All Encompassing: Art and the Mind-Body Dichotomy

Jessica Montgomery

In Discourse on the Method (1637), Descartes wrote of the self as a thinking being. He later expanded on this theory, presenting the mind (and soul) as both more pure and reliable than the body, for while the mind can express doubt, the body, like a machine, is a slave to its (emotional and irrational) desires.1 Similarly, in approximately the same era, the painter evolved from simple artisanal worker to a man of intellect and God-given talent. The painter was no longer seen as a menial manual labourer, but as an artistic genius. Thus, the visual art of painting became a high art, firmly linked to the elite and to (male) intellectual practice. By linking art to intellect, however, the body was left to the wayside. This paper will explore the contemporary evolution of art as a means of involving the body in the appreciation of art, and thereby bridging the mind-body divide.

Assessing the human body as machine is not entirely inaccurate, and thus has lingering significance to both philosophers and artists. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari speak of the “body without organs,” a sort of Platonic, ideal body – yet theirs is a body of immanence, a body infinitely related to all bodies. Furthermore, they state that “[d]esire will be assuaged by pleasure; and not only will the pleasure obtained silence desire for a moment but the process of obtaining it is already a way of interrupting it, of instantly discharging it and unburdening oneself of it.” Desire is linked to lacking; pleasure seeking is linked to “anxiety, shame, and guilt.”2Yet the body is a desiring machine, and must seek pleasure. George Bataille, in his novel Histoire de l’oeil, explores the body-as-machine by examining “the eye (eye/egg/testicle) [and] associations with its status as a container of fluid (tears/yolk/semen) …”3 Jacques Derrida summarizes and evaluates Jean-Luc Nancy’s writings in On Touching; to arrive at his deductions, Nancy follows the conjectures of past philosophers – for example, Kant’s musings on touch:

The sense of touch has its appropriate place in the fingertips and the nerve endings, the papillae. These nerve endings inform us, human beings, about the form of a solid body. Indeed, one could ask oneself which way the difference between the physiological and pragmatic points of view goes here. This way, no doubt: if it is nature that has provided the hand, so to speak, it has given it to human beings only; and by thus making human beings, it has then allowed them freely to make themselves, particularly through objective knowledge, the guiding thread of this analysis. And what Kant analyzes is not the structure of the papillae and the nervous system, or the link with thought, and so forth; rather, it is what human beings make with their hands. It comes down to the phenomenal experience of the hand, as it were.4

Thus it can be seen that there is very little argument against the body as machine. To Deleuze and Guattari the body is a desiring machine. To Bataille the body is hybridized through pure functionality, ties to nature, and to such activities as analysis and reproduction. To Kant, as well as Nancy, the body is singularly creative, and as such removed from the animal (yet not necessarily removed from the machine). The argument, therefore, acknowledges the machinic function of the body, yet counters the general (Western) societal tendency to degrade this status (the general assumption being that the human, as thinking being, is superior to the human as animalistic body).

Johanna Drucker explores hybridity in reference to “contemporary artworks [which] give evidence of an increasingly anxious discourse played out in displacements, extensions, or relations to a supposedly “real” body.” The issue Drucker raises is the insignificance of the body in particular, and the interchangeability of all bodies in general. Using the spacesuit and virtual reality as examples, Drucker states that “[t]he body completes these machines and the machines complete the body – preserving, stimulating, satisfying its real and phantasmatic needs.”5 Bodies and machines, therefore, are interchangeable.

However, while Drucker looks at literal machines in relation to the body and art, I propose to examine the more metaphorical body as desiring machine, as linked to the animal, the natural, and the emotional. Using Pour Your Body Out (7354 Cubic Meters) (2008) by Pipilotti Rist and Body Movies (2001) by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer as examples, I will analyze Rist and Lozano-Hemmer’s exploration of the body as hybrid. Both artists explore the mind-body dichotomy through art dependent upon the body; however, whereas Rist investigates the functional body, Lozano-Hemmer explores identity.

