Vaginal Planet: Delphic Chatbots and the Logic of the Spiral in Alexandra Neuman’s Alternative Energy

Vaginal Planet: Delphic Chatbots and the Logic of the Spiral in Alexandra Neuman’s Alternative Energy

In the language of the Green New Deal and the Paris Climate Agreement, “alternative energy” suggests a future premised on a simple upgrade: swap out fossil fuels for clean technology; update the means of production without altering its capitalist logic.1 How do we imagine a future made possible by neither a temporal (carbon offsets)—nor spatial (colonizing Mars)—fix? The cosmic, vaginal oracle of Alexandra Neuman’s video Alternative Energy (2020), channeling the wisdom of the Pythia and the irreverence of SmarterChild, emerges from the void with a provocation to consider the alterity of alternative energy. Out of the whistling machinic hum and rippling tides, the oracle speaks to the Levinasian conception of feminine alterity that discloses “all possibilities of the transcendent relationship with the Other.”2

Through the fluorescent (feminine) being—whose outstretched, typing hand metonymically suggests the searching subject and the viewer—we come to see this alterity as familiarity—“an en-ergy of separation.”3 Questions and answers are typed in real time across the screen in 8 bit font, evoking elliptical chatbots who, pre-Siri, were free from the imperative to facticity or service. The oracle does not exist for us, on demand; they come from a vaginal planet that sources its energy “from a giant hole in the tides.” After asking each question, the hand must spin a small egg within the oracle’s computer animated labial folds, as if rolling a die to determine the next move. The oracle’s cryptic answers, however, do not tell the hand how to proceed but submerge it deeper into the strange. The climactic question “How long will I exist inside this vessel?” sends the egg spiraling into the blue-green tides only to land upon the familiar orifice of the navel. Have we reached the surface of the vaginal planet or are we looking into a mirror? “Take a trip inside your belly,” guides the oracle, “to feel how death and birth are accessible on all sides.” Like every figure of alterity, death—the most unfamiliar—is paradoxically a portal to its (familiar) opposite, life.

The vagina is perhaps the figure of deathly familiarity par excellence. From ancient myth to Freudian psychoanalysis, conceptions of feminine otherness are well rehearsed. Two examples, the figures of the hostess and the womb, speak to these binaries—familiar and strange, self and other, home and universe—while refusing the notion that these things are “energetically separate.”4 The modern word hostess, contrary to what we might assume, is “not a feminine form of the Latin hostis, but a corrupted form of ‘hostility.’”5 Tracy McNulty notes that “[i]n the Judeo-Christian tradition, the hostess is the excess of the host, the one who is not made in the image of God.”6 As in the biblical stories of Jael and Judith, the hostess is duplicitous, conniving. In modern politics, the First Lady is the nation’s hostess, an extension of the president; if she wields too much influence over her husband, she is considered a hostile threat from within (Hillary Clinton).7

We find similar uneasiness in Freud’s conception of “the female genital organs” as both the “the entrance to the former Heim [home] of all human beings” and the “unheimlich [uncanny] place.”8 Put another way, “[t]he unheimlich,” or the womb, “is what was once heimisch.”9 For Gayatri Spivak, the womb’s slippage into the uncanny relates to the “planet as signifier of the uncanny, by way of nationalist colonialism and postcoloniality.”10 The feminine, signified by the womb, is thus wrested from the specificity of the female body and mobilized toward new discursive ends—“to imagine ourselves as … planetary creatures rather than global entities.”11 Rather than rendering the planet or the womb more familiar, it is time for human beings to immerse themselves into the strange. In this constellation, the strange does not exist as a temporary impasse on the way to fully conquer and homogenize the world outside. No matter how many millions of miles Elon Musk travels from Earth, the familiar forms of capital will follow like manifest destiny.

To immerse oneself in the strange demands a different orientation from outside/inside, one in which our ego-shell does not protect us but holds us hostage to ourselves. In Alternative Energy, otherness isn’t a threat from within but rather a constant source of spiralic renewal, recollection, and reproduction. The vaginal oracle, far from the monstrous vagina dentata or sheathed enemy, drifts around us like a satellite. Detached from the human body yet distinctly feminine in form, the vaginal oracle encounters the subject/viewer as another figure chancing to pass through their orbit. Linear progress is foreign to the oracle; they know only the elliptical movement of play, the matrixial submersion into the w/hole—and w/hole-y Other—entity within. The oracle’s proposal to “take a trip inside your belly,” then, might be understood as much a call to internal self-discovery as a challenge to the subject’s superiority. In keeping with the oracle’s abstraction from the female form, the logic of the feminine—instead of valorizing the feminine subject—presents itself as a mobilizing life-force. Alternative energy, in this sense, is not another resource to be extracted and depleted but a connection to be renewed.

Maddie Wells


1 As Jasper Bernes argues, “The problem with the Green New Deal is that it promises to change everything while keeping everything the same. It promises to switch out the energetic basis of modern society as if one were changing the battery in a car.” See Bernes, “Between the Devil and the Green New Deal.” Commune, April 25, 2019, https://communemag.com/between-the-devil-and-the-green-new-deal/.
2 Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Interiority, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne, 1969), 156.
3 Ibid.
4 Teresa Brennan, Exhausting Modernity: Grounds for a New Economy (London: Routledge, 2000), 11. For Brennan, “the idea of an energetic connection between the subject, others and the environment” is inimical to modern Western thought insofar as it “dims the subject’s preeminence.”
5 Tracy McNulty, The Hostess: Hospitality, Femininity, and the Expropriation of Identity (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2007), xliii. McNulty provides an exhaustive account of the etymological, philosophical, and historical relation between host and hostess: “The Latin hostis means ‘enemy’ as well as ‘guest,’ and is also the linguistic root of ‘hostility,’ which developed when relations between individuals or clans were supplanted by a general distinction between those internal and external to the city-state. Hostility is thus contained within the notion of the guest as an implicit possibility” (53).
6 Ibid, 52.
7 Ibid, 53.
8 Sigmund Freud, “The ‘Uncanny.’” The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological works of Sigmund Freud, trans. by James Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1919), 245.
9 Ibid.
10 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Death of a Discipline (New York: Columbia UP, 2003), 73.
11 Ibid.

NON-HUMAN VISUAL PERSPECTIVES By Linda Carluccio

 Non-human visual perspectives 

Linda Carluccio

 

At this stage, it is widely and concretely believed that ours is a visual society: we communicate and talk through images, something that is probably based on an effort to see the world and share it. The media-visual environment we are immersed in is made up partly by media, as the word itself indicates, and partly by images. It must be considered that all devices, mobile phones, laptops, audio-visual devices, tracking and fixed cameras, webcams, CCTVs, GoPros and the overabundant images they produce, run on two impressive tracks. This never-before-seen situation transforms everyday life, distorts and, most importantly, amplifies our sensations and perceptions, changing our very humanity. So, the media become extensions of our bodies, images become our languages. What led us into this intricate iconosphere is the advent of photography: a technological revolution. The progressive evolution of machines continues to trigger ever new thoughts and doubts, but it is certain that the medium has become(1) key in the fertile but also mine-strewn ground on which we tread. The consequences of the photographic revolution are so relevant that they affect arts, philosophy, society, science, and politics.

Loosely applying Dziga Vertov’s 1923(2) manifesto to today, one can say that the media are made up of a mechanical eye: they show the world in the only way that they see it. The media do not have man’s specific limits, do not have time and space boundaries, because their merchandise circulates virally and carries memories, historical factors, recollections, and other dimensions. Their technological essence and complexity allow for the creation and attainment of new perceptions of reality and for seeing what is still unknown.

The bond we have established with media and images has taken root so spontaneously that it could be a new challenge to try and go beyond the anthropocentric era, which is impoverishing the Earth, including the mediasphere. It is indeed interesting to go beyond strictly human relations and explore the possibilities of situations which are actually already unstoppably here. Let us try to think about media too from a non-human point of view, since they live with us in an apparently passive way: which implications may they have? The media are not passive, on a second thought, because they are, to the contrary, just like images, as active and acting as ever. The possibility and the prospects of non-human or post-human perceptions are sometimes stimulating, other times even disturbing.

The Italian artist Emilio Vavarella, with his work Animal Cinema (2017), made a short film by editing videos chosen from YouTube. The only actors in the film are eleven animals (crab, octopi, dog, brown bear, panther, squirrel, capuchin monkey, macaque, and the eagle(3) at the end of the film), who stole the devices, took possession of them and acted autonomously. The work is built on a fluid, seamless editing of the different video fragments, giving rise to a sequential and continuous narration aimed at fusing their different animal kingdoms. Vision does not belong to human beings any more: humans started the process, but the film shows the animals’ perceptions, going from claws clashing fiercely against the screen, to suckers inspecting through quick moves, going from one branch to another of a large tree following monkeys and squirrels. The non-human shows us what we do not know, what we cannot see; it becomes powerful and independent in manoeuvring the medium until it switches it off, as in the final scene of the film.

