Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Verge of Collapse: The Pros/thesis of Art Research

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Verge of Collapse: The Pros/thesis of Art Research

Article excerpt

Knowledge about ourselves demands prostheses, which tie meanings and bodies together.

-Morton Søby (2005)

As dead American GIs have returned home in body bags from the war in Iraq, the many wounded, a vast number of them amputees who in any previous wars would have died on the field of battle or on an operating table in a combat support hospital, have survived and their lives have been extended due to the most recent technological advances and surgical procedures in medical science (Poff, 2005). These developments in medicine have corresponded with advances in the technologies of destructive weapons that have been deployed in the war (Hambling, 2006). Moreover, the mass mediation of the war has equally advanced as compared with previous conflicts due to sophisticated communication technologies (Globalization 101.org, 2003) and the media networks' deployment of embedded journalists who risk their lives to report and broadcast in real time the horrific battling in every sector of the war including the gruesome wounding and killing of both military and civilian personnel. As amputated bodies of information, these journalists' disparate, truncated reports have restricted the public's comprehensive and accurate understanding about the circumstances of the war, thus dismembering the body politic. As cultural critic Susan Sontag (2003) writes, "The understanding of war among... [those of us] who have not experienced war is now chiefly a product of the impact of these [reports] and images" (p. 21).

These broadcastings have had global consequences as images of wounding, death, and dying are viewed every day through the various news networks and every hour on the half hour through round-the-clock news reports from the likes of CNN, BBC, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, NBC, and the Fox Network, not to mention continuous access via the Internet. What has been localized in the zone of battle is then hypothesized and globalized through the apparatus of the mass media in every corner of the world: in bars and restaurants, in our living rooms and bedrooms, and now we have the ability to download the war onto our iPods(TM) and cell phones, which we carry in our pockets or attach to our bodies wherever we go. Ironically, while as cyborgs we are connected and experience the war virtually and vicariously through mass mediation systems, there are those in actual battle who are physically being disconnected of their limbs and losing their lives.

The corporeal horrors of the war in Iraq have recalled the pictorial amputations of the German Dadaists, namely Otto Dix, whose fragmented collages and montages represent the devastations to the body politic in Germany during and after World War I (Perry, 2002, p. 76). According to art historian Brigid Doherty (1998), Dix and the German Dadaists "look[ed] to the body as the repository of politics" (p. 77). Dix's 1920 oil and collage on canvas, The Skat Players (Bader, 2007), is a cynical representation of how the human body is both the supplier and recipient of the scheming brutality of political power. A card game of tricks that involves three or four players, Dix's skat players appear as veterans of World War I with official standing, multiple amputees fitted with multiple prosthetic body parts. Having been tricked into believing that World War I would end all wars, they engage in their own folly as they trick each other in the card game by using their prosthetics to stack-the-deck, deceive, and cheat one another. A parody of the Utopian representations of Paul Cezanne's Card Players, 1890-92 (Murphy, 1968), and Fernand Légers The Card Players, 1917 (Fauchereau, 1994), Dix has transformed these artists' post impressionist and cubist disfigurations, the formalism of their machine metaphors, into the amputations of collage and montage whose fragments represent bodily dismemberment on the one hand while on the other hand serving as pictorial prostheses affixed to the canvas. As art historian Graham Bader (2007) argues, the fragmented anatomical representations of Dix and the Dadaists "suggest not an aesthetic strategy but an entire culture driven by an ongoing cycle of corporeal assault, inscription, experimentation, and decomposition" (pp. …

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