Pour Your Body Out (7354 Cubic Meters) (figs. 1 and 2) was an installation curated by Klaus Biesenbach for the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The piece was installed in the main atrium of the museum, from November 19, 2008 to February 2, 2009. Viewers were asked to remove their shoes when entering the space, and were thus encouraged to literally spend time with the piece. The artwork itself consisted of a 16 minute multichannel video, projected onto 25 foot high walls, and a circular seating arrangement, shaped like an eye, upon which viewers could watch the installation. Speakers for the sound had been installed into the seating.6

During the film sequence, the camera lingers on a pig snuffling through apples. Later, the camera follows a nude, red haired woman frolicking through acid green grass; the camera pans closely to her face as she eats an apple, the emphasis, as it had been with the pig, on mouth and on lips. At one point flowers morph into pure colour; later a pink, dirt covered hand holds a pink, dirt-covered earthworm. One shot shows the woman floating underwater, amid what appears to be a sort of fluorescent orange coral. The coral casts shadows upon the woman’s body, which in turn reflects diffused light, which is all distorted against the top of the water. It is clear, therefore, that all things are equal within this video. Not only are all things given equal attention, but no one thing is necessarily as it appears and nor will it remain as it appears. The hybridity here is between human and animal, or between human and nature, and, therefore, between the body and its machinic reality.

Public opinion of the piece was unequivocal on two factors – that the piece was overwhelmingly inviting, yet was read as disappointingly simplistic. Many references are made to the apparent gratitude of both tourists and New Yorkers at the availability of such a warm, bucolic place in the middle of winter. Because of the warmth, the encompassing pink lighting, and the subtle soundtrack, obvious connections are made to the space’s womb-like function.7Yet rather than finding such comfort in art simplistic, it could rather be seen as a celebration of a more contemporary relationship to art – art which envelopes, art as an all encompassing experience. If the art space is a womb, then the art itself must create the viewers. Yet the experience of the piece overwhelms the viewer, forcing her to surrender intellect for emotional reaction. And this reaction, overwhelmingly, was a sense of comfort, joy, and peace. By becoming overwhelmed and consumed by the installation, the viewer not only becomes a part of the installation’s metaphorical body, but is also forced to confront her own body as a desiring machine, and finds this experience not debased but rather wholly enjoyable. By experiencing art with the body (rather than simply the intellect), the viewer, therefore, is given pleasure.

To continue the metaphor of Pour Your Body Out (7354 Cubic Meters) as womb, there is for a very short moment, in the corner of one screen, an image of the woman rising from the water, allowing the viewer to see the crotch of her white panties stained red. The colour scheme of the video, with an emphasis on pink, is not accidental. This analogy is furthered with an obvious emphasis on florals. Therefore, if the body-as-machine is associated with function, this can be applied to Pour Your Body Out (7354 cubic Meters) through its transparent fixation on the reproductive function of the female body. The body as determined by function, or the body as desiring machine, is thus exemplary of the hybridized body (machinic body and thinking body) and the (perceived) depraved body (body as equivalent to animal).

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Body Movies (fig. 3) was created in 2001, and was first preformed in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, as part of the Cultural Capital of Europe Festival 2001. The work has subsequently been presented in various other incarnations, from Liverpool to Hong Kong. In this paper I will focus on the original presentation. Lozano-Hemmer was inspired by Samuel van Hoogstraten’s “The Shadow Dance,” published in Rotterdam in 1675, in which people projected their shadows’, at varying heights, onto a blank wall for dramatic effect. Body Movies consists of portraits taken of local inhabitants of the host city. These images are then projected onto a blank, public space (generally the exterior of a building), and then obscured due to bright, white light which is shone directly onto the projected images. As people pass before the light, their shadows reveal the portraits. When all the portraits have been revealed, an automatic sensor triggers a new set of images.8

