The second part of the three-part symposium «Un-like», presented by Kunsthalle Zürich on the occasion of Ed Atkins’ exhibition, is dedicated to DEATH. Via personal and poetical address, the pretexts and prospects of (im)mortality in a digital age will be expounded. Amidst his exhibition and in the company of avatars, Ed Atkins will choreograph the event. Two metaphors, and their conspicuously real ramifications, could be understood as central to this approach to DEATH: The Living Dead and The Dead Living – seeming-equivalences that switch between dead bodies animated and inanimate ways of life. Philosopher Patricia MacCormack’s lecture will unravel the relationship of cinema, sexuality and death. A talk by John Beeson will seek the possibilities of suiciding authorship as a means of critique in contemporary art and culture. Zurich-based artist Tobias Spichtig will pose further questions towards «Un-like» in a subsequent response.
Ed Atkins "Un-like" - Part 2: Death
Death and digitality, material deferrals and zombification of the never-having-lived. Departing from a specific late-90’s revenant cultural theory, we seek to undermine those distinctions and blurs between the lives and deaths of subjects and entities (the living dead and the dead living) by pitting the outrage of corporal revenge (imaginary horror, illness) against and alongside conditions of post-finitude.
Privileging an idiosyncratic and personal approach to such vast themes, «Un-like», the series of events developed with Ed Atkins to coincide with his exhibition at Kunsthalle Zurich, will attest to something of the irrecuperable in experience of manifestly contemporary life and its innumerable mediating and mediatising apparatuses. What and where are the limits of our self-imagery; how might our relationships with one-another and the world at large, be extended rather than retarded by those objects, devices and ideas that interpellate us?
Artist talks, surrogate performances, scholarly presentations, literary interventions, philosophical debates and karaoke will seek to inquire after the technological and mediatised condition of so much contemporary life, love and death. The title «Un-like» might best be understood as a term to antagonise the ubiquitous blandishments of easy affirmation as the only adherence. A ‘like’ of cool disaffection; the absence of a means of expressing ‘dislike’ (literally, in the case of Facebook, whose ‘like’ button conspicuously lacks its opposite: the only option being to affirm); a ‘like’ of seeming political apathy and pseudo, ‘alike’ individuation.
This symposium began with LOVE and continues with DEATH.
We want to attempt an encounter with those very real lives that are so violently, corporeally altered by so-called dematerialised products, labours and commerce of the so- called contemporary west; the necessary ‘zombification’ that these paradoxical material/immaterial circumstances require in order to remain out of reach and out of mind. A revised bio-political as the post-political – a place where adolescence is staid by frigid vampire romances, where sexuality is quieted by disinterested violence. These particular coordinates piquing an interest in how horror might be retrieved as a properly radical affect through its ability to convene fantasy and reality. Amongst a company of ghouls, ghosts, zombies and vampires, the cadaver lies centrestage, animated by fantasy and arrested by reality.
We are interested in a material and mortal imperative behind any understanding of contemporary life – where lives, technologies – everything – ends. As with the work in the exhibition, moving imagery and its particular histories are of specific interest, if only as a site of particularly acute collisions between matter and its ghosts, both historic and generic; illusion and reality, immortality and our exquisitely mortal embodiment meet so often in the cinema.
As with our opening subject, LOVE, DEATH will understand its thematic grandiloquence as its vitality and its final resistance to recuperation.
Ed Atkins will introduce the session with a personal reflection on the subject in relation to his exhibition and his work in general. Avatars will be present as ciphers between
imaginary situations – both abjectly material and emotionally, memorially immaterial. Terminal movements and their realisation in the ambivalent figure of the cadaver, have determined a great swatch of Atkins’ works, from a kind of metaphorical metastasis of textual bodies, to the creation of a troupe of the always-already dead men – protagonists and narrators whose grammatical tense and weightless abjection is permanently deferred to an imaginary past; Atkins’ videos are more often than not purgatorial, undead.
Patricia MacCormack’s philosophical paper Necrocinesexuality: Death, Desire and the Flesh of the Image will discuss the theory of Cinesexuality in relationship with images of death. Far from representing a necrotic end to desire, it will explore the ways in which baroque spectacles of death, necrophilic desire and other abject forms of longing express the body in unique ways. It will also argue that cinema itself decomposes the body, however not to annihilate it but to open it up toward unthought of potentialities which exceed the ways in which traditional signifying practices and analyses sew up and massacre the body through repetitive normative patterns of representation. Using her own theories of Cinecstasy, as well as others, this paper will offer despotic ideas which are applicable not to any one film or form of representation, but which show the death within all cinema that unravels the spectator and makes them shine in an afterlife of mucosal becoming. Patricia MacCormack is the author of Cinesexuality (2008) Posthuman Ethics (2012), the editor of Deleuze and the Schizoanalysis of Cinema (2008), The Animal Catalyst (2014) and has published extensively on perversion, queer theory, feminism, Continental Philosophy, ethics, animal studies and necrophilia.
Death doesn't play a major role in John Beeson's recent essay Relative Distance. But just as easily as distance, death could have been the metaphor for the essay's centre – methods of relativizing identifying information and authorship that are popular in art, online activity, and political action in the Information Age. Motivated in part by the desire not to be manipulated, individuals have turned to anonymity, collectivity, and the affectation of others' voices, behaviours, and ideologies. These strategies pose specific challenges, though, in the field of culture – especially in relation to the lineage of criticality. Reception has become a site of increased importance, but one with unreliable foundations. Still, the choice to suicide subjectivity as a mode of authorship presents a possibility for voicing dissent in the framework of institutions that are otherwise liable to cannibalize it. John Beeson's writing regularly appears in Artforum, Spike, and Texte zur Kunst.
Other contributions to DEATH will include a purposively late response by Tobias Spichtig.