Survival and Exploraterraterrism.(1) Re-mapping the posthuman space
Published in: In: Ursula Biemann, 'Been there and back to nowhere'. Berlin 2000.
The face of humanity has been the face of man/mankind. Feminist humanity must take different forms, display other gestures; [...] feminist
humanity must, in whatever way, resist representation and literal shaping and at the same time dare to break out in powerful new tropes, new
figures of speech and idiomatic expressions, new turning points of historical possibilities. That is why here at the crest of the crisis, at
the cusp of all tropes we need ecstatic speakers. Donna Haraway (2)
There are places and times that inscribe you, that have already inscribed you. It has always been so, even if they are situated outside of what
you believe yourself to be. Perhaps you sense the secret connections, or you do not become aware of them until afterwards. At the moment you
have only come in contact with something that for the time being has no meaning. Even as a little girl I feared the day I would turn 36. I
imagined what it would be like to be a woman. It would be my last birthday in the old millennium and I was sure that I wouldn't live to see the
new one, for I was convinced that a World War III would limit my opportunities or wipe everything out. I was scared I would have to suffer and
that having been born too late I would be cheated out of a world in which I could have lived out my nostalgic desire for wide open spaces. How I
longed to get to know the country, the countries to the East, where my mother came from. And I wanted to fly to Mars, too. I'm still alive and I'm
constantly traveling and flying and getting to know strangers in order to build that which from my perspective constitutes an active and involved
That particular day, on March 24, 1999, I showed my students some videos, one of which had been produced by Marina Grzinic and Aina Smid for
Slovenian television and was entitled Luna 10. The Butterfly Effect of Geography(3). I found this video interesting then just as I do today
because it represents a perspective different than the ordinary one, namely a woman's, the perspective of a person from a post-Communist country.
It's about the desire for expansion, conquering the world, and the question of survival. The main title refers to the first lunar satellite
launched into outer space by the Russians in the sixties; the subtitle, to the dream of winning new territories as products of the Cold War
(Grzinic). At the beginning of the video we see a woman looking through a telescope the repetition of the female viewer's own situation as
observer. In a sort of framework situation the woman and a man guide us through the video's various window-like, or as Grzinic/Smid call it,
hypertext-like image sequences. In them we see footage by progressive Yugoslavian filmmakers, like Emir Kusturica or Zelimir Zelnik, as well as
documentary material taken from pirate radio stations, etc. Beauty remains silent while he speaks about technological "revolutions" like the
Internet, wars, the role of the media, and the perspective of people from the East. Although he plays the role of a pontificating male authority
figure, he at times appears wearing nothing but his underpants or turns into a kind of technological medium inserting numbers in a table as she
dictates the words to him. Thus his body also occupies a female subordinate position. She too changes her clothing, sometimes wearing only a slip,
other times a military uniform. The gender-specific and social matrices of both figures are temporary and contrary, complex and diffuse. Luna 10
can be interpreted as a critical argument for appropriating new (wartime) technologies and media and reassigning them to women and other subaltern
groups. The woman from the East has seized control of the telescope (outdated technological "prosthesis" and phallic substitute). She too wants
to go to the moon, and she too will only pass on the images she sees. Her searching eye and the greenish tinge to the film are indicative of
analogies to military infrared surveillance scenarios. But the screen images we are presented with are replete with contrasts. At the beginning,
for example, she appears before us in a poor rural setting, her hands covered with dough. While the man recites Western technological fantasies of
transgression, we see images of private domesticity, rustic simplicity, weddings, Communist parades, or three soldiers executing a woman in field.
The green tinge also emphasizes the archival aspect of the footage. Spaces, bodies, identities, and technologies are represented as historical,
medial, and ideological constructs. Everything becomes reciprocally involved with everything else, but there are very real spaces and bodies in
which we experience everyday emotions like desire, fear, sadness, joy. Medial constructs of places and bodies don't preclude intense experience.
"LIVE is a very simple program," the man in Luna 10 sarcastically states as he sits half naked before us. His survival philosophy is simple and
radical in its wish potential, "Have you queued up for the virtual bread? As it is with technological revolutions in the West, you will get only
bread crumbs. Better than nothing."
