An Introduction to Electronic Art Through the Teaching of Jacques Lacan
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An Introduction to Electronic Art Through the Teaching of Jacques Lacan

Strangest Thing

David Bard-Schwarz

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eBook - ePub

An Introduction to Electronic Art Through the Teaching of Jacques Lacan

Strangest Thing

David Bard-Schwarz

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About This Book

Electronic art offers endless opportunities for reflection and interpretation. Works can be interactive or entirely autonomous and the viewer's perception and reaction to them may be challenged by constantly transforming images. Whether the transformations are a product of the appearances or actions of a viewer in an installation space, or a product of a self-contained computer program, is a source of constant fascination. Some viewers may feel strange or unnerved by a work, while others may feel welcoming, humorous, and playful emotions. The art may also provoke a critical response to social, aesthetic, and political aspects of early twenty-first-century life. This book approaches electronic art through the teachings of Jacques Lacan, whose return to Freud has exerted a powerful and wide-ranging influence on psychoanalysis and critical theory in the twentieth century.

David Bard-Schwarz draws on his experience with Lacanian psychoanalysis, music, and interactive and traditional arts in order to address aspects of the works the viewer may find difficult to understand. Dividing his approach over four thematic chapters— Bodies, Voices, Eyes, and Signifiers —Bard-Schwarz explores the links between works of new media and psychoanalysis (how we process what we see, hear, touch, imagine, and remember).

This is a fascinating book for new media artists and critics, museum curators, psychologists, students in the fine arts, and those who are interested in digital technology and contemporary culture.