The non-human or post-human, then, starts to exercise an acting presence in the world through the technological unconscious(4), which paved the way towards an ever more accentuated reflection on the redefinition of the subject. Actively looking is no longer a prerogative of the human being.

Screenshot from Animal Cinema (2017), Emilio Vavarella.
Photographic sources: http://emiliovavarella.com/animal-cinema/

 

 

«The technical vision, chance and unintentional, prevails over subjectivity. For avantgarde movements it was the acceptance of the machine’s or the animal’s, which is to say the non-human’s, gaze, which liberated the human from his/her atavisms and his/her habits: irrationality, or its simulation, is the way to get to a new rationality»(5).

It is necessary to keep in mind the medium itself as potential by itself and coinciding, today, with the algorithm, when the human being is not the filmmaker. The semiotic definition(6) of algorithm is knowing how to shoot, focus, record, analyse, develop, as can be seen in any narrative discourse, and expresses itself in achieving its mission-function through a neutral operator: a robot.

When it comes to the non-human, then, the animal kingdom is not the only alternative. The progressive expansion of the machines’ capacity to perceive, interpret, and act independently raises several questions about living alongside one another and about the limits and confines of the humanity-technology dichotomy.

True, images are everywhere and propagate exponentially, but many of them are produced by machines for machines: images which are invisible to the human eye. An artist who brings this kind of images to light is American Trevor Pagler. His Adversarially Evolved Hallucination (2017) series is in line with visual non-human perspectives. It shows repertoires of alienating images produced by AIs. The images are created by computer vision systems which, after considerable dataset training, became aware of the visual perception of the world. The artist, in collaboration with software developers from Stanford University, correlated two AIs: one for image recognition, the other for image generation. The team has thus “taught” the machines to “see” specific entities or phenomena taken from literature, poetry, popular culture, by setting up categories, defined by the artist as Corpus: The Humans, The Interpretation of Dreams, Omens and Portents, and by translating them into cryptic and disturbing images in line with exquisitely human received ideas. Although Paglen’s research is aimed at identifying the controversial politicians which belong to the category of AI and to all surveillance systems, it is particularly interesting to make out, in his work, the images produced by the machines’ perception. «Technology is thought to be impartial, but it is not»(7), the American artist maintains. He exploits the functioning of the artificial vision of machines, which are interconnected with human beings and with power establishments.

Similarly to the scenario of the two artistic cases, the artist-man acts by starting a process, then the algorithm managed by non-human operators responds, and the images become powerful. Non-humans have presence, have their own visual perception, and the media spur us to amplify our senses and become aware of a world which has never belonged to human beings only, and of which we still do not see so much.

Trevor Paglen, Comet (Corpus: Omens and Portents), Adversarially Evolved Hallucination, 2017. 
Image source: https://www.metropictures.com/artists/trevor-paglen#4

Trevor Paglen, Porn (Corpus: The Humans), Adversarially Evolved Hallucination, 2017.
Image source: https://www.metropictures.com/exhibitions/trevor-paglen4/selected-works?view=slider#11

Trevor Paglen, Vampir (Corpus: Monster of Capitalism), Adversarially Evolved Hallucination, 2017.
Image source: https://www.metropictures.com/exhibitions/trevor-paglen4/selected-works?view=slider#13

1 V. Tanni, Memestetica. Il settembre eterno dell’arte, Nero, Rome, 2020, p. 21.

2 Dziga Vertov’s Manifesto of 1923, quoted in Ways of seeing, John Berger, episode 1, BBC, 1972.

3 http://emiliovavarella.com/animal-cinema/

4 F. Vaccari, Fotografia e inconscio tecnologico, Einaudi, Turin, 2011.

5 J. Fontcuberta, La furia delle immagini. Note sulla postfotografia, Einaudi, Turin, 2018 p.106.

6 A. J. Greimas, J. Courtés, Semiotica. Dizionario ragionato della teoria del linguaggio, Mondadori, Milan, p.5.

7 https://www.artforum.com/interviews/trevor-paglen-talks-about-surveillance-ai-and-his-new-work-69919

Prospettive visive non umane

Linda Carluccio

È ormai opinione diffusa e concreta che la nostra è una società visuale: comunichiamo e parliamo attraverso le immagini, caratterista, questa, basata probabilmente sul tentativo di vedere il mondo e condividerlo. L’ambiente media-visuale in cui siamo immersi è costituito da una parte dai media appunto e dall’altra dalle immagini. Si devono considerare, infatti, due imponenti binari su cui corrono parallelamente tutti i  dispositivi, cellulari, computer portatili, dispositivi audio-visivi, fotocamere mobili e fisse, webcam, telecamere di sorveglianza, GoPro e le sovrabbondanti immagini prodotte dagli stessi. Tale situazione senza precedenti trasforma il quotidiano, distorce e soprattuto amplifica le nostre sensazioni e percezioni, modificando la nostra stessa umanità. Ecco che i media divengono estensioni dei nostri corpi, le immagini il nostro linguaggio. L’avvento della fotografia è stata la rivoluzione tecnologica che ci ha portato in questa intricata iconosfera: la progressiva evoluzione della macchina continua a innescare sempre nuove riflessioni e perplessità, ma è indubbio riconoscere il valore centrale che il mezzo ha acquisito(1) nell’attuale fertile – e minato in ugual misura – terreno sui cui camminiamo. Le conseguenze della rivoluzione fotografica sono talmente rilevanti da ripercuotersi in ambito artistico, filosofico, sociale, scientifico e politico.
Traslando le parole del manifesto di Dziga Vertov del 1923(2) a oggi, si può affermare che i media sono costituiti da un occhio meccanico e mostrano il mondo per come solo essi possono vederlo; i media non hanno i limiti peculiari dell’uomo, non hanno limiti di tempo e di spazio poiché la loro merce circola in modo virale e presentano ricordi, fatti storici, memorie, dimensioni altre. La loro essenza e complessità tecnologica permette di creare e ottenere nuove percezioni della realtà e di vedere quanto è ancora sconosciuto.
Il legame che abbiamo instaurato con media e immagini è così spontaneamente attecchito che una nuova sfida potrebbe essere quella di provare a superare, anche nell’ambito della mediasfera, l’epoca antropocentrica che sta impoverendo la terra. E’ interessante, infatti, andare oltre le relazioni strettamente umane ed esplorare le possibilità di situazioni già irrefrenabilmente presenti. Proviamo a pensare in ottica non umana anche nei confronti dei media che convivono e coesistono con noi in maniera apparentemente passiva: quali potrebbero essere i risvolti? La condizione passiva, riflettendo meglio, non coinvolge i media che sono invece, così come le immagini, attivi e attanti come non mai. Le possibilità e le prospettive di percezioni non umane o postumane sono talvolta stimolanti, tavolta persino inquietanti.
L’artista italiano Emilio Vavarella nel suo lavoro Animal Cinema (2017) ha realizzato un breve film con il montaggio di video selezionati da YouTube. Gli attori del film sono esclusivamente gli undici animali (granchio, piovre, cane, orso bruno, pantere, scoiattolo, scimmia cappuccino, macaco e l’aquila(3) a chiudere il film) che hanno rubato i dispositivi, se ne sono appropriati e hanno agito autonomamente. Il lavoro si viene a costituire su un montaggio fluido dei diversi frammenti video, senza interruzioni dando luogo ad una narrazione sequenziale e continua volta ad una fusione dei regni animali. La visione non appartiene più all’essere umano: egli ha innescato il processo, ma il film ci mostra la percezioni degli animali, passando da chele che si scontrano fortemente contro lo schermo a ventose che ispezionano a scattanti passaggi tra un ramo e l’altro di un grande albero seguendo scimmie e scoiattoli. Il non umano che ci mostra ciò che non sappiamo, ciò che noi non possiamo vedere, acquista potere e raggiunge una propria indipendenza nel manovrare il media fino a spegnerlo, come nella scena finale del film.
Il non umano o postumano, quindi, inizia ad esercitare una presenza agente nel mondo tramite l’inconscio tecnologico(4) che ha aperto le porte ad una riflessione sempre più accentuata sulla ridefinizione del soggetto. Il guardare attivamente non è più una prerogativa dell’essere umano. «La visione tecnica, fortuita e non intenzionale, prevale sulla soggettività. Per le avanguardie, era l’accettazione dello sguardo della macchina – o dell’animale, cioè del non umano – ciò che liberava l’umano dai suoi atavismi e dalle sue abitudini: l’irrazionalità, o la sua simulazione, è il modo per giungere a una nuova razionalità.»(5).
Bisogna tener presente il media stesso come autonomamente in potenza e coincidente, oggi, con l’algoritmo quando l’essere umano non ne è il regista. L’algoritmo, da definizione semiotica(6), corrisponde a un saper fare – fotografare, inquadrare, registrare, analizzare, sviluppare – che si riscontra in un qualsiasi discorso narrativo e si esprime nel compimento della missione-funzione tramite un operatore neutro denominato automa.
Se si parla di non umano, quindi, non si fa certo riferimento solo al mondo animale. La progressiva espansione delle capacità delle macchine di percepire, interpretare e agire in modo autonomo pone svariati interrogativi rispetto alla coabitazione e ai limiti e confini della dicotomia umanità-tecnologia.
Le immagini sono ovunque e si diffondono esponenzialmente, si, ma c’è una gran parte di queste che è prodotta da macchine per le macchine: immagini invisibili all’essere umano. Un artista che porta alla luce questo genere di immagini non visibili è l’americano Trevor Pagler. In linea con il discorso di prospettive visive non umane è la sua serie Adversarially Evolved Hallucination (2017) che rivela raccolte di immagini stranianti prodotte dalle IA. Le immagini sono state realizzate da sistemi di computer vision che, in seguito a considerevoli training sets di dati, hanno consapevolizzato la percezione visiva del mondo. L’artista, in collaborazione con gli sviluppatori di software dell’Università di Stanford, ha messo in relazione due IA: una per il riconoscimento di immagini, una per generare le immagini. La squadra ha in questo modo “insegnato” alle macchine come vedere specifiche entità o fenomeni tratti dalla letteratura, dalla poesia, dalla cultura popolare costituendo categorie definite Corpus dall’artista, Gli umani, L’interpretazione dei sogni, Auspici e presagi tradotti in immagini criptiche e inquietanti conformi a preconcetti squisitamente umani. Sebbene la ricerca di Paglen sia votata ad individuare i controversi politici che appartengono alle IA e a tutti i sistemi di sorveglianza, è comunque particolarmente interessante cogliere dal suo lavoro quelle che sono immagini prodotte dalla percezione delle macchine. «Si presuppone che la tecnologia sia imparziale, ma non lo è»(7) sostiene l’artista americano che specula sul funzionamento della visione artificiale delle macchine interconnesse all’essere umano e alle strutture di potere.
Similmente allo scenario dei due casi artistici, l’uomo- artista agisce nell’avviare un processo, l’algoritmo gestito da operatori non umani risponde e le immagini acquistano potenza. I non umani sono presenti, hanno una loro percezione visiva e i media ci spingono ad ampliare i sensi e prendere coscienza di un mondo che non è mai appartenuto soltanto all’essere umano e di cui ancora tanto non riusciamo vedere.