On the occasion of her exhibition last winter I talked to Milica Tomic about what she had done on March 24, 1999. She had wanted to make her
long-planned video Portrait of my Mother because the weather report had predicted it was going to be the first clear, sunny day in a long time.
Her idea was to record on video the route she normally took to get from her own apartment at the center of Belgrade to her mother's apartment on
the outskirts of the city. In the exhibition catalogue she writes, "Needless to say at this very time someone else was also making his final
preparations to render Belgrade his object; of course, each of us in his own way and from his own perspective."
The posthuman condition
It is important to develop these different perspectives, to look at them in relation to one another, and to insist on them not in an attempt to
patch together a pluralistic-relativistic quilt but in order to reveal the phantasms of equality and the real polarities and incompatibilities.
Being able to read all the personal statements of women and men from Belgrade on the Internet and hear their rage and grief on the telephone, what
did I then do with the motivation I felt to get involved? What do you do about media that reduce spaces and distances while at the same using
their technologies to wage war, the deadliest of all antagonisms? What does it mean to be an actively involved art mediator who talks about gender
in cyberspace and the ideological implications of new technologies while at the same time standing by and watching a number of different
escalations take place? How does one deal with the fact that a critical position is utterly contradictory?
"We now see that there is room for everyone in the abyss of history. We sense that a culture is just as frail as the life of a single individual.
The world, which gives the name 'progress' to its tendency towards baneful acumen, strives to combine the commodities of life with the advantages
of death. It buys space and time as imaginary values of human capital and uses them to multiply its entrances," says Jacqueline, one of the
fictive-real protagonists of Europe in Eva Meyer and Eran Schaerf's bi-medial radio play/video project Europe from Afar. Even at the end it is
still not clear whether Jacqueline is a Persian, Jew, European, Christian, Arab, Israeli, actress, or an embalmed Coptic female corpse. And
Piemanta, Jacqueline's grandmother/childhood classmate/double answers, "It [the world] has fully grasped the economic principle, which states
that the entrances are all that count and all that pay off. We are trying to gain access to a space that will only come to be through time. Since
it keeps getting bigger, it will turn into a world exhibition consisting of nothing but its own entrances."
Indeed many find the doors closed to them despite stepped-up advertising for ostensible entrances: "Would I have been hired for the media class at
your college," my Polish housemate asks, "if I hadn't had a Canadian passport too?"
These are the paradoxical spaces and conditions of posthumanism, i.e. a world based on humanist ideals but caught in the contradictory process of
the deconstruction and simultaneous restitution of these ideals. Even the concept of the posthuman self is so divided, ambivalent, and vague. As a
metaphor for the non-natural and as an indicator for the end of humanist ideals it is used by technodeterminists and (post)feminists alike. I use
it to inscribe myself in the feminist anti-essentialist and anti-androcentristic tradition, on the one hand; on the other, to bring a word into
play that regardless of how and where it is used is always simultaneously also some place else, i.e. always both true and false, both hype and
utopia, and thus never really fixed in place a word, therefore, that repeatedly re-embodies the paradox of place and time and the temporality
In these posthuman spaces the internationalization of capital, as Saskia Sassen states, goes under the name of globalization, whereas the
internationalization of labor is referred to by the discriminatory and obsolete term migration.(4) While the transnationalization of the economy
allows for a certain disregard for the laws of the nation states and the rights of the people therein, we are simultaneously being confronted
with an increase in racism, nationalism, sexism, and fundamentalism. Luna 10 along with many female post- and cyberfeminist theoreticians, like
Donna Haraway, Rosi Braidotti, Anne Balsamo, Carol A. Stabile, Katherine N. Hayles shows that, despite technological determinist swagger(5) and
the real shifts in borders, ideological differences like age, class, and gender have not been deconstructed even at the level of the body but are
instead being reinforced and reconstituted. However, it also makes clear that there are ways of intervening in these processes, ways for a person
to participate from his/her perspective. The effects on bodies and gender produced by the newly drawn borders of the North-South international
division of labor is the central theme in Ursula Biemann's video work Performing the Border. The notion that there is no nice, easy border
crossing, as Berta Jottar rightly says in Performing the Border, is a point web artist Alexei Shulgin brings home unmistakably with his event.
