“A society that fails to distinguish between things for eating, things for using and things for looking at, because it eats them all just the same, is a primitive society, a society of pure subsistence.” Santiago Alba Rico
“I would prefer not to”. Bartleby, the Scrivener. Melville
Market, consumption-world, world-consumed-devoured-consummated-swallowed. Choked on. Everything is consumed, everything is edible. The fate of things is a speedy disappearance, obsolescence, conversion into trash. We live in the insatiable era of bulimia in the markets. The gaze is cannibal. The subject under the imperative of consumption consumes itself and is consumed.
The symbolic operation of art operates (or rather operated) in a realm of illusion which permitted separation from the real –questioning, examining, sustaining the real- through the invention of forms. This symbolic capacity has gone into retreat: the separation between the illusionary space and reality has blurred. Images are things, in the consumption-world they have as much consistency as objects. And they no longer reflect, represent or imagine reality, but rather cover it, double it, saturate it. “A world that is not rooted in the symbolic, but rather performs an imaginary dismemberment” (Recalcati).
The objects of consumption are characterised by being appropriable, producible and monetarisable. The anonymous, nevertiring production of identical objects produces interchangeable fetish objects. Reality withdraws due to the interposition of a parallel, double reality. It is the proliferation of representation as the zenith of the copy, sham, simulation. The interesting feature of reality would seem to lie in its reproducible nature: techniques of simulation, of hyperreality, augmentation of vision or augmented reality. A hallucinated reality effect is produced, rendering reality unquestionable, preventing reality from being questioned.
The mechanisms of the market permeate art and not only in the sense of the production of reproducible objects, replicas or copies of an original, as Walter Benjamin pointed out, but rather the crisis of representation which has afflicted art would seem to have something to do with the desire to represent the manufacturability of reality or rather the mechanism of its reproducibility.
How can this numbing saturation of objects and images be broken? How can we make holes and allow things to take absence of themselves and create a distance within them? Insert laughter, decolonise the object, remove something from them, create a hiatus, a void, a hole, a mouth. An absence, a hole in the saturated space, where desire can circulate. Attain difference, non-coincidence, the open wound of presence.
Do we even know that given an object of consumption, we have no alternative but another object of consumption? “Everything is consumed”, Lacan reminds us. Do we have no alternative in the face of an image but another image, albeit destroyed, violated? Anorexics, by renouncing food seem to be subverting consumption, rebelling against the logic of consumption: not consuming anything, or rather consuming nothing itself. The social other of capitalism reveals itself as complete, containing everything that the subject might require. It is an Other that reveals itself without fail, omnipotent, pushing enjoyment, demanding enjoyment, even the enjoyment of privation.
Bulimics seem to submit to consumption, eating everything, but by vomiting, they highlight the inconsistency of consumption, the vacuity of the object. Anorexic subversion is only show. It says “no” to consumption and merchandise, but this does not exclude it from it, exhibiting its gaunt body, fetishised to the eye. The bulimic position would seem to be kindred to the logic of capitalism, eating everything and inducing repeated vomiting, unbridled consumption and strenuous recycling, revealing in so doing the inconsistency of the object. The objects of consumption are merely weak surrogates. Within the object, there is nothing. Inside, behind the image there is nothing, reality concealed.
Filter bodies, raw bodies, air bodies
Something breaks off. Drops. The body falls from the clothes, the flesh falls from the skeleton, the organs are extracted from the body, like the smile that remains even when the Cheshire cat is no longer there in Alice in Wonderland. A smile with no Mona Lisa.
To speak of the impossible, repeat the unutterable, write the traces, if possible, is thanks to a detachment, a flux between the body and the word that brings raw flesh to the light of the imagination, which, without adapting it or snaring it, sustains it, holds it, to let it go, drop. “The active is what falls, what descends”, Deleuze reminds us. The fall is the vivacious, that which the living being experiences with the greatest intensity: it is the active rhythm. The separation, the filter makes the world, life possible; the nets and parachutes permit detachment; surfaces of holes, contour lines hold the subject. “Life reiterating itself in order to recover its hold on itself during its fall” (Klossowski).
The flesh, the overlapping area between man and animal, is a substance in the orbit of hunger; it is the edible, the consumable, whose fate is its hasty disappearance. Raw, animal flesh is also brushstroke, writing, landscape, object, love letter. Flesh restrained, at times bored through, perforated. The flesh is the overlapping area between man and animal, an indiscernible area: bullfighting and passion of the flesh. The flesh as limit and senselessness of bodily certainty.
The transition from raw to cooked is an anthropologically basic operation, which constitutes the human. Psychoanalysis would say that “there is no raw without cooked”: we register ourselves in culture through the body. The raw and the cooked refer to the different ways in which culture takes hold of the body, and also the varied ways in which the body integrates and organises the abstractions of social order. The body is the material point at which nature and the capacity to transform and leave it cross paths; the public and the private, the individual and the collective.
The traditional crossroads between nature and culture, of which the body is a privileged indication, would seem to be in a critical state. Likewise, the difference and the boundaries between the edible and the inedible, that is to say what is intended for pure consumption and what is meant to be used or looked at, for contemplation, would seem to be vanishing. The distances fall, time becomes instant.