1 V. Tanni, Memestetica. Il settembre eterno dell’arte, Nero, Roma, 2020, p. 21
2 Manifesto di Dziga Vertov 1923, citato in Ways of seeing, John Berger, episodio 1, BBC, 1972
3 http://emiliovavarella.com/animal-cinema/
4 F. Vaccari, Fotografia e inconscio tecnologico, Einaudi, Torino, 2011
5 J. Fontcuberta, La furia delle immagini. Note sulla postfotografia, Einaudi, Torino, 2018 p.106
6 A. J. Greimas, J. Courtés, Semiotica. Dizionario ragionato della teoria del linguaggio, Mondadori, Milano, p.5
7 https://www.artforum.com/interviews/trevor-paglen-talks-about-surveillance-ai-and-his-new-work-69919

Floryan Varennes in conversation with Indira Béraud

POST-PROPHYLAXIS

A focus on Floryan Varennes practice.
With contributions by Indira Béraud, Benoît Lamy and Florian Gaité.

Indira Béraud
There are references to the medieval era that punctuate your every work through titles, symbols and other aesthetic references. Can you tell us more about your relationship with that period?

Floryan Varennes
This particular taste for history, and especially for the Middle Ages, developed little by little, but has been latent for a long time. I started reading Tolkien at the age of eleven and was overwhelmed by role-playing games and video games. I went through comprehensively idealized Middle Ages, absolutely wonderful, fantastic Middle Ages, and it never really left me. All this of course has crept into my works, particularly with references to neo-Gothic architecture, in which the Nineteenth Century pays tribute to feudalism.
I study past phenomena, what they have left us and the events that come with them. When I started my undergraduate art studies, for me there was only Louise Bourgeois, who was an ideal mother to me. The father figure was Tolkien. I loved – and still love – the Pre-Raphaelites, the symbolists and the troubadours. I am attracted to the du Limbourg brothers, Enguerrand Quarton as well as artists such as Jordan Wolfson and David Altmejd. It is figures like these that have led me to evoke, through my plastic research, a system of strong and surprising visual signs.
What stimulates my investigation now is the visceral need to reactivate a visual system of dated signs that is often lacking in the contemporary collective unconscious. I started from this premise to create transhistorical echoes. The piece “Puncutm Saliens” is the manifesto of this approach. In this installation the whole relationship with the heraldic aesthetic that I like, especially tournaments, is played out. This piece consists of numerous holographic leather banners. Taking the form of a concave web, it evokes symbols and emblems which may in turn recall the world of war and prison – both physical and psychic. By analogy with the military parades, the row of banners seems to vibrate and shine, like flags in a row.

Indira Béraud
Without ever representing it explicitly, you constantly tackle the theme of the body. How does it characterise your work?

Floryan Varennes
My first postulate is actually to talk about the body and its extensions without ever showing it. The relationship with absence is absolutely inherent to my practice. It is the guideline of my work. That is, treating a fragmented, skinned, submissive, dissected, extended, stretched, excavated, ostentatious but invisible body. I try to represent absence through a mechanism that touches the body. I find it powerful to speak of absence because it leads to stronger resentments. After all, absence is memory, it is the trace that a body left, and sparks the imagination. With absence there is also something that refers directly to lacking, and therefore to desire. There is a frustrating relationship, a psychological experience as so often in art: artists develop forms and the public cannot touch them. I like to highlight the fleshy aspect of my works to provoke desire when confronted with something unreachable. Everything is suspended in this wait, in this desire for a sacred, untouchable object.

Indira Béraud
You hijack the garment and more generally what it embodies. With Hierarchs and Dysphoria, for example, you transform typically male objects, such as the collar of a shirt and the lapels of a jacket, in order to challenge gender and power relationships. Can you tell us how you translate your reflection on gender identity, especially into clothing?

Floryan Varennes
I started with clothing because I was interested in the genre. In addition to being the trace of a body, the garment is also a costume. I dedicated my thesis to the role of clothing in contemporary art. I have examined over three hundred artists. Clothing is an ornament, but also a protection. It says something and at the same time it is connected to a sexualized prudishness: it shows or points to a sex. Clothing can express both gender and rank. It expresses the hierarchy and social norms that I wanted, slowly, to twist and turn. I am particularly interested in the shirt because it dates way back in time, up to the medieval era. It is an undergarment which has become a garment and the collar is both an aesthetic and a historical elaboration. For me, the shirt is the embodiment of man. Later this created an incredible ambivalence: for example, it became the symbol of white-collar workers. The Hierarchs, my first iconic works, are bas-reliefs arranged on the wall like trophies in the shape daggers and arrowhead. With a simple gesture (the beheading of the collar) I question this sartorial identity. I try to create confusion in this stratification between men’s and women’s role, the role of gender and non-gender. But in the past two to three years I have worked less and less with clothes. I look for new materials while maintaining the same statement. For example, this is obvious in one of my latest works, Youth: two orthopedic collars assembled together which outline a vulva seen horizontally. With rows of pearls rolling down, this installation refers to the image of an apse basin which in turn recalls the shape of a stoup and more.

Indira Béraud
The world of medicine is also represented in your work. You use various therapeutic devices such as the orthosis in Metamerism, the display of the pieces is purified, ordered, even sanitized, creating a simile between the artist and the surgeon. By what process did the medical language enter your work?

Floryan Varennes
I hadn’t thought about it, but I agree completely with this comparison. The therapeutic process is very important in my practice. The relationship with art as a sort of healing ritual also has to do with my personal history, since my mother works in the medical field. All this brings me back to Michel Foucault, to the notions of norm, care and all that has to do with power. In my work I put forward a parallel between the Middle Ages and hospitals. The medieval era is the idealization of something that cannot be experienced. Because I never get sick, I haven’t set foot in a hospital in a long time and I can imagine a lot of things about what’s going on in this type of a closed place. I approached things from this point of view, treating the hospital as a heterotopia. I am interested in all these body-related tools, which I recovered to use for my installations. The Archa Insula scarves are the first pieces I made from medical equipment. The structure contains used insulin needles that used to belong to a diabetic friend of mine. Autoimmune diseases are of particular interest to me because they affect the body, they are the result of a dysfunction of the immune system. So I used these little living memory capsules with which my friend injected herself. I put them together in a kind of small shield that I photographed and printed on scarves. For me it was a strong statement because with it I question the need to inject yourself for treatment. This is at the same time an act of protection, since insulin acts as a shield, and of ritualized self-mutilation. We are somewhere in between (which I love very much) violence and gentleness, the relationship with care and an act of war. For my friend it has become a standard thing which cannot be avoided because her health depends on it. I transformed this medical relationship into scarves that I hung on the wall as if they were bas-reliefs. They can also be worn around the neck. The idea of needles arranged around the neck is also present in Dysphoria: white collars lined with pins.
Finally, on the other hand, I act like a surgeon with shirts and collars: I take them, cut them, sew them, sew them up and this creates a schedule. I do the same thing with orthoses: I take them, cut them, cut them out, sew them and turn them into huge medieval breast plates. In Metamerism I also rewrite the issues of affiliation and identity, because it represents a heraldry. Affiliation is both a strength and a weakness: it has to do with ancestry, family and the past.