Shulgin and his "punk rock band" (an old computer) received an invitation from the Tijuana Media Center to come to Mexico and give a concert. As a
Russian citizen temporary residing in the U.S., however, he wasn't granted a visa, so he gave his concert directly at the border fence. He played
his keyboard on the U.S. side; the computer played on the Mexican side. "Since borders have become more permeable for products and less passable
for people, Shulgin's computer is allowed to travel freely between Mexico and the USA without a visa," writes Natalie Bookchin in the press
release. Shulgin names the discriminatory posthuman conditions and re-codes them into a celebration. In doing so, he can carry the exclusionary
North-South and East-West relations temporarily to an absurd extreme, so that we can appreciate and enjoy them even without stressing
subordination. Shulgin stages minimal acts that represent the individual will to survive as something suddenly subversive, as system-coherent
answers and re-actions to specific exclusionary conditions. This performance of flexibility and celebration holds a potential for political
action because the idea of a party in a place not intended for such purposes takes symbolic aim at the transgression of tightly drawn
Having said this, I would like to offer only an indirect and temporary answer to the above-mentioned question as to what the consequences for my
identity might be if the spaces in which I move become contradictory and paradoxical. I am searching for positions like those of Shulgin and
others and I am striving for collaborations in which we are prepared to take on the paradoxical nature of our different positions and perspectives
as the fundamental point of departure for our own identities, life models, and spheres of action. Allow me, therefore, to respond via a discussion
of works in which artists develop specific sets of aesthetics that map identity models for an existence in the posthuman space. More s
pecifically, I would like to examine the tools used by several artists to construct "apparent spaces" (Irit Rogoff, quoting Hannah Arendt). All
of them uncover the discrimination and violence in current border and technology discourses, without, however, getting caught up in maudlin
victimized discussions. How does one spread hope and belief in the importance of aesthetic identity models when we all know that one fine day
(nearly) everything will be destroyed and that making art will seem like an obsolete project?
It is no coincidence (but no reason for essentializing or generalizing either) that the majority of the artists I have chosen to discuss here
are women. First, I as a woman represent a situated female perspective, and secondly, the affirmation of the posthuman paradoxical conditions
may already be inscribed in the concept of the feminine as it is articulated symbolically. As feminist theory in general and Teresa de Lauretis
in particular demonstrate, the "status [of the woman] both as object and symbol" has always been contradictory. "The female subject is both
WOMAN and women." The relation between object and symbol status, which de Lauretis characterizes as "feminine," can also be applied to other
subaltern groups and "unholy alliances" like man/animal or man/machine and is therefore very nearly the epitome of the embodiment of the
The central questions remain: What aesthetic strategies are being developed to address us as multiply coded, hybridized, and differential
subjects so that we can re-formulate ourselves? How can we make use of the specifically situated knowledge of art and discourse producers of
both genders and diverse origins to conduct identity discourses that are non-fixed and headed for new fixations? On the basis on Yvonne Rainer's
Film The Man Who Envied Women, de Lauretis arrives at the following conclusion, which I would like to advance as a premise of the approaches I
will be discussing here, although, I might add, these women artists, with their questions on postnation, postcolonialism, etc., go beyond the
topic of Being A-woman(6) cited by de Lauretis. "It is precisely in this space of contradictions, in the divided and duplicitous interlocking of
its narrative grammar and its multiple figurative meanings, that the film addresses me, as female viewer, as a(-)woman. Here the film caters to
my (un)feminine perspective and inscribes my subjectivity, which is inextricably linked to my gender, in what I might call an "Erkennen des
Verkennens" (understanding of misunderstanding); in the personal-political contradictions of my own narrative of a-femininity."(7) For us,
what is important about Teresa de Lauretis' statement is the paradoxical position the female subject finds herself in and from which point she
continually reconstructs herself. Born and raised as a woman, the female subject identifies time and time again with her status as symbol and
her position as woman, although it is impossible to be both at the same time because we are dealing here with phantasmatic constructs. This
process of misunderstanding is at the same time the process of her multiple constructs of subjectivity, or perhaps the actual circumstances
leading to them. But only if this process is deconstructed as a phantasmatic given in the negation of this space as option, so to speak
does the female subject (as viewer) have a chance of constructing a u-topian, temporary identity. De Lauretis says, "Through the deconstruction
of the narrative space the film creates a critical space in which I, as woman and a-woman, am being addressed directly." Thus, only when the
subject is addressed as something completely paradoxical is it able to articulate itself in this not-fixed "critical space."
