The Representation of the Body under 'Communism'

Article by Marina Grzinic (1997).

From: grzinic@img.t-kougei.ac.jp
Date: Sat, 18 Oct 1997 13:03:57 +0100
Subject: Syndicate: Marina Grzinic: Representation of the Body under 'Communism'

Marina Grzinic, Tokyo/Ljubljana


To understand the representation of the body in new media, the body immersed in the specific totalitarian context of Eastern Europe's Socialism and Communism, we must first of all decode the intersection of cultural, political and theoretical strategies lying beneath such represen-tation. We can talk of the common heritage of totalitarianism, as we talk of the common plat-form of (European) democracy. I propose to reflect on Communism as an oppositional, differential setting, and to do the same with the body.

In the beginning, nevertheless, we need to draw some clarifications which are strategically im-portant. Today Communism is being commodified for consumption and this is part of the process of circulation of cultural stereotypes. It seems that Communism was the 'lingua franca' and yet for those of us coming from the 'so-called' Eastern European context, it is loosing its status of 'lingua materna'. Ironically, Communism and its big brother Socialism were developed as clear patriarchal systems.

The body today is like nature, a commonplace and powerful discursive construction. The body is a topos and a tropos, a figure, construction, artifact, movement, displacement. So the question 'how to squeeze the body and fill it with oil and blue vitriol?' is a not rhetorical, but strategic.

From the answer we will see that how we fill the body, from where we insert the blue vitriol in the image, we will get oppositional strategies from its reading. This reading, however, will be partly utopic as we are trying to work on the concept of the 'so-called' rudimentary body, which lived in the Communist context. Firstly as a political body, to trace out the interference between the body and the Socialist/Communist system to focus ourselves on the body as a topos of different deformations and usurpations.


1. The aim of the new generation of video artists has been to investigate the means by which a subject and the body is produced and articulated in electronic moving images. Especially, to investigate the ways of visualization of the 'so-called' absent body, object or history. To fulfil this task many video artists developed alternatives to the dominant forms of (post-)Communist visual strategies, by utilising different methods of misrepresentation. The term misrepresen-tation derived from feminist film practice and theory is, according to Griselda Pollock (2), unlike some expectant models of identification with a positive narrative or a heroic character. 'Misrepresentation' seldom provides an anticipated pleasure of identification. Instead, the aim of misrepresentation , according to Jo Anna Issak, is to effect the "ruin of representation"(3) precisely on the grounds of what has been excluded, of the non-represented object.

This creates a significance out of absence, and in this way investigates the means by which a subject and the body is produced. Corporate systems of representation, however, are subject to radical break-down or deconstruction. This allows for new discursive practices, which are able to function in-between forms of high culture and mass culture. Such counter narratives are resistant to the point that they could no longer be included within a philosophically, binary opposition, but which however inhabit philosophical oppositions resisting and disorganizing it without ever constituting a third term (Jacques Derrida). The achievement is thus the decen-tralization of the subject to the point where instead of outside or inside there exists a power-fully dynamic relation to both outside and inside, dependence and independence, art and nature and, finally, to what is real and what is not.

On the other side when misrepresentation forms a fictitious path, (semantical and semiotical opposite coinages) the video medium allows for a mode of display and analysis of the mani-pulation and the duplication of history itself, as practised by the Communist authorities.

2. The body is an artifact cobbled from other artifacts rather than from a profound experience of life. In contrast to the mass media produced idea that the body connected with new media achieves a natural totality, processes of post-Socialist visualization of the subject and of his/her body in the media underline this artificial, mediatized, constructed and non-natural human body and his/her thoughts and emotions.

The place where many of these video works were made is also a negative one. It was not the place clearly visible in the structure of the social system, it was the bedroom or bathroom of a private apartment.

Bodies that featured in the video works of East Europe are not only mapped as territories, not only producing a kind of intersection of outer and inner space, nor our visibility and invisibility, but these bodies were reconstructed and re-invented again and again in the video medium. From them we tried to squeeze out monumental effects - to make them modern relics, sexual fetishes, encrusted and filled with substances such as oil, blood and blue vitriol. As meta-phorical territories these bodies condensed history and a strategy of suspense in that we wonder to which history the faces belong to and to whom these bodies were delivered. The bodies were/are chains of eternal replacement of meaning in the same way that history is itself articulated by partially readable faces and bodies!

3. At the end of the millennium the body has found itself in the chaos of fear, pain and wars, being attacked and decentered. Above all it is a fleeting physical-material fact. A credit-card sized processor has taken our body materiality. By a single key we can plug into any high-tech appliance. So our dreams of going somewhere far away, of escaping the dimensions of our-selves as nothingness are realized here by reversals of the body in time and space, and space in time. And you can see how a tremendous impact can be achieved by technically reverting the linearity of time. Sometimes a backward move by the simplest video switch is the most adequate measurement of our feelings and thoughts.

'Everything, everywhere, everybody' is the nineties slogan that results in a confusion of bodies, concepts and strategies, a type of out of joint situation for the subject. We find ourselves within all medias, in all bodies, in all possible spaces at once. This puts into question some fundamental arguments concerning art and culture. Operating in the new mode, the positions of identity are also showing us other internal media and social processes. We are faced with leaving a historically defined position, which imitates the natural world of our senses. With new media and technology we have the possibility of an artificial interface, which is dominated by non-identity or difference (Peter Weibel). Instead of producing a new identity, something more radical is produced: the total loss of identity. The subject is forced to assume that he or she is not what he thought himself to be, but somebody-something else.

1 Cf. M. Grzinic text in the book of the Artintact 4 CD-Rom edition series by the ZKM, Karlsruhe; see also the CD-Rom project by Grzinic and Smid Troubles with Sex, Theory and History in Artintact 4 CD-Rom edition series by the ZKM 1997.

2 Cf. Griselda Pollock, 'Feminist Film Practice and Pleasure* A Discussion', in Formations of Pleasure, London 1983, pp. 157.

3 Cf. Jo Anna Isaak, 'Women: The Ruin of Representation', in Afterimage, April 1985, p. 6.

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