Indira Béraud
You present works made up of bits of armor, you create circumscribed spaces in which the spectator is invited to enter, and fences that evoke a prison. Thus the vocabulary of confinement develops in your work, placing protection and isolation on the same level. What do you think of the constraints of the body in your work?

Floryan Varennes

I am interested in BDSM and fetishism as a social subject. They are made up of relationships of domination, of submission that leads to pleasure, as well as of care in a certain way; all this is layered in my work. In addition to bodily practices, there is a very powerful aesthetic which emerged over time and continues to this day. I am just a continuator, it is something that has been approached by many artists, like Monica Bonvicini. This aesthetic of violence is very present in my work but, once again, it is ambivalent. Hierarchs form daggers, but also an extremely soft jacket. Fin’Amor’s glass jousting spear could be incredibly violent, but it is made of glass and therefore very fragile. The leather wall, called Delectatio Morosa, in reference to courtly love, is actually soft, pleasant and permeable. This aesthetic is therefore always counterbalanced by paradoxes, and vice versa. Hierophany, made up of several embroidered and layered collars, which may seem to have an aesthetic value, creates a hypersexualized vulvar monster. My work is based on opposites. The tension is permanent in suspension as well as in amoral tension. The aesthetic of violence may be visible or not, but it is always present because it is linked to excessive masculinity, which I challenge. I try to interweave hypermascolonity and hyperfemininity, sensuality and virility. In my opinion, sensuality belongs to both the female and the male. My jousting spear is a piece that mixes all these aspects. It is the allegory of a courtesan culture. I am madly fond of courtly torture and its opposite, courtly love, both typical of the Middle Ages. The fragility of the material reflects the feeling of love: strong and vulnerable at the same time. Romantic and sexual relationships are topics that I call into question a lot. Combat is cavalry par excellence, but it is also delicacy, skill, it is somewhat sporty. At the same time this piece is sublimated because we are in this androgynous relationship. I modeled this glass spear and added an arrowhead-shaped loop. The relationship is contradictory: the love affair is instantly fixed in time.

Indira Béraud
The seduction game is a recurring theme in your work. Fin’Amor, for example, illustrates the fragility of love, the struggle and uncertainty of conquest. This work appears to be the eulogy to a sublimated relationship. Florian Gaité sees in it a critique of contemporary relationships, often seen as an object of consumption, victims of an era in which immediate satisfaction is preferred. As he himself points out, sublimation in the psychoanalytic jargon consists of resisting one’s own impulses to reconcile desire with social conventions. Can you tell us about your relationship with psychoanalysis?

Floryan Varennes
I am very interested in Carl Gustav Jung. He is one of the psychiatrists who greatly influence my work because I study symbols, the soul, the animus, collective memory and synchronicity. Synchronicity is when elements that have no causal link between them are associated, thus acquiring meaning. It is the idea that nothing is left to chance. Jung’s psychoanalytic readings enriched my understanding of symbols, of what can always be said otherwise. My work is pervaded by this: how to talk about something without mentioning it, especially with the body. I also explore sexuality a lot, indirectly. Georges Duby, a medieval historian, studies homosexuality within the context of cavalry. I like this a lot. I wonder if it was possible. I like to project myself into these fantasies and imagine what the truth might be. The cavalry combat also depends on this: it is very idealized. My research, combined with psychoanalysis, allows me to approach gender studies and history simultaneously.

AND THE HERALDS OF HISTORY WERE SUBMITTED TO THE QUESTION…

Against the current of contemporary materialism, Floryan Varennes works with the body, its representations and extensions, without showing it, sensitive to what constitutes it without incarnating it. The body as a phenomenon appears in his work as a symbolic conglomerate (psychological, political, metaphysical) whose complexity makes it extraordinarily plastic. To better unleash his metamorphic potential, he shapes sculptures, installations and hybrid objects that subvert reference systems, whether it is clothing conventions, colour codes, gender identities, social authorities or medical standards. His act of deconstruction thus consists in twisting history, thwarting the processes of identification and reinterpreting the archetypes to question this body-surface here dug, dissected, deployed from its voids which paradoxically reinforce its presence. Minimalist in their compositions, clinical in their presentations, his works base their formal refinement on a solid conceptual foundation. Floryan Varennes condenses in each of them the results of his extensive research, which borrows as much from medieval history, psychoanalysis, philosophy or sociology of fashion, as from medicine and gender studies. Their scholarly titles, sometimes sibylline, betray an erudition delivered here without authority and which resonates in each of the signs lodged in the hollow of these absent bodies.

The body in default is also that of the artist in production who is constrained to a rigorous, almost monastic discipline. Patiently, scrupulously, he threads pearls, embroiders them, pins thousands of needles and assembles squares of fabric, experiencing a ritual rehearsal, related to both surgical care and religious asceticism. The worlds of the medical and the sacred are two universes of reference that Floryan Varennes constantly hybridizes. Their tension reflects back to back two visions of the body that share its symbolic potential: on the one hand, that of science that reifies the body by rationalizing it, and on the other hand, that of religion that disciplines it by sanctifying it.

Its medievalist positioning1 corresponds to the need to reactivate the imagination of an idealized body that is missing from the contemporary collective unconscious. Rather than seeing it as a counter-model to modernity, Floryan Varennes reevaluates the thinking of the Middle Ages and, through it, the debt that our times have incurred towards it. The study of manuscripts, tapestries, sculptures, bas-reliefs and paintings of the Middle Ages thus very quickly led him to reconsider the idea of a unanimous condemnation of carnal life to discover a time when medicine was in dialogue with alchemy, when homosexuality was not always rejected and androgyny was elevated to the rank of ideal. The reading of medieval Christian philosophers (Saint-Augustin, Hildegarde de Bingen, Thomas d’Aquin) and contemporary historians (Jacques Le Goff, Régine Pernoud, Michel Pastoureau, Colette Beaune ou Didier Lett) thus inspired him to adopt a dual vision, rather than a dualistic one, reconciling the ascetic ideal and the idea of concupiscence. This way of standing in between, characterizes his thinking well, that of making the dichotomies active, of building significant bridges between the sacred and the profane, the masculine and the feminine, love and war, pleasure and pain.

If medieval culture has conveyed many archetypes, it has also shaped its own symbols. A fervent reader of the many theses that Michel Pastoureau has devoted to medieval heraldry, Floryan Varennes completes his investigation of the symbolic field by bringing cultural codes down to the level of the plastic sign. Geometric patterns are therefore never used only for their compositional qualities, but also for their power of meaning. This is the case with the diamond (cut out of scarves, embroidered on trousers, dug into banners, drawn by contours on jacket collars) which symbolizes a hyphen, whether it is a door between the earth and the heavens, or the vulva which allows the passage between the interiority uterine and the outside world. Similarly, the grid is not only a means of prolonging the call to emptiness of abstract painters, it also refers, as Rosalind Krauss2 proposes, to an infinite, divine, sacred space, which lends itself to spiritualist projections.

With the notion of adornment, Floryan Varennes finds a conceptual field where the languages of three places of representation converge: the social, the martial and the medical. Sharing their etymology, the “adornment”, an expression of social role-playing, here refers to the military “parade”, a means of displaying power attributes3, as well as to the therapeutic “apparatus”, or all the medical devices that assist and extend the body. By synthesizing the means of adorning the body, Floryan Varennes revises their imaginations and questions them in a new light. The blurring between these three semantic categories, which are a priori not very conducive to comparison (society, war, medicine), allows Floryan Varennes to make extremely significant connections, raising very concrete questions, particularly about the idea of care as a wartime act, combat and means of torture. The ornaments made by Floryan Varennes therefore redesign their usual value systems by inverting, in particular by sacralizing what is normally the responsibility of the profane. The hieratic aesthetic he develops is reflected in the solemnity of their placement in space and the choice of a black and white chromatic code. Presented on immaculate bases, hung on the wall or suspended, his works are also sacredized by the work of light that surrounds them and accentuates their brilliance, even to the point of likening them to relics or ex-votos. However, the artist’s tour de force consists in counteracting this call to transcendence by introducing trivial elements that disturb its immediate reading. At the heart of Floryan Varennes’ works are the two bodies of the king described by Ernst Kantorowicz4: divided between a sacred dimension and another profane one, they plunge the spectator into a state of permanent hesitation that thwarts his interpretative reflexes.