Becoming a symptom
I would like to illustrate this process of understanding misunderstanding on the basis of Milica Tomic' video and web work "I am Milica Tomic."
Tomic stands before us in a white slip; she is radiantly beautiful with a heavenly glow about her. Then, she starts to speak: I am Milica Tomic.
I am a German. She repeats this 65 times substituting different languages and nations each time. I am an Austrian, I am an American, and so on.
For each sentence a new wound appears, so that by the time she finishes, she is completely covered by blood-spouting gashes. After all 65
recitations everything closes back up, her body is intact once more, and the whole thing starts all over again. Having a national identity and
a mother tongue are important identity-forming factors, and in our age of (not yet obsolete) nation states these constitute our feelings of home
and being-in-the-world. The yearning for these identities is all but inscribed in the body; it determines the wish potential that express itself
in the unmarred body. The reality, however, is also that the phantasm of the nation mutilates the bodies, that the subject articulates itself as
contingent, vulnerable, and wounded body, regardless of whether one's "own" nation is particularly bloodthirsty or not. The subject, as a splinter
of one of these phantasms, has always been caught in the paradox of being both body and symbol. Tomic' wounds that result directly from her
words reveal that each of her performative acts of the identity recitations she is forced to make is an act of misunderstanding. Still, through
her hysterical mimesis of the wish for national identity with its simultaneous deconstruction through her gaping wounds, she does not a priori
dismiss her desire for (national) identity. Instead she takes this desire seriously, in respect to both its subjectivity-constituting and its
traumatic-fatal productive powers and extends it, as it were, in a ritual act of speaking the understood misunderstandings ad absurdum. Her
hysterical identification with the Oedipal position (she is blinded and gets castrated) in which her reduction to woman with a proper name and
subject of a national state entity becomes manifest, thus her performance of a symptomatic becoming-a-wound, has the effect that we too, as
viewers, are called upon to take part in this mimetic process and to identify with her role of complete vulnerability. What remains is this
aesthetic space in which the woman on the screen (and on the Internet) performs as an "ecstatic speaker" (Haraway), and from which the
possibilities of a much more multiple and variable space can be derived, mythic, utopian, a "tangible space for political representation
and participation beyond the traditional institutions of the parliamentary systems"(8) that is both conceivable and possible.
Milica Tomic made her video Portrait of My Mother (Portrait of Marija Milutinovic) a few months later, despite the circumstances or perhaps
because of them. She did indeed have to travel the route to her mother's apartment, which was located in a safe zone, every evening during the
NATO bombings. Thus, she not only became the temporary protagonist of her future video turned reality, but reality also became the simulation of
a fictive passage that had not yet taken place.
In Portrait of My Mother different paths conflate: The path the daughter takes through Belgrade and the mother's journey through life, which is
not disentangled from the course of Yugoslavia's history. The mother, in modern Belgrade an actress with a predilection for minimalist avant-garde
aesthetics (as opposed to the dominant aesthetics of social realism), retires from acting in the eighties during the period of forced
nationalization. Suddenly, in the middle of a part she announces in an act of female self-castration that she is a bad actress. She then turns to
an esoteric escapist form of Christian orthodoxy. The discussion among the three women reveals a clear parallel between the mother's life rich
in deeply personal experience and marked by her fatalistic (i.e. having politically fatal repercussions) faith under the auspices of a pro-regime
church and Serbia's reterritorialization politics. Thus Tomic' video picks up and continues from the point where her mother's life the life
of a dedicated and critical artist was interrupted.
