Subtle Bodies In and Around Works of Art #1

9 December 2021, 10:00:00 pm

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Session Convenors

Dr Pia van Gelder, School of Art & Design, Australian National University
Associate Professor Jay Johnston, Department of Studies in Religion, University of Sydney

Session Moderators

Dr Pia van Gelder, School of Art & Design, Australian National University

Session Speakers

Fae Brauer, University of East London Centre for Cultural Studies Research
Jacquelene Drinkall, SFSIA
Marshall L. Smith, Cornell University

This panel presents papers that discuss subtle bodies as content or method in artistic practice. This is a concept of embodiment that understands the self as composed of invisible, ‘energetic’ agency that interpenetrates and exceeds the physical body. Widely found in historical and contemporary cultures from Platonism to south Asian religious practices and including various traditions of esoteric belief Subtle body models have an enduring appeal. In the past twenty years, attention has turned more directly to the significance of esoteric worldviews for modernist artists. In many the same ways as that of popular ‘turns’ in the Humanities, like New Materialism, Subtle body ontologies disrupt conventional subject–object relations, profoundly refiguring our aesthetic and ethical relationships with the material world and the environment. Consequently art works that interact with these relational ontologies participate in this rethinking and reimagining. This panel considering the impact of subtle body ontologies on artistic practices, how artists work with subtle bodies in the works they produce and their proposed audience reception.

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PAPER #1
Capturing Phantasmatic Bodies: Magnetism Photography and Marcel Duchamp’s Hauntological Metarealism

PRESENTER
Fae Brauer, University of East London Centre for Cultural Studies Research

While the early Modernism of Marcel Duchamp has been linked with the new sciences, rarely has it been contextualized within the scientistic occultisms of Paris when the existence of invisible realms appeared to be scientifically proven. This was epitomized by the experimentation undertaken at the French School of Magnetism by Hector Durville to unleash “la force vitale”. Not only did Durville plumb all eight levels of deep magnetism to release the Etheric and Astral body, as defined by Annie Besant, but he also photographed their emanations in luminous phantoms. Amidst its sensationalization, particularly by the Society for Psychical Research, Duchamp embarked upon an occulture of hauntological “metarealism” and the representation of phantasmatic bodies that uncannily dovetailed with Durville’s phantasmatic doubles. This entailed what Duchamp subsequently identified as his “subconscious preoccupations toward a metarealism”. By focusing upon the uncanny affinities between Durville’s magnetism photography and Duchamp’s phantasmatic body paintings, including his series, Nu descendant un escalier, this paper will explore how this Modernist “metarealist” and scientistic magnetist endeavoured to negotiate, if not illuminate, invisible forces, luminous emanations and phantasmatic doubles. Life does not evolve mechanically and rationally, as Henri Bergson stipulated in L’Évolution créatice, but proceeds by « dédoublement ».

PAPER #2
What Should We Do With Our Subtle Body?

PRESENTER
Jacquelene Drinkall, SFSIA

The question “What should we do with our brain?” asked by philosopher Catherine Malabou can be extended to the question of the subtle body. In contemporary yoga practice the subtle body is associated with the fifth and sixth chakras at the top of the body - the head and brain - whilst extending throughout and beyond the human body. The paper looks at deep historical and contemporary intra-actions between humans, animals, plants, minerals that cultivate collaborative subtle bodies conducive to telepathy and artistic vision. Collective cultural memory of early forms of telepathic art (art and telepathy) is important given the endlessly newer colonising forms of Technological Mediated Telepathy (TMT). Generalised and non-conventional war of surveillance in the age of cognitive capitalism, neural capitalism and telepathic capitalism, and more specifically the rise of invasive and non-invasive Brain Computer Interface (BCI) telepathies gives new urgency to creative resistance through telepathic art, subtle body work and performance. The notion of the subtle body is shown to be akin to marxist materialist and new materialist beliefs in the inseparability of Geist, brain, body and mind. The paper also examines connections between the subtle body and the Deleuzian concept of Body-without-Organs (BwO).