The body that Floryan Varennes seeks to capture and return is indeed an entity as concrete, which lives and experiences life, as spiritual, which finds in courteous ethics the means to codify itself. Indexed to the codes and customs of the court, the paradigm of courteous love, or rather the fine amor5, describes the way knights educated themselves to sensual pleasures by controlling their impulses, which were potentially homosexual6. Georges Duby thus showed how much the rites of seduction, supported by courtesan practices, were governed by a set of rules aimed at domesticating the excesses of desire. Waiting, chastity, the taste for trials and measures thus implemented a worldly game in such a way as to elevate the body to a certain degree of abstraction, which brings it closer to the aseptic body in medical representations. Floryan Varennes supports this comparison, seeing in the clinical distance of the body a way to idealize it. He also applies this courteous discipline to his creative process. Through mannerism and repetition of the gesture, he replays the difficult journey of the courtly knight and translates the sophistication of his love strategy into the formal refinement of the pieces.

Desire in courteous love does not refer exclusively to pleasure. Frustration, distance, silence and the obstacles to overcome that it engages are the causes of evils that torment the lover, and that must be experienced as such. Gathered under the expression of the Delectatio Morosa (delectatio: pleasure, amusement, and morality: delay, suspend), these sufferings represent the frustrations that desire encounters in the experience of waiting, absence and uncertainty of the success of the love project. This moral problem, which flourished in the theology of the 12th century, is in line with another strong idea, celle de la « torture courtoise », dont la pratique vise non pas tellement la douleur physique mais bien plutôt un mal psychologique, qui ne porte pas atteinte à l’intégrité du corps. Le thème des douleurs de l’esprit est ici le point de départ d’une réflexion plus générale sur l’ambivalence des affects, et le refus d’un partage binaire entre plaisir et peine. Cette pensée se concrétise dans la production d’objets duplices, qui mêlent le vocabulaire de la guerre et du champ médical pour mieux réévaluer la distinction entre blessure et soin. La sublimation des tortures, blessures de guerre, tourments amoureux et souffrances pathologiques permet alors d’en prendre la mesure sans se laisser affliger. L’opération sublimatoire s’incarne ici dans le façonnement d’une esthétique duelle qui transforme le dégoût et l’aversion en jouissance esthétique. L’utilisation d’aiguilles, du cuir ou d’instruments chirurgicaux associe ainsi leur aspect rutilant et séducteur à l’agressivité de leurs usages. Face à ces œuvres, le public est comme tenu en étau entre les souffrances auxquelles elles se réfèrent et la fascination qu’elles suscitent malgré tout.

The vast undertaking of heraldic reform carried out by Floryan Varennes ultimately led to the development of a singular system of signs, acting as an infinite hermeneutic supply. It is then up to the spectator to follow the symbolic path that the artist traces within these uchronic worlds, without hierarchy or order, where the contemporary becomes medieval, where the sacred becomes profane, where the feminine and the masculine become indistinguishable. The body, which literally shines by its absence, finds here in these settings the plastic minimum by which it can reveal itself. At the articulation between transhistoricity, transidentity and transfixion, his work operates with sagacious formal and conceptual transitions to better adorn the imaginary of the body with the attributes of the spirit. Subjected to medieval interrogation, twisting the certainties of ehistorical discourse, these heralds of a new genre end up constituting the terms of a committed and resolute manifesto, building a new idealism.

GAPING WOUND, NO SUTURE

Floryan Varennes merges war wounds and medical sutures into a set of pieces based on an absent hero, a knight straight out of a role-playing game whose attributes he only shows again: weapons, armour, accessories, emblems, banners and coats of arms. Translated into minimalist, extremely sophisticated forms, they constitute a body of work as mysterious as it is elegant, whose chromatic range contrasts clinical white, midnight blue, iridescent reflections, the brilliance of metal and the deep black of leather. With Ultra-Lésions, the visual artist continues his medievalist research by which he updates martial and medical knowledge by bringing it back to the sacred, to gender or to ceremonial. After having explored the notions of chivalry, courteous love and torture, he focuses here more particularly on the question of care by exhibiting means of defence, protective signs or symbolic remedies. His repertoire of gestures (cutting, assembling, threading, piercing, stretching…) is borrowed from the methods of a surgeon, as if to better transform thinking into dressing. The exhibition also marks a broadening of his conceptual network. The terms “parade”, “ornament” or “apparatus” around which his thinking revolves open up here to that of “appearance”: more than ever, it is a question of stretching the wound to the gaping hole and opening a temporal breach in its hollow.

The exhibition opens with the installation Mythopoëia, which is the genesis of a founding narrative, taking its name from a 1933 poem by Tolkien. Like so many sacred relics, it exposes the elements that preside over the fabrication of a myth, a founding narrative that borrows its elements from magical thought and appeals to the most archaic curiosity, a spontaneous attraction mixed with the desire to take care. Presented in a plexiglass box, organised like a surgical table, the set brings together mysterious fragments of black shirts set with pins, possible fragments of dismantled armour, archaeological remains of an immemorial history. Nine in number, symbol of perfection and ideal, these precious shapes invite sustained attention, imbued with a certain solemnity. As a mythographer, the artist seeks to arouse the viewer’s consideration for this cosmogonic narrative by returning the aesthetic fascination to the scruple of historical investigation or the meticulousness of clinical observation.

This same dual reading is found in Braca or The Kiss, a piece between the muzzle and the penis shell, which depicts the ambivalence of care and oppression. Made from models of medieval flies, which appeared in the 12th and 13th centuries, these hulls of virility seem here to be thwarted in their function of ostentation to become a device of constraint. Indeed, noticing that they are often represented in history portraits near the head of a dog, Floryan Varennes reinterprets the ornament as a muzzle that flirts with the fetishist accessory. What is supposed to exhibit, if not sublimate, virility can here be seen as what comes to contain it, organizing a constant swing between the idea of defence and that of coercion. Stretched between twisted steel wires, the two face-to-face muzzles stage a game between the shown and the hidden, like bodies trying to protect themselves. Adorned with a medical vinyl mask, lined and overturned, the muzzles can finally refer to a spat or a languid kiss, a declaration of war or a demonstration of love.

The last room of the exhibition is undoubtedly the one where the dramaturgical effort is pushed the furthest. Indeed, Floryan Varennes imagines a journey whose scenography allows us to detect a narrative progression, albeit non-linear. For the first time, he is arranging his banners, Punctum Saliens, across the space in such a way as to create an artificial forest in which to wander. With the series of standards, Floryan Varennes assumes more than ever the stakes of his heraldic aesthetics. The superimposition of the symbolic strata in their titles thus intertwines references to war and courtly love. Thus, here as often, the primary form of the war badge serves only as a pretext. Hollowed out, hollowed out, the standards lose their function of pomp and display in favour of a more subtle, but no less significant presence. Adopting the figure of the checkerboard, which combines the symbolism of the lozenge (vulva or earth/sky passage) and the grid (architecture of the sacred void), guidelines in the aesthetics of Floryan Varennes, they also evoke net traps, in which the eyes can get caught and get lost. The iridescence of the plasticized leather, for its part, helps to neutralize gender identities by alternating pink and bluish reflections, while its shimmering indicates a possibility of transcendence, whether one thinks of the inner light as a sign of God in Master Eckhart’s work or of the light posed by Plotinus as a sensitive manifestation of the Absolute, symptom of the Good, the True, the Beautiful.

Like several of the pieces presented, this device hides and uncovers at the same time.
The exhibition closes with In extremis, a bouquet of dried lavender strangled by a stainless steel chain that ensures its wall hanging. The tension between this fragile, crumbly floral composition and the coercive force of its hanging device is a way of replaying the contradiction between a curative purpose and the hardness of the means used to achieve it. The southern plant, whose therapeutic, soothing and healing virtues have been highlighted by Hildegarde de Bingen, in particular, calls for a first reading of the pharmacological imagination of the herbalist, the apothecary or the witch, and even of domestic care, used to perfume household linen. The plant sets up a subtle, diffuse olfactory atmosphere that could pass for a single mark of delicacy if its embalming did not coincide with its wilting, if its fragrance did not exhale a smell of death in the background. Between the art of the bouquet and the key to strangulation, Floryan Varennes here performs a simple gesture of assembly without technique (no embroidery, beading or riveting) that combines cosmetics and torture, the coldness of metal and the organicity of plants. A play of reflections finally animates the whole, marked by this purple colour associated with royalty and witchcraft, today considered as a degenerate colour, both masculine and feminine, claimed by the queer and feminist communities.
With Ultra-Lésions, Floryan Varennes assumes that the idea that healing can become a warrior act. Between the duel and the alchemical conversion, she operates aesthetic and semantic shifts that allow for a change of point of view: the primary seduction exercised by the pieces constantly negotiates with their displayed hostility, so that medicine here manifests its disciplinary, authoritarian and aggressive side. The work, which can be read through the prism of this complicit tension, bears the mark itself: it gives itself like a caress that at any moment can become a strike.