No images are used to illustrate Marija Milutinovic's life, however, nor is it told as a continuous story. The viewer hears the off-camera voices
of the daughter, mother, and the mother's best friend as they talk about the mother's life and the current situation. Not until the very end of
the 63-minute video do we see the daughter and the mother as they meet in the apartment. At this point the voices stop. The two women gaze into
each other's eyes in an instant of seemingly endless silence, and embrace. Before that there was the bodiless-physical journey on foot, by bus
and taxi through the streets of an surprisingly intact Belgrade, the silent encounters with people strangers and relatives. Filmed from a
subjective camera angle Tomic' invisible body is somehow put in motion. Interspersed at irregular intervals within this flow of visual and audio
impressions are black film sequences. They are accompanied by indefinable noises, and, interrupting the women's intermittent stream of
conversation, they not only seem to question everything anew but they may also constitute representation-free moments for possible entries
into the videographic space. It's as if these moments urged us as female viewers to pass through these black holes and indefinable noises and to
inscribe our own lives, to live our lives mentally, so to speak as bios graphein. The fact that Tomic' provides us with a space for embodiment
and participation is once again made clear by the installation. On both sides of the front video screening she places four slide projectors that
fill the side walls with pairs of images. There are, for example, pictures of auras taken from her mother's spiritual books or instructions her
mother saved from the sixties for how to insert a tampon. These reflect notions Milica had as a little girl of what the inside of the female body
looked like. Topographic relations (urban space/gallery space/inside of the female body) become the basic condition determining biographic
cross-person and -place inscription and participation.
Places of survival
The location takes its meaning from its function of locating (real and virtual) bodies, i.e. forming identities. In other words, whenever the
artist aspires to the realization of becoming a subject, he/she observe that the location in its real and symbolic significance plays a central
role. Along the German-Czech border, for instance, Ann-Sofi Sidén examines the situation of prostitutes from various countries in Eastern Europe.
She spends most of her time in Dubi. The specific location she has chosen, however, is only a symptom in a whole chain of events. For the
installation Wait a Second! Sidén erects a series of glass booths. In each one there is a video, and the viewer like customer at a peepshow
settles down to watch a woman as she answers Sidén's (deleted) questions. In this way, Sidén simulates a real situation: On the one hand, she
has a sex worker perform on the screen for a male viewer; on the other hand, this reconstruction is blatantly artificial and false (in real
peepshows the booths aren't exactly transparent and the show doesn't consist of the woman simply sitting there and talking about her life).
Sidén sets up the glass booths in two rows. On the left, the videos show interviews with the owners of a love hotel/boarding house and with the
women who live there (Sidén also lived here during the year she spent researching this project). On the right are women living in a different
brothel. The viewer doesn't notice right away that the same names keep coming up, or that people whose names were mentioned earlier are suddenly
sitting in front of the camera. Concentrating on one or only a few places has the effect of making a situation seem familiar and it refracts it
into several perspectives. Thus the viewer takes on a symbolic position, namely both that of the client who may not get to see much but gets
to hear all the more as well as that of the sitting, speaking woman who is being watched. (Sidén talks almost exclusively with prostitutes.
The interview situations with a client, the owner of the love hotel, and police officers are the only exceptions.) The re-construction of the
conversations of the women using transparent booths causes me as viewer to slip into a split role. I virtually become the very object that I at
the same time must feel desire for but am prevented from doing so because she doesn't fulfill her fetishistic function and says shameless things.
In this split role, in which the viewer suddenly is and isn't accomplice and victim, we experience, literally too close for comfort, the various
frightening versions of violence and injuries told differently by each of these women. Against our will we are drawn in (just like many of these
women, who were stolen and sold) and made to occupy the precarious position of people who have been humiliated. Here the difference between
client and prostitute becomes blurred because they/we are all (at times we even see Sidén as agent) positioned as actors in a series of
interdependent effects and economies. If we listen for several hours to the various individual circumstances, it becomes clear that there are
also circumstances that keep repeating themselves (capitalization, transnationalization, discrimination against women, construction of the border
as a place of consumption and transgression).