The filter, like netting, be it a shopping trolley, mesh, a grid of words, as a holed surface permits a route, a transition, it permits and induces nature’s route to culture, from the real to the symbolic. The filter would be a fragile boundary like all cultural signs and also a taut, unnerving limit. The filter is approximation, connection at the same time that it distances, differentiates and makes autonomous.
Objects are unique receptacles of emotional memory and traces of the body. “Objects, the human face of the world”, (Roland Barthes). Transfers, doubles, duplications, simulations, virtuality, the deceptive, the stuttering of objects are places for humour, surprise and heterogeneity, for the non-coincidence of the object with itself. And in these distances, gaps and intervals lie mystery and hilarity.
The work is presented as a theatre of action in which flesh and objects meet, and mutually penetrate and capture one another. Devouring, sodomy, copulation, pregnancy, chiasm, double capture or “marriage between two kingdoms” (Deleuze). Different forces act upon the images: the idea, the cut, the displacement, the turn, the fold, the knot, the distortion, the motion blur. I arrange the elements as in a still life. The shopping trolleys act as filter, they make the meat “pass” through their mesh of holes. The filter establishes a space, a distance as of which we can look and renounce food; a suspension in time that allows us to look at the hunted animal before it is consumed, devoured. I suspend the scene of devouring. Bring life its power back. The body as filter and resistance, which corrects the tiller of our death drive to take responsibility of the world.
Art, like love, describes a descending movement to become contingent, to imbricate itself with desire and life. The social tie and the possibility of renewal is only possible by humanising enjoyment, engraving desire in life against the death drive. To say desire, to become a word, love needs a distance, an absence, a fold.
Maternity is the social tie par excellence, (almost) regarded as sacred in the history of mankind. In the tragedy of Medea, Euripides points out the spot at which this sacred bond is formed, making it explode. The quirk of the tragic character of Medea compared to other violent and vengeful women in mythology is her maternity and also the fact that she kills her own children. It is not madness, rather fright, the terrible, that which is impossible to understand and less yet to justify. Obstinate, disproportionate, wild, she departs from the civilised, from the symbolic, excluding herself, “she outuniversalises universal power itself” (Zizek). Dazzling in her excess, devourer mother, astonishing, a stranger also unto herself.
“Wounded in her heart for the love of Jason”, in Medea, love joins and intertwines with death. Victim of her passion and the extremity of her desire, the sons fall in the wake of her hate. Medea robs herself, renounces what she loves the most, her children, tearing them away from herself. In so doing, she deprives herself of having, she dispenses with all anchors, she sacrifices everything, for no reason? For the extremity of her desire? A (female) form of ruin, of pleasure from privation, of devotion to love.
She has given everything for Jason, she wants to be everything for him. Her demand knows no limit, “I want to be all women for you”. She feels betrayed in her belief of being everything for the other. Out of this position, she is nothing, not even a mother. She has nothing and she also has nothing to lose. Fugitive, wild, “in the void of the centre, neither man nor woman”. Trust in the possibility of sexual encounter shatters. Love as the narcissist image of one’s own tears.
In her vengeance, she acts upon what hurts Jason the most, on his descendants, the timeline, the dimension of life as project, the children as promise. Not only the death of the children, also the symbolic death of Jason: neither father nor husband, Jason falls out of the world.
At several points in Euripides’ play, Medea screams: “I who have brought them into being will kill them, remember that they were flesh of my flesh”. It is the reality of the body, understood as a being that engenders another being; as an assertion of the being that wishes to come into being, pure life. But when life asserts itself without boundary, measure, word, attachment (of the symbolic a psychoanalyst would say), it leads to destruction.
In love, the other is loved as an assertion of one’s own self, also in hate, but in the contrary terms of extinction, of destruction. Medea loses herself when she fails to link her maternal love with her status as woman. When she is no longer the centre of desire for Jason, her children become flesh of her flesh. It is not a love tied to desire, but an unfounded, devastating, primordial love. She is the figure of the primordial Other, the horror of the devouring, omnipotent mother. “Mother of otherness, eat me”, writes Sylvia Plath. The reality in the love of a mother and of what is real in the grounds for love.
“When life is launched in its own motion, it leads too quickly to death” (Isidoro Vegh). Life needs to be braked, filtered, suspended, delayed, have a fold made in it. The body is not “removed” from nature for once and for all, the body needs to be constantly returned to culture (Santiago Alba Rico). It is a continuous job, which does not mean beating the body, assimilating it, domesticating or cancelling it, but allowing it a path, a flux from the raw to the cooked, relaunching desire. Flesh of passion, emotional flesh, flesh run through by pain. In Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, the scream becomes song, it expresses the reality of the love of a mother. Let us imagine that Medea writes her desire in the offended bed, engraves love letters and resists ruin. A net of words on bed bases that bear the flesh, the body, the wound, the drive, and suspend devouring. They say “no”.
Txaro Fontalba, 2011