Blue Mountains    Ursula Frohne    
home
index
new
text
projects
biography
impressum
@
      Passages
Blue Mountains
Piece for Piece
 
  The Body as an (Inter)medial Place: Field of Projection and Interface    

And this world takes place neither simply inside you nor outside you. It passes from inside to outside, from outside to inside your being. In which should be based the very possibility of dwelling.
Luce Irigaray, Elemental Passions

… if you had eyes to see this.
Samuel Beckett, All That Fal

   
       

The representational elements of the artistic creations by Karen Kipphoff - performance, video, theater and film, installation, picture, language, space and projection – are mostly utilized by her within a scenographic framework as events dependent and correlated to time and locale. Her stagings of physical, pictorial and spatial syntheses are only accessible to the public directly present. The attempt to document the radical finality of these complex structures in the understanding of the artist alienates the procedural and in situ character of the works instead of translating the varying dimensions of time and space into a comprehensible representation. The transient, intangible nature of the performative processes is often bound to a theatrical concept of presentation which is invented and developed anew at each occasion, thus transforming the traditional corpus notion of the work of art to a situative moment.

   
  to the top of the page  

The utilization of various recording media such as video and film thus does not primarily serve Karen Kipphoff as a means of conserving her performances in the form of audio-visual memory fragments. On the contrary – the employment of technologicaly created pictures plays a central part both in form, sensuality as well as in the theme of the scenographical overall concept. The medial pictures fulfill an own rhetorical function within the connexion of locale and space, since they often refer back to the action being the true and original "picture source" of perception as a direct result of the artistic narration occuring in real time. The sequential flow of the video takes projected into the space enhances the effect of the performance as an ephemeral occasion which should mainly write itself as a memory trace into the perception of those present. Not the video or photo documentation, but the perception of the spectators forms the real "recording medium" which the artistic performance is aiming at.
Within this platonic-sceptical outlook onto the connection of pictures to reality, the echographical character of medial picture production comes into view and queries the relationship of body and identity, of staged reality and theatrics, of plot action and medium. While the video pictures multiply the present like an echo of the real scenes – into which they are reintroduced as blown up videos in the more recent performances of Karen Kipphoff – they also illustrate that the intensity of the action transforms into the imaginary via the technological picture transmission: the media being a symptom of reality as "transmission form" of the real action context, while they also interact with the actual performance and therefore give the room a dimension of time. That which is always and already absent at the moment of recording is allowed to appear in its past form at the same time. The projection becomes a medium of memory in the "here-now" which flows into the "there-then".

to the top...  
  to the top of the page    

In the Performance without title, which Karen Kipphoff presented together with artist Gillian Carson in Bergen (Døgnfluen, Bergen 2000), she worked with a miniature video camera - hardly larger than the human eye – which slowly probed parts of her body, arms, legs, stomach and tongue with the searcher. These pictures appeared as large projections in the hall outside of the actual performance room. Simultaneously she scanned text fragments from a daily newspaper with the camera. During the course of this seemingly ritualistic activity, at the core of which stood the successive exploration of the body in close ups, black letter applications became visible forming into words on the filmed skin areas and finally also on the tongue of the artist parallel to the movement of the camera.
These lingual elements distinguished the surface of the body as a medium of semantic transport. (1) They marked the body as borderland of the Self which not only forms the physical cover, the shell of the human core, but also the contact and relay area between the outside and the psyche (2) which is of central significance for the intersubjective communication as interface and passage zone between subject and outer world. The application of language onto the skin-self (3) unites the physical limitation aspect with the communicative destiny of the body surface, creating a parallel to the metapher of the Wunderblock, which Freud introduced as an illustration of the markings and traces of perception and memory into the layer of the subconscious.
Analogoue to Freuds characterization of the body and above all the surface of the same as a place from which inner and outer perception can take place simultaneously (4), Karen Kipphoff creates an ambiguous threshold situation with language and body in her performances. While on one level difference is articulated as subjective self-feeling via the language vehicle, the option of intersubjectivity is opened up through just that language possibility on another level. Thus language is a means of marking the surface of the body as (historical, social and gender specifical) projection surface and identity carrier and at the same time the lingual elements clear passages of communication between the Inner (psyche) and the Outer (perception) of the subject in the shape of (physio)lingual contact zones. The body thereby adopts the guise of "language figure", which represents language as body and also body as language.
As the word applications create a surprising link between body and text fragments, they point to a semiotic crossing of the physical presence, represented absence and indexical reference, which in turn is based on the intermedial penetration of performance, picture and language. As complex as this scaling and fitting into one another of representational levels appears on the one hand, as clear-cut is the assertion of the body within the center of perception as place of medial interaction and therefore as intersection or interface of the communicating elements of space, time and action.