"I am interested in the figure of a broken and suffering humanity which ambivalent and contradictory in stolen symbolism and an endless chain
of less than innocent translation draws a possibility of hope. But it also draws a never-ending series of mimetic and simulatory events that are
the legacy of the huge genocides and mass destructions of ancient and modern history,"(9) writes Donna Haraway. Such posthumanist tendencies as
those Haraway calls for here come to bear in Sidén's work. If one listens to the ever recurring stories the women tell, one has the impression
that they are like the individual faces of a collective murmuring of other (historical and contemporary) narratives: the woman as victim, as
commodity, as migrant in search of happiness, and as someone fighting for survival brought up to date for the age of new world orders and of
global flows of capital. And yet there is hope beneath the surface of many of the stories: abducted women who were able to earn money and will go
back home, others who managed to stand on their own two feet and are now preparing themselves for a new existence, or those who have built up a
strong social net around them or doublecrossed their double-crossers in their own ways. It becomes clear from the women's different life stories,
which on the one hand are clear repetitions and on the other hand vary strongly dependent on individual horizons of experience, that these
personal survival strategies are to put it as Biemann does in Performing the Border "multiple and variable."
Mobility as a metaphor
Although Performing the Border is also a video that examines women on a border and reassesses the possible ways of leading one's life as a woman
in subaltern circumstances, Biemann focuses on something completely different than Sidén. Sidén's approach to the women relies on her
participation in their lives. She dedicates months of her time to win their trust and be able to carry out her interviews at all. Because of
this physical and private involvement in the researching of the subject it is consistent of Sidén to give the embodiments and their circumstances
so much weight in the exhibition space.
Biemann's approach, on the other hand, is much more theoretical and critical of the inherent capitalist structures. She focuses explicitly on
the question of which role territorial borders and female bodies, i.e. gender borders, play in the context of the new international division of
labor. She shows women if I may use Saskia Sassen's imagery as users of the transnational bridges built with international capital. The
aesthetics of the video suggests without words that the border town of Ciudad Juarez is both a place of exploitation of woman in the age of
transnational hi-tech companies as well as a space for constructing bodies, genders, identities, nations, and capital. Maps, fences,
digitalized border landscapes and monitoring technologies visualize the territorial North-South construct and draw parallels between it and
Biemann's verbal implication of the body monitoring and surveillance the women are subjected to at their workplaces. An aesthetics of mobility
and fluctuation concepts which characterize the discourse on migration, transnational capital, and industrialization sets the video's visual
rhythm, which is slackened only by intercutting of theoreticians and activists seated and speaking before the camera. The video begins with the
camera's view out the window of a moving car; it ends with dancing bodies. In between we see the flux of the female masses streaming into the
maquiladora, the morning bus rides, the cars and horsemen in the desert, the exhumation of corpses, the flickering television images, the virtual
detonations of mine fields, the ride along the 5000-mile border, the drifting inflatable boat, the captions, the woman washing clothes by hand,
the little girl walking down the street: "She is still a girl. Can she find a way to steer through these cultural ruptures?" asks the off-camera
female voice. The movement of the camera, film montage, and people can be seen as the aesthetic choreographing of a discourse of migration and
capital flow, a discourse that with the help of this common element manages to coordinate the different spheres and thus structurally synchronize
them: the rhythm of the assembly line; the flow of the financing capital from the North; the people from the South; the foot-stomping,
hand-clapping girls at the beauty contest; the female desire as it is articulated in the love songs we hear sung on the morning bus ride or
in the disco; the blows and stabs delivered to the female victims. Everything is affected by these circumstances of movement and the shift of
boundaries, circumstances full of contradictions. "Gender matters to capital," a caption reads. Biemann doesn't stop at revealing life on the
border as a set permeated completely by sexualization as Sidén did but also goes on to show that the (re-)stabilization of gender is still
and continually being used as a means of control, i.e. for the production of people. In other words, she makes it clear that the multis, by
creating jobs for women and empowering them as consumers of an entertainment industry built especially for them, are, on the one hand, initiating
