Academic journal article Afterimage

The Motorization of Video Art: Van McElwee's Liquid Crystal through the Lenses of Virilio and Berardi

Academic journal article Afterimage

The Motorization of Video Art: Van McElwee's Liquid Crystal through the Lenses of Virilio and Berardi

Article excerpt

Van McElwee's video Liquid Crystal (2009) is an excellent example of the motorization of art. (1) Some of the shots are taken of or from conveyer belts. There are rigid linear trajectories alternating with a sort of human-Brownian motion, and many of the shots are inside or near train stations and the mazes of tunnels connecting them. Rather than a static place, the city--in this case Tokyo--is seen as a dynamic site of appearance's and disappearances. In an interview with John Armitage, Paul Virilio argued that the "motorization of art is a very important phenomenon," and that one "cannot come to grips with the current crisis in the contemporary arts ... without it." "All branches of the arts," he went on to say "are involved in motorization, that, is, in acceleration." (2) As the title of Armitage's interview with him suggests, Virilio is the originator of the term "hypermodernism," which is the likely sequel to postmodernism, which in turn was the reaction to modernism. Whereas postmodernism repudiated modernism, specifically that aspect, of modernism that expected science and technology to transform the world into a Utopia, hypermodernism is based on the fear that science and technology will develop to dystopian extremes. Virilio's perception of technology, in his own words, is largely catastrophic.

The fear of science was anticipated in Don DeLillo's novel White Noise (1986) when Jack and Babette Gladney, caught, in the novel's frightening "airborne toxic event," recognized that science's

  "[e]very advance is worse than the one before because it makes me
  more scared."
  "Scared of what?"
  "The sky, the earth, 1 don't know."
  "The greater the scientific advance, the more primitive the fear."
  "Why is that?"(3)

DeLillo does not provide an answer to that last question about the source of fear, but simply records the gnawing anxiety of a vague and foreboding dimension of contemporary life. In an unnumbered section between Chapters 6 and 7 in The Body Artist (2001) entitled "Body Art in Extremis: Slow; Spare and Painful," he writes:

  There is the man who stands in an art gallery while a
  colleague fires bullets into his arms. This is art. There
  is the lavishly tattooed man who has himself fitted with a
  crown of thorns. This is art. ... There are the naked man
  and woman who charge into each other repeatedly at
  increasing speeds. This is art. (4)

This excerpt appears to have been prompted by Virilio's concern about the escalation in extremism in contemporary art, which. DeLillo may have learned about through, or directly from, the original French edition of Fear and Art which came out the year before The Body Artist was published. Virilio was especially disturbed that, "Stelarc, the Australian adept at 'body art,"' chose to demonstrate his hypermodern conviction that science has made the human body obsolete by having eighteen sharpened stainless-steel hooks pushed through the back of his torso and limbs, from which his body, totally nude, was suspended on thin wires and levitated over a gaping audience. (5)

Among the sped-up phenomena in our hypermodern world, Virilio typically focuses on groundbreaking sciences that are generally perceived to hold great, promise for humanity, but which, from his perspective, are more likely to bring catastrophe. The major threat he cites in Art and Fear (2003), "[t] hanks to the decryption of the map of the human genome," are transgenic practices that, Virilio alleges, "aim at nothing less than to embark BIOLOGY [sic] on the road to a kind of 'expressionism' whereby teratology will no longer be content just to study malformations, but will resolutely set off in quest of their chimeric reproduction." (6) Virilio believes the compulsion for autonomous scientific expression, potentiated by new genetic techniques, will eventually create cloned, super-powerful humans immune to disabling pain. "[A]re we not now heading," he asks, "for that great transgenic art in which every pharmacy, every laboratory will launch its own 'lifestyles,' its own transhuman fashions? …

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