Much of Lozano-Hemmer’s work is interactive, and many pieces specifically explore the relationship between bodies and space, the interface and the effect of each upon the other. Body Moviesspecifically belongs to a series of works entitled Relational Architecture (Body Movies is Relational Architecture 6). On this subject, Elizabeth Grosz, in the article “Body-Cities,” states:

[T]he body and its environment … produce each other as forms of the hyperreal, as modes of simulation which have overtaken and transformed whatever reality each may have had into the image of the other: the city is made and made over into the simulacrum of the body, and the body, in its turn, is transformed, “citified,” urbanized as a distinctively metropolitan body.9

Thus, the city is representational of the body, and the body is representational of the city. As such, and in specific reference toBody Movies, the images of people, revealed in the shadows of others, presented on an urban space, allows for a hybridization between human and building, between strangers, and between the city as bodies, and the city as buildings.

To return to Johanna Drucker’s concept of the hybridity between the body and the machine, the interchangeability of body and machine, and the ensuing insignificance of the “real” body, Body Movies can be seen to emphasize this point through the body’s dependence on machinery and technology. Furthermore, this technology is dependent upon the building wall to function, for without the space of the wall the images would not be visible. However, while the installation would be fully functional without the presence of an audience, the portraits could not be revealed. In order to see the images, something (particularly someone) must cast a shadow. By creating a work which requires “real” bodies to reveal imaged bodies, Lozano-Hemmer explores identities within identities, but also the interdependence between bodies. By presenting this work in a public space, rather than inside of a gallery, one is forced to consider the invisibility of certain members of society. According to Grosz, “[the city] links the affluent lifestyle of the banker or professional to the squalor of the vagrant, the homeless, or the impoverished.”10 Thus, hybridity can be seen as social equalizer – the hybrid of the socially visible with the socially invisible, as specifically dependent upon the city.

Jean-Luc Nancy speaks of the other in terms of the intruder, or the stranger. As Nancy states:

[T]here must be something of the intrus [intruder] in the stranger; otherwise, the stranger would lose its strangeness: if he already has the right to enter and remain, if he is awaited and received without any part of him being unexpected or unwelcome, he is no longer theintrus, nor is he any longer the stranger.11

By presenting portraits within the shadows of viewers in Body Movies Lozano-Hemmer illustrates this notion of intrusion. The viewer experiences her shadow, as representative of self, and can in fact witness that as she manipulates her body, the shadow body is affected as well. Yet, within her shadow-self, she is presented with an other, an intruder into her concept of self. This intruder is both foreign – it is a stranger – and yet familiar. As body, it is recognizable. Furthermore, as viewed within the frame of the known self, the viewer must reconcile this foreign intruder with her previous concepts of body and self. This paradoxical analysis can be seen as both an issue of identity (which self is the true self), and an issue of the body in fragment (the shadow, though in no way a “real” body, is representative of the body, and thus of the self). The issue, therefore, becomes that of the self in fragmentary form in direct relation to the self as it corresponds to the body. Lozano-Hemmer has thus successfully created a portrait of both body and self/mind conjoined.

The concept of the body as “desiring machine” in art, specifically as linked to the hybrid body, is not unique. In Drucker’s article she comments on Roxy Paine’s Lusts (1992), in which the body has been entirely displaced, and in its place the viewer is presented with “a machine that cathects libidinal energy … Lusts is an image of the fulfillment of an antihumanist agenda, one in which the fantasy of individual life has been fully replaced by an efficient function.”12Thus, the issue is dual – the desiring machine body as emblematic of sexual determinism, but also as reductive, to the Cartesian level of bodily function without thought. The attempt, then, is to alleviate the problematic mind-body dichotomy by creating an art which involves, equally, both mind and body, thus acknowledging intellectual activity alongside bodily urges, both being either equally debased or equally elevated, or, more simply, equally acknowledged. Pipolotti Rist and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer successfully accomplish this task by creating art pieces which are dependent upon the viewer’s body while highlighting the stranger’s body within the art itself.