Florian Gaité

POST-PROPHYLAXIS

As a body of work, Floryan Varennes’s sculptures and installations, with their remarkable formal perfection, present a strange sparring between fascination and repulsion, between the absence of bodies and an imposing physical presence due the preciosity of their materials, their modes of presentation and the symbols they summon. Often involving combat weapons, surgical instruments or coercive repression equipment, his works fully engage in a subjective representation of violence. Not in order to explicitly condemn it, but more to consider its integration into the body as a life discipline, a way of learning to live with it so as to either better defend oneself against it, or build something out of the suffering it causes physically or psychologically. Armor and shields appear alongside scalpels and muzzles, but there is also lavender, a neck brace, fabrics and other soft materials, as if to appease and thwart the torture evoked by the cold, metallic torments of many of his creations. These therefore represent a kind of self-healing that could, when all is said and done, become the existential condition of the contemporary living being, subject to the most perfidious brutalities, those that make no noise, that do not say their name, being no one’s doing: a floating, lasting impression with no notable origin.

The transparency at work in Floryan Varennes’s creations could thus signify the disincarnate, diaphanous violence paradoxically suffered by all of today’s bodies in the post-democratic regime. If war is no longer the frontal one of the Middle Ages – from which the artist draws a significant number of his theoretical, historical and symbolic references -, it is indeed present through the everyday use of our modern media devices, our technological communication tools, through dehumanised work, and through divided human / animal / vegetable relations. But then how can a form, a presence be given to that violence ? Maybe by approaching it through its opposite, namely the notion of care, particularly when his works are made out of therapeutic accessories known to help life to triumph, for better or for worse.

Care is precisely what the artist has been focusing on lately, especially following his recent residency in a hospital environment, hence the vulnerability of bodies and things, as shown by his recurrent use of glass, lavender, textiles… But if he makes use of the notion of care, which is much perverted nowadays, it is not a matter of negating or suppressing the pain, without which there would be no need to take care. In his methods of representation, Floryan Varennes prefers to highlight the fact that violence and “taking care” remain the two sides of one same reality. His research is generally situated between two concepts, letting this in-between play out within his works. Between revisited medievalism and retrofuturist style, disinhibited sexuality and sacredness, with Floryan Varennes we watch a Queer Fantasy that evokes a suspended temporality in which the place of violence and love, and the way these two terms meet inside the body and on its surface, remain to be negotiated.

During his residency at Lindre-Basse, Floryan Varennes has created new glass pieces in partnership with the Centre International d’Art Verrier in Meisenthal, which he will present at his end-of-residency event. To these will be added other experimental creations and installations made in the studio with the aim of extending his vocabulary towards an idiosyncratic view of care, within a world currently on the way to re-mystification.

Benoît Lamy de la Chapelle Director of the contemporary Art center – La synagogue de Delme

The truth of the metamorphosis on Virginia Lee Montgomery’s video works

The truth of the metamorphosis on Virginia Lee Montgomery’s video works

DEEP SEE – HD video, 01:57, 2017

Two little female blue eyes peep out from a circular hole in a thin blue panel. A long, blonde synthetic hairtail dangles inside a cardboard box that replicates a seabed. After a short pause, the walls begin to suffer the incursions of an electric drill: the drill bit frist, then a rotating disc carves a perfect circle that falls. The video artwork DEEP SEA (1′ 57”, 2017) quickly proceeds by pattern, recursive units that alternate like in a tumultuous dream. The rigorous ponytail reminds a momentarily absent body, which reappears in the arm that makes its way through the hole, in the impeccable French manicure of the smooth and pale hand, in the regular features of the blond face that peers inside its marine unconscious. It’s a body that, duplicating and disincorporating itself, looks at itself gently sinking into the ocean, and lying down on the seabed. «All identities are only simulated, produced as an optical ’effect’ by the more profound game of difference and repetition»1, said Deleuze in Différence et repetition. Virginia Lee Montgomery makes a copy of her long, tidy blonde hair because she can’t look at it since it’s tied behind her head: «it […] repeats because it […] has no […] recognition»2. But repetition, which is not similarity, not imposture, instead of generating a substitution of the object, creates another relationship with it: «Repetition is not content with multiplying instances of the same concept; it puts the concept outside itself and causes it to exists in so many instances hic et nunc. It fragments identity itself […]»3.

According to Deleuze, Repetition asserts the difference, thus VLM’s ponytail is neither a doppelgänger nor a clone. It’s not a split, because it doesn’t have the same code, and yet it produces the same perturbing effect as an inanimate object invested with imagination. Translating her mental images into physical images, the artist animates her ponytail without special effects, through devices and never hidden supports, such as pulleys and fishing lines, with craftsmanship that opposes her films’ glossy make-up. The synthetic scalp, like other recurring objects in her work, is both thing and image: like things and images, it simulates life, but at the same time it’s something non-living, a grotesque image, a mannequin.

In PONY HOTEL (2018) she moves with lasciviousness in an impersonal hotel room, one of the several rooms where the artist stays during her business trips as a graphic facilitator. In this video, more than the inability to establish who or what is moving it – maybe we are not even interested in it – the perturbing thing is determined by the narrative realism: it looks like the images of an off-air, private recordings from remote cameras. There are no special effects, everything is recognizable and immanent, physical and crystalline, like everything else. The index finger sinks and penetrates a Danish pastry stuffed with spreadable cheese, several times, from bottom to top. Again, the electric drill circular head cuts and pierces the surfaces, the hand and the arm come out of the holes, the eyes peer, look at us, the finger pierces. Each action is a compulsive and obsessive act, which condenses the imaginary reworked by the experience both during the day – that of an American white woman employed in a labor market dominated by white cisgender men – and at night – that of dreamlike activity. Each image-symbol is a fragment of the discourse that is given as a pure and short animated image, although linked to the others by a bizarre logic: enigmatic staging, signifiers that don’t adhere to significance, and that deform them and go beyond them, actions without purpose that revolve around the act of watching. The breaking of walls, the arm stretched to grasp, the continuous presence of the eyes: it is a look that always presupposes a physicality and material-tactile relationship with things. It resembles an incursion, an invisible prosthesis that reaches objects, as in the analogy of Descartes’ blind man, who perceives the world through a stick4.

There is more; in VLM’s films one experiences the feeling of not finding the boundary between the subject-eye and the object being watched. We perceive a liminal dimension, an intermediate space independent from the perceptive experience of a single subject. It is useful to recover the theory around which the concept of object-eye revolves, as stated by Jacques Lacan in the mid-Sixties, during two seminars concerning the reality of the field fo vision5. On the one hand, Lacan affirmed the principle of separation between the eye and the gaze, a gaze that would go beyond the duality of active perceiving subject and the passive object perceived, «the eye looking at itself»6; on the other hand, he affirmed the existence of something that would be evaded in the field of vision and, at the same time, would not be exhausted by the singularity of a single point of view. Something that is there but cannot be seen. Lacan was not referring to an invisible, but to a dimension that would include, at the same time, a percipient subject and perceived reality. Thus VLM does not place the viewer in front of the staging of an unconscious placed in depth; she formalizes a reality that is articulated in the multiplication of points of view outside and inside the pro-filmic space: our gaze, that of the machine, that of the artist, and the very metaphors of vision. The gaze becomes an object, even if elusive, placed in a slit among the subjectivities put in the field, in a reality that exists beyond our gaze and in which there is always something retracting.

Before being compositions with a surrealistic taste, sometimes VLM’s films look like dysfunctional adverts or hypnotic documentaries. Art is not a direct reflection of the positive or negative conditions in the world, wrote Baudrillard. It is an «exacerbated illusion […] hyperbolic mirror»7 where the world accelerates.

A mythical tale, feminism, image theory, ecological disaster, entomology, are levels of discourse that unravel in each other. It is a high definition that holds them together, and at the same time defuses them. If everything is simultaneously sexual, political and aesthetic «each category […] is brought to its maximum degree of generalization, to its maximum totalization, it loses any specificity and somehow reabsorbs into the others»8. In this transsexual, trans politic and trans-aesthetic dimension, VLM converts the impasse into the possibility of imagining a space of non-identity, of the difference of every reality to itself, where the blossoming of virtuality becomes a metamorphic game and, at the same time, announces the urgency of the logic of transit.

Claudia Petraroli.

1 G. Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, translated by P. Patton, Columbia University Press, 1994, p. XIX.
2 Ivi, p. 271.
3 Ibid.
4 Cfr. R. Descartes, La dioptrique, 1637, passim.
5 J. Lacan, Seminar. Volume XI. The Four Fundamental Concepts of psycho-analysis, translated by A. Sheridan, W.W. Norton, 1998, infra.
6 P. Bianchi, Jacques Lacan and Cinema: Imaginary, Gaze, Formalisation, Routledge, 2018, infra.
7 J. Baudrillard, Art and Artefact, curated by N. Zurbrugg, Sage, London 1997, p. 10.
8 Id., The Disappearance of Art and Politics, curated by W. Chaloupka, W. Stearns, Palgrave Macmillan UK, 1991, infra.