to the top...


 
  to the top...    

The explicitly performative topicality of physical presence in the work of Karen Kipphoff often stirs up a memory of a basic tune in human experiences which even gain in intensity due to the live esthetics of the pictures being produced with a small "surveillance camera”. The audience is caught in the reality planes and experience the mental and emotional challenge from the competition of physical action, optical representation (in the video picture) and their own presence in the scene context of the performance. Within this combination of body, text, camera and spectator the limits of social space are broken. The onlookers are given a key role because their own bodies, senses and imaginations become an issue.
Those present are subjected to the chronological and dramaturgical flow and therefore become participants with responsibility for the event. (5) Albeit, this structure of mutual referal from the physically real event to the medium und vice versa within the scenographical field of play, it is not to be understood in accordance with Rosalind Krauss’ postulate of a narcissistic reflection relationship between the artist and her projected (self) image – i.e. as a purely tautological double multiplication which categorizes video as psychological requirement of narcissistic self obsession (6) – but rather as experience of differentiation in which the video picture competes or, as the case may be, interacts with the live, real presence of a protagonist (7).
While similarly as in theater, the fascination of the spectator is stimulated by the intensity created by the presence of the protagonist, the projected pictures represent the simulated sensation of "being there" via medial telepresence. Through the intermedial crossing of the actually present body of the artist in the performance and the parallel projected „real time" images of her action, the different levels of presence and absence acquire a strained relationship which turns the esthetical and ethical dimensions of presence and representation, of experience and sensation, of visual consumption and theatrical communication against each other: the reality of the body survives in the visualization through the medium only as a leftover, as simulacrum, which paradoxically underlines the medial nonrepresentationality of the physique.

to the top...


 
  to the top...    

In this aspect of the immediacy of the bodily experience Karen Kipphoff’s performances follow Artaud’s concept of nonrepresentational theater. A theater in which the event is not repeatable and cannot be drawn level or caught up with insofar as the attempt of identical repetition always fails and always strides on as a quote of itself creating a new reality in the process. (8) As in Artauds Theater of Cruelty we also experience a suspension, a cancellation of the body grammar in Kipphoff’s performances with a splitting of physical solidity through the viewpoint of the camera which casts another reality of the body and stages it according to medial conditions. The camera’s focus onto single body parts illustrates this phenomenon: the segmentation of perception occurs within the field scope of the gaze set as the dominant mode of sight by our visual culture. (9) As tool of human viewing the searcher of the camera feels for objects at a distance, dissects these and records them as segments, detached from their context. Karen Kipphoff’s explorations of the own body with the miniature camera illustrates the grasping-at of things analogous to the eye motif as a process of deconstruction. She multiplies through the scattering of the pictures onto several projection surfaces and even hightens their immaterialization: transforming the body to scenographic notations.

   
  to the top...    