Endnotes

1 Renée Descartes, “Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy” (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996).
2 Deleuze and Guattari, “How Do You Make Yourself A Body Without Organs?,” A Thousand Platteaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987) 154-155.
3Rosalind Krauss, “Corpus Delicti,” October, 33 (1985) 40.
4 Jacques Derrida, On Touching – Jean-Luc Nancy, trans. Christine Irizarry (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2005) 41.
5 Johanna Drucker, “Techno-bodies and Art Culture,” Sweet Dreams: Contemporary Art and Complicity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005) 196-197.
6 “Exhibitions: Pipilotti Rist: Pour Your Body Out (7354 Cubic Meters),” Museum of Modern Art, MoMA www.moma.org/visit/calendar/exhibitions/307 (accessed November 10, 2009).
7 Julie Talen, “Julie Talen on Pipilotti Rist’s Pour Your Body Out (7354 Cubic Meters),” More Milk Yvette: A Journal of the Broken Screen, http://blogspot.com/2009/01/julie-talen-on-pipilotti-rists-pour.html (accessed November 10, 2009).
T.J. Carlin , “Pipilotti Rist: Pour Your Body Out (7354 Cubic Meters),” Art Review, no. 30 (2009), http://iii.com:9797/MuseSessionID=3cc8c6cb70f753934ecbe9c583d65712/MuseHost=vnweb.hwwilsonweb.com/MusePath/hww/results/external_link_maincontentframe.jhtml?_DARGS=/hww/results/results_common.jhtml.42.
8“Projects: Body Movies,” Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, www.lozanohemmer.com/english/projects/bodymovies.htm (accessed November 10, 2009)
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, “Rafael Lozano-Hemmer: Artist Talk” (lecture, Concordia University, Montreal, QC, March 26, 2009).
9 Elizabeth Grosz, “Bodies-Cities,” Sexuality & Space, ed. Beatriz Colomina (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1992) 242.
10 Ibid., 243.
11 Jean-Luc Nancy, “L’Intrus,” The New Centennial Review 2, no. 3 (2002) 1.
12 Johanna Drucker, “Techno-bodies and Art Culture,” Sweet Dreams: Contemporary Art and Complicity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005) 198.

Works Cited

Carlin, T.J.“Pipilotti Rist: Pour Your Body Out (7354 Cubic Meters).”Art Review. No. 30. 2009,http://iii.com:9797/MuseSessionID=3cc8c6cb70f753934ecbe9c583d65712/MuseHost=vnweb.hwwilsonweb.com/MusePath/hww/results/external_link_maincontentframe.jhtml?_DARGS=/hww/results/results_common.jhtml.42
Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. “How Do You Make Yourself A Body Without Organs?” A Thousand Platteaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minesota Press, 1987.
Derrida, Jaques. On Touching – Jean-Luc Nancy. Translated by Christine Irizarry. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005.
Drucker, Johanna. “Techno-bodies and Art Culture.” Sweet Dreams: Contemporary Art and Complicity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.
“Exhibitions: Pipilotti Rist: Pour Your Body Out (7354 Cubic Meters),” Museum of Modern Art, MoMAwww.moma.org/visit/calendar/exhibitions/307“>http://moma.org/visit/calendar/exhibitions/307(accessed November 10, 2009)
Grosz, Elizabeth. “Bodies-Cities.” Sexuality & Space. Edited by Beatriz Colomina. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1992.
Krauss, Rosalind. “Corpus Delicti.” October. Vol. 33. 1985.
Nancy, Jean-Luc. “L’Intrus.” The New Centennial Review. Vol. 2. No. 3. 2002.
“Projects: Body Movies,” Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, www.lozanohemmer.com/english/projects/bodymovies.htm (accessed November 10, 2009)
Talen, Julie. “Julie Talen on Pipilotti Rist’s Pour Your Body Out (7354 Cubic Meters).” More Milk Yvette: A Journal of the Broken Screen. , http://blogspot.com/2009/01/julie-talen-on-pipilotti-rists-pour.html (accessed November 10, 2009)