Art in The Flesh

Article in the Curatorial Perspectives on the Body, Science and Technology, KONTEJNER, 2010.
By Stahl Stenslie. To read the full text follow this link.


If art is about challenging how we live and experience this world, what is then the most challenging form of art? If not the one we live and experience directly in the flesh?

The Touch Me festival presents a radical and important arena for experiencing art in the flesh. First of all, the festival exhibit art that affect the body, thus happening in the visitor, turning the flesh into the arena of the art happening. Secondly it is about the flesh as embodied experience – the place you cannot escape or close your eyes at. Thirdly it is about art and the conceptual challenge Touch Me presents to our notion of art and aesthetics.

Based on the projects of the Touch Me festival the following will discuss art at the intersection of technology and science from a phenomenological point of view. A phenomenological approach to art explains why the works presented at the festival are so significant to our artistic experience. But first a counterargument: The notion about art- in-the-flesh is easily challenged by the fact that art is about much more than perceptual experiences. Some would say that art is more about sociological and cultural codexes, and how we create, uncreate, change and relate to these. Indeed the art world represents rhizomatic networks of complex relationships and interdependencies. If we are to treat art as a singular entity, and here -for the sake of the exercise- we are, then art is a fleeting and hard to pin down product. Bourriaud’s theories on relational art illustrates this (2002). In his view artistic practice revolves around human relations and their social context. Such thinking adds a certain immaterial and conceptual dimension to art, but also communication practice becomes a part of the artwork. Good and successful art in institutional contexts – especially for museums and the culture industry- is measured in its quantitative social effect, that is: art is understood primarily as a social phenomenon relatively independent of style and material. In other words, it does really not matter which works of art one exhibits as long as the exhibition in itself generates large volumes of visitors and press.

“Works of art are always the product of risk one has run, of an experience taken to its extreme limit, to the point where man can no longer go on” – Birnbaum (2005),

If we –romantically enough- take the risk of reducing art to the physical encounter between recipient (that is you as an active and reflective subject) and work of art (the object of reflection), art appears as a corporal phenomenon. Some form of object or action triggers some kind of response in a living subject. Whether this is caused by a material expression like (dead) painting or social media like twitter art, is less important as long as we work towards the premise that art is based in living perception and living experience. This is the basis for a phenomenological conception of art that is such an important component of the Touch Me festivals.

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