In contrast to performances of the 70s, in which artists such as Vito Acconci, Joan Jonas or Marina und Ulay Abramovic laid open their bodies in extreme, often masochistic actions and experimented with their physical and psychic limitations, Karen Kipphoff concerns herself less with the sensational value of the body. In the Performance without title only partial exposure of certain body parts through the careful pushing aside of the clothing at arms, legs and stomach had the effect that the gaze of the camera took in the physiotopology of the artist in segments only.
Instead of exploring the body before the eyes of the onlookers in systematic and ruthless exposure as for instance Joan Jonas in her famous Mirror Check of 1970 (10), Karen Kipphoff traces the fragmentations which manifest the body especially through the medial representations (in speech and picture) in our (self)consciousness. In directing the miniature camera independently she maintains control of the displayed, whereby she creates a dramaturgy which pans back and forth between the appearing and the vanishing of the body, recalling Bruce Nauman’s dictum "PEOPLE DIE OF EXPOSURE" with her restraint in her handling of the body motif.
Karen Kipphoff’s successive deciphering of body textures contradicts the visual possesiveness which this motif is dealt with by the popular media. However, at the same time the modern essentialistic body concept and the representational canon which came out of it is being rewritten and broken open in view of a performative body concept. The sexual markings and ideological appointments appear as (physio)lingual phenomenes. The paradigm of the theater as an illusionary reality, in the works of Karen Kipphoff links up with the virtual pictures of our medialized contemporary culture and distinguishes the imagination as the true interface between action and projection.
The liberating aspect does not develop through the perfection of illusionary effects but in the imaginative faculty of the participants. The Second in Alexandr Vvedenskijs theatre text Conversation about the Memory of an Event (1936/37) also remarks: Yes, of course, alright, I am imagining it. I am no longer insisting on having been here, but I am imagining it. I can clearly picture it. I enter your room and I see you – you are sitting here and there and all around are the hanging proofs of this matter, pictures and statues and music. (11)

to the top...



 
  to the top...    
  (1) The characterization of the skin as medium of memory is a motif which appears in many variations in the art of the 60s of the 20th century. In regard to script application or other forms of markings on the body surface see a.o. Jill Bennett, The Aesthetics of Sense-Memory: Theorising Trauma through the Visual Arts, in: Franz Kaltenbeck, Peter Weibel (ed.), Trauma und Erinnerung, Vienna: Passagen Verlag (publishers), 2000; Kathy O’Dell, Contract with the Skin, Masochism, Performance Art and the 1970s, Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota Press, 1998; Amelia Jones, Andrew Stephenson (ed.), Performing the Body, Performing the Text, London, New York: Routledge , 1999; Shirin Neshat, exhib. cat., Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, Oslo 1999.
(2) cp. Marie-Luise Angerer, body options, körperspuren.medien.bilder, Vienna: Turia and Kant 2000 (2. edition), p. 141.
(3) cp. ibid.
(4) see Sigmund Freud, Das Ich und das Es, in: same., Psychologie des Unbewußten. Studienausgabe, vol. III, Frankfurt/M., p. 294.
(5) see Hans-Thies Lehmann, TheaterGeister/MedienBilder, in: Sigrid Schade and Georg Christoph Tholen (ed.), Konfigurationen zwischen Kunst und Medien, Munich: Wilhelm Fink Verlag (publishers), 1999, p. 140.
(6) see Rosalind Krauss, Video: The Aesthetics of Narcissism, in: October 1, Spring 1976, p. 50-64.
(7) see Schade and Tholen 1999 (as in footnote 5), p. 141.
(8) Antonin Artaud, Postskriptum, in same., Schluß mit dem Gottesgericht, Das Theater der Grausamkeit, Letzte Schriften zum Theater, Munich: Matthes & Seitz Verlag (publishers), 1993, p. 43.
(9) For historical substantiation of vision in the European culture see Jonathan Crary, Techniken des Betrachters, Sehen und Moderne im 19. Jahrhundert, Dresden, Basel: Verlag der Kunst (publishers), 1996 [original edition: Techniques of the Observer. Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century, Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1990].
(10) cp. Johann-Karl Schmidt, Joan Jonas, Performance Video Installation 1968-2000, Gallery of the City of Stuttgart: Hatje Cantz Verlag (publishers), p. 44/45.
(11) Karen Kipphoff’s concept for the performance Undercover 2 (2000), which she developed for the Høstutstilling 2000 in the Museum of Arts in Bergen is based on this text by Alexandr Vvedenskij. The English version was provisionally translated by the artist from German.
to the top...      
  to the top...