PONY HOTEL – 4k Film, 05:17 seconds, 2018

WATER WITCHING 2018, HD – video. 07:06.

 

PONY COCOON Digital 4k video, 2019. 5 minutes, 5 seconds.

PONY HOTEL – 4k Film, 05:17 seconds, 2018 (Still)

PONY HOTEL – 4k Film, 05:17 seconds, 2018 (Still)

DEEP SEE – HD video, 01:57, 2017 (Still)

DEEP SEE – HD video, 01:57, 2017 (Still)

DEEP SEE – HD video, 01:57, 2017 (Still)

All videos, images and GIFs: Courtesy of the artist.
VLM website
VLM on Wikipedia 

 

La verità della metamorfosi nell’opera video di Virginia Lee Montgomery

Da un foro circolare ricavato in un sottile pannello azzurro, due piccoli femminili occhi blu scrutano fuoricampo. All’interno di un box di cartone replicante un fondale marino penzola una lunga e bionda coda di capelli sintetici. Dopo una breve pausa le pareti posticce iniziano a subire le incursioni di un trapano elettrico: prima la punta, poi un disco rotante intaglia un cerchio perfetto, che cade. L’opera video DEEP SEA (1’ 57’’, 2017) procede velocemente per pattern, unità ricorsive che si alternano come in un sogno agitato. La rigorosa coda di cavallo rimanda ad un corpo momentaneamente assente, che riappare nel braccio che si fa largo nel buco, nella french manicure impeccabile della mano liscia e pallida, nei lineamenti regolari del volto biondo che scruta all’interno del proprio inconscio marino. E’ un corpo che, duplicandosi e disincorporandosi, guarda se stesso affondare dolcemente nell’oceano, per adagiarsi sul fondale.
«Tutte le identità non sono che simulate, prodotte come un effetto ottico, attraverso un gioco più profondo che è quello della differenza e della ripetizione1», scriveva Deleuze in Différence et repetition. Virginia Lee Montgomery realizza una copia dei suoi lunghi, ordinatissimi capelli biondi perché, legati dietro la testa, non riesce ad osservarli: «si ripete perché non s’intende2». Ma la ripetizione, che non è somiglianza e non è impostura, anziché generare una sostituzione dell’oggetto crea un altro rapporto con esso: «la ripetizione non si limita a moltiplicare gli esemplari sotto lo stesso concetto, ma pone il concetto fuori di sé facendolo esistere in altrettanti esemplari hic et nunc, e frammenta la stessa identità3». Se la ripetizione per Deleuze afferma la differenza, la ponytail di VLM non è né doppelgänger né clone: non sdoppiamento perché non possiede lo stesso codice, eppure produce lo stesso effetto perturbante di oggetto inanimato investito di fantasia. Intenta nella traduzione delle proprie immagini mentali in immagini fisiche, l’artista anima la coda di cavallo senza effetti speciali, ma attraverso dispositivi e supporti mai celati, come carrucole e fili da pesca, con un’artigianalità che si oppone al make up patinato dei suoi film. Lo scalpo sintetico, al pari di altri oggetti ricorrenti dei suoi lavori, è cosa e allo stesso tempo immagine: come queste simulante vita ma nel contempo non-viva, immagine grottesca, manichino. In PONY HOTEL (2018) si muove con fare lascivio in una impersonale stanza d’albergo, una delle tante in cui l’artista è ospite durante i suoi viaggi di lavoro da graphic facilitator. Il perturbante qui non è tanto nell’incapacità di stabilire chi o cosa sia a muoverla – forse nemmeno ci interessa – ma è determinato dal realismo della narrazione: sembrano le immagini di un fuori onda, registrazioni private da telecamere in remoto. Non ci sono effetti speciali, ogni cosa è riconoscibile e immanente, fisica e cristallina, equiparata alle altre.
L’indice affonda e penetra un danese farcito di formaggio spalmabile, a più riprese, dal basso verso l’alto. E ancora, ripetutamente: la testa circolare del trapano elettrico seziona e sfonda le superfici, la mano e il braccio escono dai fori, gli occhi scrutano, ci guardano, il dito perfora. Ogni azione è un atto compulsivo e ossessivo, che condensa l’immaginario rielaborato dall’esperienza tanto diurna – quella di donna bianca americana impiegata in un mercato del lavoro dominato da uomini cisgender bianchi – quanto notturna, dell’attività onirica. Ogni immagine-simbolo è un frammento del discorso che si da come pura e breve immagine animata, sebbene legata alle altre da una logica bizzarra: messinscena enigmatiche, significanti che non aderiscono ai significati, ma li deformano, eccedono, azioni senza finalità che ruotano attorno all’atto di guardare. Lo sfondamento di pareti, il braccio che si tende per afferrare, la continua presenza di occhi: è uno sguardo che presuppone sempre una fisicità e un rapporto materico-tattile con le cose. Somiglia a un’incursione, a una protesi invisibile che raggiunge gli oggetti, come nell’analogia del cieco di Descartes, che tramite un bastone percepisce il mondo4.

Ma c’è anche altro. Nei film di VLM si vive la sensazione di non trovare il confine tra il soggetto-occhio e l’oggetto guardato. Intuiamo una dimensione liminale, uno spazio intermedio indipendente dall’esperienza percettiva di un unico soggetto. Torna allora utile recuperare la teoria attorno a cui ruota il concetto di oggetto-sguardo enunciato da Jacques Lacan alla metà degli anni Sessanta, nel corso di due seminari sul reale del campo visivo5. Lacan affermava da una parte il principio di separazione tra occhio e sguardo, un guardare che andrebbe oltre la dualità di soggetto attivo percepiente e oggetto passivo percepito, «un’occhio che guarda se stesso6»; dall’altra l’esistenza di un qualcosa che, nel campo visivo, si sottrarrebbe alla visualizzazione e, allo stesso tempo, non sarebbe esauribile dalla singolarità di un unico punto di vista. Qualcosa che è lì ma non è possibile vedere. Ma Lacan non si riferiva a un invisibile, bensì a una dimensione che includerebbe a un tempo soggetto percepiente e realtà percepita. Così VLM non colloca lo spettatore davanti alla messinscena di un inconscio collocato in profondità, ma formalizza un reale che si articola nella moltiplicazione dei punti di vista fuori e dentro lo spazio del profilmico: il nostro sguardo, quello della macchina, quello dell’artista, e le metafore stesse della visione.Lo sguardo si fa oggetto, anche se sfuggevole, collocato in una fenditura tra le soggettività messe in campo, in un reale che esiste al di là del nostro sguardo e in cui c’è sempre qualcosa che si ritrae. 

I film di VLM, prima che composizioni dal sapore surrealista, sembrano a volte spot pubblicitari disfunzionali, o ancora ipnotici documentari. L’arte non è il riflesso diretto delle condizioni positive o negative del mondo, scriveva Baudrillard. É «l’illusione amplificata, […] specchio iperbolico7» in cui il mondo accelera. Racconto mitico, femminismo, teoria dell’immagine, disastro ecologico, entomologia, sono livelli del discorso che si srotolano gli uni negli altri. É l’alta definizione a tenerli legati assieme, e allo stesso tempo ciò che li disinnesca. Se tutto è simultaneamente sessuale, politico ed estetico «ogni categoria […] è portata al suo grado massimo di generalizzazione,alla sua massima totalizzazione, perde qualsiasi specificità e si riassorbe in qualche modo nelle altre». In questa dimensione transessuale, transpolitica e transestetica, VLM converte l’impasse nella possibilità di immaginare uno spazio della non-identità,della differenza di ogni realtà rispetto a se stessa, dove il fiorire di virtualità si fa gioco metamorfico e, assieme, annuncia l’urgenza di una logica del transito.

Claudia Petraroli

1 G. Deleuze, Differenza e ripetizione, Raffaello Cortina Editore, Milano 2018, p. 1.
2 Ivi, p. 348.
3 Ibidem.
4 R. Descartes, La Diottrica, 1637.
5 J. Lacan, Il seminario. Libro XI. I quattro concetti fondamentali della psicoanalisi. 1964, tr. it., Einaudi, Torino 2003
6 P. Bianchi, Jacques Lacan and Cinema: Imaginary, Gaze, Formalisation, Routledge Library Editions, 2019
7 J. Baudrillard, Verso il vanishing point dell’arte, pag. 17, in La sparizione dell’arte, Giancarlo Politi Editore, seconda ristampa, 1998, Milano.

Plus Wang, Mare Australe / Mer Australe / Southern Sea.

