Representations of excess in relation to the body in a selection of contemporary visual artworks

Engelbrecht, Larita (2012-03)

Thesis (MA (VA))--Stellenbosch University, 2012.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This dissertation investigates forms of excess in representations of the body in specific examples of contemporary visual art in South Africa and internationally. Representations of excess are phenomena that have gained increasing prominence in recent art practice both locally and abroad. The discussion is focused on two artworks that are examples of this increasing phenomenon of excess in contemporary art: the Swedish video artist Nathalie Djurberg’s video installation Experimentet (2009), and South African performance artist Steven Cohen’s film Golgotha (2007-9). My discussion of the two artworks revolves around the central question: what is the signifying role of excess in representations of the human body in contemporary visual art? This central question is asked throughout the dissertation with two aims in mind: firstly, to situate within a theoretical framework the phenomenon of excess in relation to depictions of the body in contemporary art; and secondly, to situate my own arts practice within this framework. The analysis of Djurberg’s Experimentet and Cohen’s Golgotha is spread over four discussions, each relating to a specific aspect of the representation of excess in relation to the body. Firstly, I investigate the grotesque body with regards to Mikhail Bakhtin’s notion of grotesque realism and Jacques Lacan’s psychological notion of the fragmented body, or corps morcelé. Secondly, I examine the ‘body spectacle’ as a cultural critique of capitalism, and make specific reference to Cohen’s use of real human skulls as shoes in Golgotha as a cultural critique of capitalism. In this discussion I also investigate George Bataille’s philosophical enquiry into the notion of expenditure as a critique of capitalism. The ‘body spectacle’ is situated in the context of late-twentieth-century theorist Frederic Jameson’s view of the postmodern and his exposition of the ‘waning of affect’. Thirdly, I investigate excess and mimesis in representations of the female body, with specific reference to Djurberg’s Experimentet. Here the discussion is situated within the context of French feminist psychoanalytical theory with Luce Irigaray’s concept of the role of excess in mimesis. The study then turns to investigating the experiences elicited in spectators by representations of excess in relation to the body. I draw from George Bataille’s writings of the function of taboo and Mikhail Bakhtin’s insistence on the ambivalence of grotesque imagery to explain my own observations on images of excess. Here I argue, in reference to both Experimentet and Golgotha, that excess is characterised by the paradoxical stance of being simultaneously attracted and repulsed. Lastly I discuss my own current art practice with reference to the theoretical framework outlined here around representations of excess in relation to the body.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie verhandeling ondersoek die voorkoms van oordaad in die uitbeelding van die menslike liggaam in spesifieke voorbeelde van kontemporêre Suid-Afrikaanse en internasionale visuele kunswerke. Oordaadsuitbeelding is ‘n verskynsel wat opvallender voorkom in huidige plaaslike en internasionale kunspraktyke. Die verhandeling fokus primêr op twee kunswerke ter illustrasie van hierdie verskynsel: die Sweedse videokunstenaar Natalie Djurberg se video-instellasie Experimentet (2009), en Suid-Afrikaanse ‘performance’- kunstenaar Steven Cohen se film Golgotha (2007 -9). My bespreking van die twee kunswerke wentel rondom die sentrale vraag: watter aanduidende rol speel oordadigheid in uitbeeldings van die menslike liggaam in kontemporêre visuele kuns? Ter beantwoording van hierdie vraag het hierdie ondersoek ten doel om, eerstens, die verskynsel van oordaadsuitbeelding van die menslike liggaam in kontemporêre kuns binne ‘n teoretiese raamwerk te plaas. Ten tweede gaan ek my eie kunspraktyk binne hierdie raamwerk plaas. Die oorsig van Djurberg se Experimentet en Cohen se Golgotha word oor vier hoofstukke versprei. Elke hoofstuk bespreek ‘n spesifieke aspek van oordaadsuitbeelding rakende die menslike liggaam. Ten eerste bespreek ek die groteske liggaam aan die hand van Mikhail Bakhtin se idée van groteske realisme en ek verwys ook na Jacques Lacan se psigoanalitiese idée van die gefragmenteerde liggaam, of corpse morcelé. Die tweede ondersoek in die verband van oordaadsuitbeelding verwys na die ‘liggaamspektakel’ as kulturele kritiek op kapitalisme, met spesifieke verwysing na Cohen se gebruik van egte menslike skedels as skoene in Golgotha. Ek bespreek ook George Bataille se filosofiese ondersoek na die idée van ‘uitgawe’ as kritiek op kapitalisme. Die ‘liggaamspektakel’ word geplaas binne die konteks van die laat-twintigste-eeuse teoretikus Frederic Jameson se opvatting van postmodernisme en sy verduideliking van die afname in gevoelsinhoud. Ten derde ondersoek ek oordaad en nabootsing in uitbeeldings van die vroulike liggaam, met spesiefieke verwysing na Djurberg se Experimentet. Hier is die bespreking geplaas in die konteks van die Franse feministiese psigoanalitiese teorie van Luce Irigaray se konsep van die rol van oordaad in nabootsing. Die studie verander dan na die ondersoek na die ervarings wat by die gehoor ontlok word deur die uitbeeldings van oordaad rakende die menslike liggaam. Ek verduidelik my eie observasies oor oordaadsuitbeelding deur gebruik te maak van George Bataille se skrywes oor die funksie van taboe, sowel as Mikail Bakhtin se aandrang op die ambivalensie van groteske beelde. Hier argumenteer ek, met verwysing na Experimentet en Golgotha, dat oordaad gekenmerk word deur die paradoks van gelyktydige aantrekking en walging. Ten einde bespreek ek my eie kunspraktyk met verwysing na die teoretiese raamwerk uiteengesit rondom uitbeeldings van oordaad rakende die liggaam.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/20224
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