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Art General


See Figure 1.1 below for an image of a work by Michael Rees.1
Each coupled figure in the representation is poised between a single body with symmetrical elements and a hybrid of two, or perhaps four bodies, fused as conjoined twins. The representation is at once singular and plural, and I shall refer to it/them as “the representation” for simplicity's sake. The movements of the representation are also poised between opposing elements: antagonistic struggle, on the one hand, and cooperative display, on the other. In terms of antagonistic struggle, the representation evokes for me sumo wrestling; the placement of bent legs on the floor, the flexing of thigh-like muscles, the struggles to maintain balance suggest the grasp and throw techniques of wrestling. The limbs are all powerful, sumo-like, and yet baby-like in their substance—without the cut qualities of adult athletes. The representation is also un-gendered, though the sumo evocation suggests masculinity. In terms of cooperative display, the representation evokes the physical pyrotechnics of Cirque du Soleil as the representation struggles to master its own weight and then successfully flips itself over.
Figure 1.1 Putto8 2X2X2X2X by Michael Rees, 2002–2003. QuickTime Movie 1:26. Edition of 9 with Artist Proof. Used with Permission.
There is something about Rees' work that embodies the symmetries inherent in what we take for granted as the normal human body—the symmetry of the face (although we know that differences in each side comprise a signifier of individuality in social space); the symmetry of the head, ears, body, arms and legs, sexual organs, with the singular ones located at the seam of the two halves (penis, vagina, clitoris). Rees' representation evokes Deleuze and Guattari's “body without organs,” perhaps even more literally than Deleuze and Guattari would have imagined.2
In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari discuss a wide variety of approaches to textuality aimed at undercutting traditional discursive strategies in which parts are subordinated to a larger whole in homogeneous structures; their word for this type of traditional discourse is “arborescence”—an homage to the metaphor of a tree, which pervades traditional discourses as a type of homogeneity comprised of subordinated parts. As opposed to the arborescent, Deleuze and Guattari invite the reader to explore the machinic:
One side of a machinic assemblage faces the strata, which doubtless make it a kind of organism, or signifying totality, or determination attributable to a subject; it also has a side facing a body without organs, which is continually dismantling the organism, causing signifying particles or pure intensities to pass or circulate and attributing to itself subjects that it leaves with nothing more than a name as the trace of an intensity.
(Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 4, original emphasis)
Systems of meaning that arise from such assemblages, such as machinic discourse, comprise the rhizome.
From the vantage point of the early twenty-first century, Deleuze and Guattari's work can be read in the context of the celebration of postmodern, dispersed, acentric discourses of the 1980s; the rhetorical strategies deployed throughout A Thousand Plateaus bear witness to a discursive playfulness that thinks awry, to coin a term from Žižek and Lacan.3 Their third chapter, for instance, is titled “10,000 B.C. The Geology of Morals”—a playful take on Nietzsche. More subtle is a theatrical undercurrent to the chapter that playfully rewrites Andre Martinet's dual articulation of language. For Martinet, the first articulation consists of the smallest signifying units; the second articulation allows those units to comprise what we think of as meaning.
For Deleuze and Guattari, symmetrical bodies suggest the embodiment of the dual articulation—a physical correlate of the linguistic:
God is a lobster, or a double pincer, a double bind … The first articulation chooses or deducts, from unstable particle flows, metastable molecular or quasi-molecular units (substances) upon which it imposes a statistical order of connections and successions (forms). The second articulation establishes functional, compact, stable structures (forms), and constructs the molar compounds in which these structures are simultaneously actualized (substances).
(Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 40–41)
Couched in the terms of an imagined debate between mouth and brain, Deleuze and Guattari evoke a technique of creating new forms of monstrous life from a folding process:
The proof that there is isomorphism is that you can always get from one form on the organic stratum to another, however different they may be, by means of “folding.” To go from the Vertebrate to the Cephalopod, bring the two sides of the Vertebrate's backbone together, bend its head down to its feet and its pelvis up to the nape of its neck.
(Deleuze and Guattari 1987: 46)
Rees' work simultaneously evokes these disparate registers of meaning: the monstrous, a fantasy of a new, folded body, split and fused at symmetrical spines of the body, a combative hybrid of sumo wrestlers, a cooperative hybrid of acrobats mastering unique body parts.
See Figure 1.2 for a work by Paula Gaetano-Adi.4
Adi's Anima has a single opening that blows out air to the user as he or she nears it. The word and name Anima evoke the breath of life. And the breath of Anima emanates from a single, anatomically ambiguous orifice. For Lacan, openings, slits in the body, suggest the erogenous zones upon which subjectivity and its sexualities depend:
The very delimitation of the “erogenous zone” that the drive isolates from the function's metabolism … is the result of a cut that takes advantage of the anatomical characteristic of a margin or border: the lips, “the enclosure of the teeth,” the rim of the anus, the penile groove, the vagina, and slit formed by the eyelids, not to mention the hollow of the ear … Respiratory erogeneity has been little studied, but it is obviously through spasms that it comes into play.
(Lacan 2006: 692)
Figure 1.2 Anima by Paula Gaetano-Adi, 2009. Autonomous Robotic Agent. Photo by Justin Luna. Used with Permission.
Adi's Anima is precisely an embodiment of respiratory eroticism. But what are the registers at which such an embodiment of respiratory eroticism work?
There are openings in the body into which and out of which body fluids and various substances pass. For Kristeva, the relationship between these internalizing and externalizing functions suggest an abject, erotic subjectivity:
The body's inside … shows up in order to compensate for the collapse of the border between inside and outside. It is as if the skin, a fragile container, no longer guaranteed the integrity of one's “own and clean self” but, scraped or transparent, invisible or taut, gave way before the dejection of its contents. Urine, blood, sperm, excrement then show up in order to reassure a subject that is lacking its “own clean self.” The abjection of those flows from within suddenly become the sole “object” of sexual desires—a true “ab-ject” where man, frightened, crosses over the horrors of maternal bowels and, in an immersion that enables him to avoid coming face to face with an other, spares himself the risk of castration.
(Kristeva 1982: 53)
For Kristeva, the abject derives from those aspects of the crucially female body that have been marked as unclean in such texts as Leviticus from the Old Testament and other texts throughout Western culture. Sources of the unclean have been disease, decay of corpses, menstrual blood. Even more specifically, for Kristeva:
[t]he abject confronts us … and this time within our personal archaeology, with our earliest attempts to release the hold of the maternal entity even before ex-isting outside of her thanks to the autonomy of language. It is a violent, clumsy breaking away, with the constant risk of falling back under the sway of a power as securing as it is stifling.
(Kristeva 1982: 13, original emphasis)
The representation of Anima suggests abjection in a variety of ways: the sickly texture of its skin, its lack of bone, and muscular support, its fleshiness suggesting a separated body part, and the singularity of its orifice.5 We can only imagine the experience of feeling the “dry air” that emanates from Anima; it would signify as abject only as a product of the flesh that provides its support.6
For Kristeva, Georges Bataille was the first to discuss the connections between abjection and a weakness of the logic of exclusion in many social systems: “Bataille is … the first to have specified that the plane of abjection is that of the subject/object relationship (and not subject/other subject) and that this archaism is rooted in anal eroticism rather than sadism” (Kristeva 1982: 64, original emphasis). What kind of object might Anima suggest?
According to Lacan:
[T]he interest the subject takes in his own split is bound up with that which determines it—namely a privileged object, which has emerged from some primal separation, from some self-mutilation induced by the very approach of the real, whose name in our algebra, is the objet [petit] a.
(Lacan 1981: 83, original emphasis)7
The primal separation is the separation of the body from the mother; it is...

Table of contents

Citation styles for An Introduction to Electronic Art Through the Teaching of Jacques Lacan
APA 6 Citation
Bard-Schwarz, D. (2014). An Introduction to Electronic Art Through the Teaching of Jacques Lacan (1st ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from (Original work published 2014)
Chicago Citation
Bard-Schwarz, David. (2014) 2014. An Introduction to Electronic Art Through the Teaching of Jacques Lacan. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis.
Harvard Citation
Bard-Schwarz, D. (2014) An Introduction to Electronic Art Through the Teaching of Jacques Lacan. 1st edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Bard-Schwarz, David. An Introduction to Electronic Art Through the Teaching of Jacques Lacan. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis, 2014. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.