Mare Australe – Mer Australe

Mare Australe - Mer Australe


ENGL
“CLAIR DE LUNE is a free printable game. You will need a printer and some time to set up everything (cut, paste and gather). All the images (=sheet of paper) have to be printed on one side of each paper (A4 size). Get some scissors and bring together all the different components. You will find all the elements in the three following locations :
– Montes Harbinger : the game board
– Lacus Timoris : the game manual + the accessories
– Mare Australe : the game cards”

“Here are the cards. They have a front and a back, cut them out, make a fold in the center in the verticality of the image and past them to create the cards.
Each image has two cards to print in A4.
Print the first six images 4 times and only twice for the last, for a total of 28 cards”

FR
“CLAIR DE LUNE est un jeu gratuit imprimable . Une imprimante vous sera donc nécessaire ainsi qu’un certain temps de mise en place . Toutes les images (=feuilles) sont à imprimer individuellement au format a4 en recto. Munissez-vous de ciseaux et assemblez les différents composants . Vous les trouverez aux endroits:
– Montes Harbinger : le plateau de jeu
– Lacus Timoris : le manuel explicatif + les accessoires
– Mare Australe : les cartes de jeu .”

“Voici les cartes elles comportent un recto et un verso , détourer les , faites un pli au centre dans la verticalité de l’image .
Chaque image comporte deux cartes à imprimer en a4 .
Imprimer les six premières images 4 fois et seulement deux fois pour la dernière pour un total de 28 cartes.”

Plus Wang, Lacus Timoris /Lac de l'Effroi / Lake of Fear.

Lacus Timoris – Lac de l’Effroi

Lacus Timoris - Lac de l'Effroi

ENGL
“CLAIR DE LUNE is a free printable game. You will need a printer and some time to set up everything (cut, paste and gather). All the images (=sheet of paper) have to be printed on one side of each paper (A4 size). Get some scissors and bring together all the different components. You will find all the elements in the three following locations :
– Montes Harbinger : the game board
– Lacus Timoris : the game manual + the accessories
– Mare Australe : the game cards”

“On this page you will find:
1) the game manual.
The first part consists of the notebook as well as the introduction to the game.
The following contains the synopsis; the description of the accessories and the rules of the game.
Both should be printed in A4 single-sided format. Cut in blocks of two then make a fold in the central area to make a notebook.
2) your pawn and the dice.
Print the two elements in 4 then cut out the pawn.
For the dice, you just have to assemble the pattern of the dice, taking care to be precise otherwise it will be distorted. ”

FR
“CLAIR DE LUNE est un jeu gratuit imprimable . Une imprimante vous sera donc nécessaire ainsi qu’un certain temps de mise en place . Toutes les images (=feuilles) sont à imprimer individuellement au format a4 en recto. Munissez-vous de ciseaux et assemblez les différents composants . Vous les trouverez aux endroits:
– Montes Harbinger : le plateau de jeu
– Lacus Timoris : le manuel explicatif + les accessoires
– Mare Australe : les cartes de jeu .”

Sur cette page vous trouverez :
1) le manuel du jeu.
La première partie est composée du carnet ainsi que l’introduction au jeu .
La suite contient le synopsis, le descriptif des accessoires ainsi que les règles du jeu .
Les deux doivent être imprimés dans le format a4 recto. Découpez par bloc de deux puis effectuez un pli sur la zone centrale afin de réaliser un carnet .
2) votre pion et le dé.
Imprimez les deux éléments en 4 puis détourez le pion .
Pour le dé il vous suffit de réaliser l’assemblage du patron du dé en prenant garde à être précis sinon il sera faussé.”

 

Mort gloire et beauté aka Bernard Ebenezer Koum Sam, Mare Fecunditatis / Mer de la Fécondité / Sea of Fecundity.

Mare Fecunditatis – Mer de la Fécondité

Mare Fecunditatis - Mer de la Fécondité

Mort gloire et beauté aka Bernard Ebenezer Koum Sam, Mare Fecunditatis / Mer de la Fécondité / Sea of Fecundity.
Mort gloire et beauté aka Bernard Ebenezer Koum Sam, Mare Fecunditatis / Mer de la Fécondité / Sea of Fecundity.

ENGL

“The Sea of Fertility is a virtual place that aims to share knowledge.
This fantastic world is like fertile soil, it has the ability to produce abundant crops of knowledge.
Each of the characters of this sea will give you knowledge to develop your awareness of the world. Unlike a physical object such as an apple, knowledge has the possibility, when it is shared to multiply and not to divide.

You will be free to share texts to grow the sea of fertility and grow the people who will go in turn in this place.”

FR

“La mer des fécondités est un lieu virtuel qui a pour but de partager de la connaissance.
Ce monde fantastique est comme un sol fécond, il a l’aptitude de produire des récoltes foisonnantes de savoir.
Chacun des personnages de cette mer vous donnera des connaissances pour développer votre conscience du monde.
A l’inverse d’un objet physique comme une pomme, le savoir a la possibilité, quand on la partage de se multiplier et non de se diviser.

Vous serez libre de partager des textes pour faire grandir la mer de la fécondité et faire grandir les gens qui iront à leur tour dans cet endroit.”

1) Bio (r)évolution, On the contemporary Military-Medical Complex, Claudia Reiche:
 https://www.obn.org/reading_room/writings/html/biorev_e.html

2) L’écriture de l’Histoire, Michel de Certeau
De quoi ça parle: Dosse François, «Michel de Certeau et l’écriture de l’histoire», Vingtième Siècle. Revue d’histoire, 2003/2 (no 78), p. 145-156. DOI : 10.3917/ving.078.0145.
 https://www.cairn-int.info/revuevingtieme-siecle-revue-d-histoire-2003-2-page-145.htm
https://www.cairn.info/revue-vingtieme-siecle-revue-d-histoire-2003-2-page-145.htm
où l’acheter: https://livre.fnac.com/a1330522/Michel-de-Certeau-L-ecriture-de-l-histoire

3) Manifeste Xenoféministe, Laboria Cuboniks
 https://laboriacuboniks.net/manifesto/xenofeminism-a-politics-for-alienation/

4) Duty free art, Art in the age of planetary civil war, Hito Steyerl
Qui est Hito Steyerl et de quoi son texte parle: https://elephant.art/sunday-read-duty-free-art-art-in-the-ageof-planetary-civil-war/
où l’acheter: https://www.abebooks.fr/servlet/SearchResults? isbn=1786632438&sts=t&clickid=xXJSHn2y2xyLUQUwUx0Mo3EAUkE2a83ZGykK2U0&cm_mmc=aff- _-ir-_-64613-_-77416&ref=imprad64613&afn_sr=impact

5) L’histoire est une littérature contemporaine, Manifeste pour les sciences social, Ivan Jablonka
où l’acheter: https://www.numilog.com/LIVRES/ISBN/9782757868911.Livre?utm_source=PDF-excerpt
extrait: https://assets.edenlivres.fr/medias/84/2d04ecea929c98a5a0325d9529978a92e2af26.pdf

6) Staying with the trouble, making kin in the Chthulucene, Donna J. Haraway
https://edisciplinas.usp.br/pluginfile.php/4374763/mod_resource/content/0/HarawayStaying%20with%20the%20Trouble_%20Making%20Kin%20in%20the%20Chthulucene.pdf

7) TAZ, Zone Autonome Temporaire, Hakim Bey
 https://infokiosques.net/IMG/pdf/Hakim_Bey_-_Zone_Autonome_Temporaire.pdf

8) Kafka sur le rivage, Haruki Murakami
adaptation audio lien + résumé de l’oeuvre: https://archive.org/details/KafkaSurLeRivage/ Kafka+sur+le+rivage+de+Haruki+Muraka+19.mp3
ou l’acheter : https://livre.fnac.com/a3620003/Haruki-Murakami-Kafka-sur-le-rivage

9) Ce que le Sida m’a fait, Elizabeth Lebovici
avant propos: https://www.lespressesdureel.com/EN/file/ouvrage/5483/extrait_pdf_5483.pdf
où l’acheter: https://www.lespressesdureel.com/ouvrage.php?id=5483&menu=

10) Je suis mort, Frédéric Weinmann
ou l’acheter + résumé de l’oeuvre: https://www.vivlio.fr/ebooks/je-suis-mort-essai-sur-la-narrationautothanatographique-9782021395075_9782021395075_1.html

11) Testo Junkie: Sex Drugs and Biopolitics

http://worker01.e-flux.com/pdf/article_8966854.pdf

Lacus Odii – Lac de la Haine

Lacus Odii - Lac de la Haine

Nel, Lacus Odii / Lac de la Haine / Lake of Hatred.

Voici la haine – In collaboration with Laurine Tribolet

Excerpt from a text that tells experiences related to sex work, text on progress.
– This excerpt refers to the difficulty of filing a complaint when you are a whore and have been raped.”

Extrait d’un texte qui raconte des experiences liées au Travail du Sexe qui est en cours d’écriture.
– Cet extrait fait référence a la difficulté de porter plainte quand on est pute et qu’on vit un viol.