PAPER #3
Excavating the Site/Sight of Middle Passage Cultural Memory Through the Flesh of the Postplantation Visual Archive

PRESENTER
Marshall L. Smith, Cornell University

The physical body serves as a protective cover for malleable and vulnerable “flesh”, but what can we learn from the subtle body and what is its relation to flesh as a philosophical concept? During the Middle Passage and plantation-based slavery in the Americas, black bodies were reduced to bare life logics rendering them invisible. The subtle body, however, describes the various layers of vibrating energy that comprise of a human beyond the physical or material matter enveloped in differences of skin. In this paper, I will unpack how the institution of slavery created a tear in the body politic of African-descended persons in the Americas exposing the flesh of the matter. What can the exposed flesh teach us? How is cultural memory related to artistic production and praxis? How do visual artists of the Plantation Americas apply the process of “repairing” vis-à-vis cultural trauma and artistic praxis where the spatial dimension becomes important in the form of traumatized places or landscapes? I will explore these questions as they are negotiated through ‘flesh work’ in selected works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kara Walker, and Édouard Duval-Carrié, all descendants of what Édouard Glissant calls “extensions of the plantation” in Faulkner, Mississippi.

Biographies

Dr Pia van Gelder, School of Art & Design, Australian National University

Pia van Gelder is an electronic artist, researcher and historian investigating cultural understandings of energy and how they shape our relationships with technology, bodies and our environment. Her recent work has investigated the influence of esotericism on instruments in the arts of the 20th Century. Van Gelder is a lecturer at the Australian National University in the School of Art & Design and as the Vice Chancellors Creative Research Fellow she is currently working on “Survival Studio,” a prototype for a carbon negative artist studio.


Associate Professor Jay Johnston, Department of Studies in Religion, University of Sydney

Jay Johnston, is Associate Professor in the Department of Studies in Religion, University of Sydney. An interdisciplinary scholar her academic work is at the interface of philosophy, arts and religion and is centrally concerned with subtle bodies, the cultivation of perception and multi-species ethic-aesthetic relations. Her most recent monograph: Stag and Stone: Religion, Archaeology and Esoteric Aesthetics(2021). She is a bad birdwatcher and platypus lover.


Fae Brauer, University of East London Centre for Cultural Studies Research

Fae (Fay) Brauer is Professor Emeritus of Art and Visual Culture at the University of East London Centre for Cultural Studies Research. Her interdisciplinary research encompasses Darwinism, Neo-Lamarckism, Ecoaesthetics and the visual cultures of eugenics; neurology, hysteria and mesmerism; vitalism and occultist sciences, and the cultural politics of art institutions. Her books include Vitalist Modernism: Modern Artists, New Sciences and Creative Evolution; Picturing Evolution and Extinction: Degeneration and Regeneration in Modern Visual Cultures; The Art of Evolution: Darwin, Darwinisms and Visual Culture; Art, Sex and Eugenics: Corpus Delecti, and Rivals and Conspirators: The Paris Salons and the Modern Art Centre.


Jacquelene Drinkall, SFSIA

Dr Jacquelene Drinkall is a practicing and exhibiting artist trained in painting and working across transdisciplinary, traditional and experimental mixed medias. She studied art at several art schools and holds an interdisciplinary artist PhD in Art History and Theory from UNSW, Sydney; MA and BA (H1) University Medal from Australian National University, Canberra; École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris; and Saas-Fee Summer Institute of Art (SFSIA), Sass-Fee and Berlin. In 2021 she worked as SFSIA Faculty and co-curated “Telepathy and New Labor” with Warren Neidich and Susanne Prinz in artbrain.org's Activist Neuroaesthetics Festival in Berlin.


Marshall L. Smith, Cornell University

Marshall L. Smith is a PhD candidate at Cornell University specializing in Cultural, Literary, and Visual Analysis of the African Diaspora with concentrations in Comparative Literature and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. His research foci include Global Black Studies, black geographies, cross-cultural encounters in the Americas, comparative Francophone/Anglophone Caribbean and African American Literature at the intersections of Postcolonial and Queer Theory. His most recent publication is “Corporeal Conceptions: Body Politics, French Republicanism and Sport in Banlieue Literature” in Pour le Sport: Physical Culture in French and Francophone Literature with the Contemporary French and Francophone Studies Series, Liverpool University Press, U.K.