a process of destruction of patriarchal structures, but, on the other hand, they are bringing this process back under control through
Places of desire
Many of these women artists choose very specific places for their projects as the point of departure and point of intersection. Mainly this has
to do with the research character of the different approaches: The artist chooses a specific situation and takes a closer look around. Biemann,
for example, chooses the border town of Ciudad Juarez; the artist Dorit Margreiter Short Hills, the town where her aunt and cousin live; or Sidén
chooses Dubi. Each reflects a strategy for producing real contexts and for insisting on the lived realities of the embodied subjects. But all of
these works also show these places as spaces in which a multitude of desires have collected, spaces, therefore, that beyond their character of
authenticity are also intensely symbolic, i.e. constructed and strewn with the imaginary. Biemann's title Performing the Border as well as the
maps and the scenes of surveillance and situations on the border clearly suggest that the naturalness of a place does not exist, that a place is
always constructed, even if this in no way detracts from its character of reality. The city that Milica Tomic films and passes through is a
different Belgrade from the one bombed by NATO or the one her mother talks about. Dorit Margreiter's work entitled Short Hills may take its name
from the suburb in New Jersey where she visits her aunt and cousin a Chinese-American family in their home and questions them about their
favorite soaps, but at the same time it sounds like the name of a soap opera itself, too. The place they live is both real and medially
constructed an aspect that Margreiter reinforces by allowing Short Hills to focus mainly on the retelling of the stories of soaps as well as
on her aunt's newly built TV room. Moreover she embeds her video installation physically atop a gigantic landscape model. The radio play/video
Europe from Afar obviously toys with the phantasm of Eurocentrism by suddenly presenting Europe "from afar," despite the fact that the
cosmopolitan women who are to play Europe in the video meet in Paris, so to speak in the heart of colonial Europe. Though Europe may be just
an (old) construct, it is nevertheless regarded as valuable enough to be shaken out of its moribund sleep and made to perform for new utopian
inscriptions. In Europe from Afar the theme of re-mapping and rebuilding, the hybrid overlapping of female bodies and territory, once again
becomes evident: The video begins visually with the marking off of an athletic field and the measuring of the delicate body parts of an aging
woman (Elfriede Jelinek) as she is being fitted at a tailor's for an outfit.
It seems as if the approach of a performative constructedness of places and persons is what makes it possible at all for these artists to
conceive of a new construction, i.e. a re-mapping of the territorial and body-related spaces. Eva Meyer and Eran Schaerf achieve this by
taking the dilapidated, hackneyed, and reterritorialized word Europe seriously, not only in its patriarchal-territorial significance as female
allegory, but also in its re-mapped function as Schengenland. They throw "Europe" open in an act of artificial reconfiguration of language and
images that elude all attempts to cement them, thus enabling a recasting of this space to make room for women.
In Short Hills Dorit Margreiter also operates with the deconstructive re-mapping of stereotypical attributes of woman and territory, or in this
case woman and city. If the idea in traditional-patriarchal models was to sketch the woman as a country so that a (male) subject could occupy
and subjugate it, now the objective is to create spaces in which posthuman, postcolonial female subjects can move freely. Let us take, for
example, the scene in Short Hills in which the aunt's face is reflected in the glass of a framed photograph of Hong Kong, the city she emigrated
from more than 20 years ago when she came to the U.S. to study. Here Margreiter toys subtly with the fact that her aunt used to call Hong Kong
her home and, as the viewer learns during the course of the video, that she still has strong affections for the city, which she compensates by
watching Hong Kong soaps. On the other hand, the comparison of woman and city is the essential patriarchal myth. In this shot Margreiter plays
on these calcified formulas of the urban feminine and the original, native home, but at the same time she notes a difference. The face doesn't
blend into the faŤades but instead reflects itself prominently in the glass. And the woman speaks; she speaks about the city and that she left
it for good reasons. She doesn't visually embody this city, and she is at the same time both physically separated from and emotionally attached
to it, thus aesthetically a virtual intermediate space opens out of this, a space that constitutes a reversal of attributes and in which she
inscribes herself. Since the woman herself is not filmed directly by the camera, the intensification of this moment is as the
becoming-apparent-of a possible space, albeit only structurally a mirror image, or perhaps even just an illusion. The embodiment of the
woman mirrored in the glass is a reflection also in the meditative sense of the possibilities of aesthetic subject construction.
