conflict. The cross-cultural gap begins literally in a war of words. In Vietnam the conflict is referred to as the American War – a fact largely unknown in the West where references to ‘Nam’ are wrapped up in a confusing and often contradictory nexus of cultural iconography – the counter cultural revolution, American and allied patriotism, mateship, masculinity and violence and death. The gap reflected by that act of naming extends into nearly all aspects of representational and fictionalised history regarding this war where saturation of celluloid images particularly those made famous by the rush of American films released in the 1980s has tainted perspectives and created a potent mythology which undoubtedly favours America and her allies. Endless scenes from Platoon looping inside our heads. A young Johnny Depp walking across a bombed-out rice field with a young ‘gook girl’ in his arms. Sergeant Alias, the good guy, falling to his knees in the final scene, arms raised in supplication as the strings lift and the footage drifts into slow motion, the Viet Cong shooting him a million times in the back before he falls in a series of staggered motions. And Sargent Barnes – the bad guy, flying away in the helicopter watching his softer rival die. And Charlie Sheen. The young man caught between his two emblematic fathers vying for possession of his soul. Just one example of the popularised vision of violence which sought to explain a war to a generation and didn’t – what those audiences got instead was a meaty, nostalgic, muscly man game where soldiers raped women, erased the Vietnamese view and any kind of examination of reason. And all of it was seductive. Bodies and blood. Another act of violence, a virtual invasion – a violation of your truth and history if you were Vietnamese. This paper will filter such cultural responses through an examination of contrasting literature in order to suggest how creative writing might have the power to reduce and neutralise the potency of toxic visual discourse. I will refer principally to my own creative work Small Bird Song forthcoming in the Asia Literary Review and the iconic Vietnamese novel The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh.