In 1987, Jean Baudrillard explained in his book The Ecstasy of Communication that our then-newfound modes of technological expression had led to the dissolution of the body into the non-reflective screen, opaque like a dark mirror, along with aspects of our psyche, such as affect and fantasy. At the same time, individual and collective bodies became overexposed, mediated and circulated via information networks, verging on hyper visibility or ‘obscenity’. During a moment in which we are infiltrated with images of war, mutilation and the specter of genocide, this feels unsettling and close to home.
As Baudrillard put it:
“It is the end of interiority and intimacy, the overexposure and transparence of the world which traverses him without obstacle. He can no longer produce the limits of his own being, can no longer play nor stage himself, can no longer produce himself as mirror.”
In the group show, I Can No Longer Produce the Limits of My Own Body, the body materializes in hybrid forms. The exhibition showcases artists from Palestine, Iran, Lebanon, Greece and Austria, who perform a feminist critique and counter the claim of the creative, expressive body as singular, male and diminishing. Rather, it is an expanded site for connection and persistence. Baudrillard’s being-ness is replaced with a subjective corporeality that is multiple and mellifluous, entangled with non-human, technological and anatomical worlds. The exhibition is conceived as an iterative structure, the first installment of a curatorial series emerging from my research on artist-centered narratives around machinic embodiment and radical performance.
Building from a Baudrillardian sense of being unsheltered in a networked world, the body is a vector of digital performativity in the practices of Dalia Khalife and Christiane Peschek. In a collaboration with Mark Hamilton Khalife exercises remote sovereignty through her human-like avatar, an interactive artist chatbot that speaks and responds to emotional cues in nuanced movement. Peschek’s AI on the other hand, manipulates and re-composes visual representations of her figure in fleshy, synthetic-looking close-ups — part of her interrogations on what a computer-generated world would look like without human bodies as a physical blueprint. Both artists create work around a textural moistness, a kind of formless fugitivity.
The simulated sweat in Khalife’s live performance, I woke up a sweaty human for instance, indexes the collapsed political structures of a generator-powered Beirut. As the symbol of a body in constant fluctuation, sweat is seen in terms of a migratory kind of rupture, a marker that differentiates between the human and simulation, at times breaking into ecstasy or abjection. These extremes are witnessed in Sara Niroobakhsh’s 2020 excruciating durational performance Tabalvour, where she doused herself inside a pot of hot saffron-infused sodium borate, her skin burning into crystallized growths. The crystals also layer picture frames, shoes and other personal artifacts belonging to her mother in a mourning ritual that transfigures objects and bodies alike, binding, puncturing and making them anew.
Living and non-living matter also create a compelling interface in Mirna Bamieh’s Kitchen (2023), an immersive spatial universe of gestural imprints, totems and fermentation. The artist’s voice(s), woven into Isaac Sullivan’s swarming acoustic textures and recorded sounds of ingestion, become polyphonic subjects of a ravenous desire. Bamieh maps out a decaying excess in conditions that multiply outside her control, while hinting at the end of abundance. Her domestic sanctuary is obsessive, an act of subversion to the oppressive conditions in Palestine preventing her from dwelling and resting in place.
Sociopolitical restrictions in Palestine cannot be separated from Liane Al Ghusain’s work either. She alludes to Israeli occupation by inscribing coded prayers in 29-stitched Womb Amulets for 29 Palestinian women prisoners, a practice originating from ancient Mediterranean rituals and myths. Her viserca-like capsules are woven with a friendship bracelet stitch, evoking both enclosure or bondage, and protection.
Lilia Ziamou’s delicate skeletal drafts bring us further into the body as anatomy, where a tech-infused layering is employed and exacting digital drawings simulate drafts by hand. Ziamou uses fabric and silicone to drape her femur fragments as if one were to lovingly dress a wound; her new peachy sculptures unfurl like shorn skin; a drawing appears like a a bruise.
In many of these works skin tears, sweats, heals, hurts and morphs. We are left with a re-imagining of the visceral and how this translates into visual, performative and machine learning languages. How do embodied spaces inside and outside ourselves permeate — and are permeated by — our cultural environment? What does a performative practice of containment look like? The bodies in this exhibition (digital, material, emotional) emerge from fleshly things while being unbound by them.