One of Ursula Biemann's virtual places of the appearing-on-the-scene is the nocturnal disco. From its outward appearance in the middle of the
rural townscape of the border zone it initially seems just as much an implanted foreign object as the technoid maquiladora. At first Biemann
shows the entertainment establishment in all its usual jarring din, then she abruptly replaces this noise with an electronic ambient sound, the
flowing permeability of which has absolutely nothing to do with the women dancing to folkloristic music. The atmosphere flooded in blue light
and the harsh discrepancy between the bodies we see moving and exhibiting themselves and the beauty and tranquility of the music suddenly give
us a sense of something else, something that isn't even present yet, hope that washes over the scene like blue light. The space of other
possibilities opens up in the middle of a place where the market value is based on the empty promise that the transcendence of borders and
intense encounters were possible. At the heart of simulated but nevertheless lived transcendences the sound changes and draws us as female
viewers once again in a completely different way into a nocturnal orgy of embodied "ecstasies."
To make art in the age of posthumanism also means, through actively continuing deconstructive practices however with a focus on the suffix while
at the same time not failing to keep in mind the negative and paradoxical nature of current conditions, to place the specific positionality of
one's own perspectives in the foreground. If one recognizes the primary and universal relativity and temporality of one's own and other's
positions, one no longer needs to be afraid of stereotypes or essentialisms as was often the case with involved artists in recent years. Instead
one is free through imitation to foray into them; through carrying them to absurd extremes, to attempt a re-coding of them for ones own
contradictory purposes. We should be skeptical of simple identity models and bliss-promising reconstruction attempts. But we also need to be wary
of overworking territorialized zones. We need to pursue strategies of infiltration, invasion, and the "despite all" attitude of survival,
strategies of simulation and construction that destroy every form of naturalization from the start.
It seems significant to me that of all the images I've seen recently the most hope-filled one was a long, slow-moving scene from Europe from Afar
shot at an airport. We see an old woman dressed in the Muslim tradition seated on a luggage cart and waiting. She is watching a baby and an older
child that plays with the cart, pushing it back and forth. That's all we see the whole time, this movement back and forth, and the convergence of
this old person and the very young people wearing Oriental-style clothes, and in the background the pan-Western airport aesthetics. It is an
image that strikes us through the piecing together of its heterogeneous elements, a quotidian image that is at the same time arresting for its
contradictions. And standing out, thus, it produces a kind of pause in its motion.
(1) This word was coined by the writer Ginka Steinwachs and makes reference to George Sand's transgression of female borders. It is a compound
of Lat. explorari: explore, Lat. terra: earth and terrorism.
(2 ) Donna Haraway, Ecce Homo. Am I not a woman and inappropriate/d other: The humane in a posthumanist landscape.
(3) Marina Grzinic/Aina Smid, Luna 10. The Butterfly Effect of Geography (Ljubliana, 1994)
(4) Saskia Sassen, Rethinking Immigration: An International Perspective, in Inclusion: Exclusion. Problems of Postcolonialism and global migration.
ed. Peter Weibel/Slavoj Zizek. pp. 107-116.
(5) The exhibition catalogue Post Human, curated by Jeffrey Deitch, is an example of the phantasms of total practicability. This is an important
exhibition not the least because it helped popularize the word postmodern.
(6) Teresa de Lauretis quotes this word from Yvonne Rainer's movie script The Man Who Envied Women: "I can't live without men, but I can live
without a man. [...] But I also know that something is different now. Something in the way of an unfemininity. Not a new woman, not a
non-woman, or a female misogynist, or an antiwoman, and not a platonic lesbian. Unwoman is probably the wrong term, too. A-woman is better.
A-womanly. A-femininity. In a footnote, however, Lauretis adds: But the feeling that it is 'towards an unfemininity' that 'feminism in its
highest form' is guiding mankind is my own personal feeling and obviously not Yvonne Rainer's at least not yet." p. 59 and p. 63.
(7) Teresa de Lauretis, p. 59/60.
(8) Irit Rogoff, Looking the Other Way. Participation in the visual culture, in: Texte zur Kunst (Cologne, December 1999), p. 111.
(9) Donna Haraway, Ecce Homo, p. 119.
_ Milica Tomic: Galerie im Taxispalais, Innsbruck. 11/13/1999-1/9/2000 (w/cat.)
_ Ann-Sofi Sidén: Warte mal! (Wait a Second!) Secession Vienna, 12/3/1999-1/16/2000 (w/cat.)