Academic journal article Liminalities

Terrifying Pleasures: In Quest of an Affirmative Approach to "Dark" Installation Art 1

Academic journal article Liminalities

Terrifying Pleasures: In Quest of an Affirmative Approach to "Dark" Installation Art 1

Article excerpt

"Something in the world forces us to think. This something is not an object of recognition, but a fundamental encounter."

(Deleuze 2011, 176)

Introduction and Context

Inspired by Deleuze and Guattari's work on art and aesthetics, and situated within a new materialist framework, this essay offers a philosophical inquiry of "dark attractions", which aims at divorcing them, at least to a certain extent, from their typically negative valance. It focuses, however, on a very specific kind of "dark" artefacts, and this specificity has to be fully acknowledged here. My intention is to look at examples of installation art located in public museums referring to the Shoah. As such, these artefacts have to be considered both as belonging to the category of "dark attractions" and as referring to "difficult heritage". I will specifically look at three installations: Shalekhet (by Menashe Kadishman 2001), The Garden of Exile (by Daniel Libeskind 2001) and the Children's Memorial (by Moshe Safdie 1987), focusing on how their memorial character emerges out of the aesthetic encounter rather than remaining fixed or encoded in the artistic object. My approach draws on concepts and theories developed within different disciplines; obviously, it is not possible to do justice to all of them within such a limited space. Scholarly literature on "dark tourism", "representation", "affect" and "new materialism" is vast and diverse, and cannot be fully referenced here (whence the rather digressive format of this essay). My objectives are more limited and modest. I want to point out that if we focus on encounter rather than approaching "dark attractions" within the exclusively representational framework, we can open the concept of "dark tourism" to its more affirmative renditions.

In this context I should offer a brief comment on what affirmative critique actually is. Massumi describes these methods as techniques by which an author adds or invents, rather than as means for critiquing others. As he writes, "[i]t is simply that when you are busy critiquing you are less busy augmenting" (2002, 13). And he adds, "There are times when debunking is necessary ... Foster or debunk ... it is basically a question of timing and proportion. Nothing to do with morals or moralizing. Just pragmatic" (2002, 13). So, although the traditional role of critique continues to be important, it is nonetheless necessary to acknowledge new approaches that bypass critique, and to explore the fruitfulness of engaging the indeterminacies that come with making connections in research. Affirmation entails creativity, but it is also about the sharpening of the critique as well as staying attentive to details. Such is my strategy here. Importantly, I do not claim that the argumentation offered within this essay will necessarily be applicable, or even relevant, for all "dark sites", yet, I believe, it might shed a different light on how some of them operate, or absorb and transform us at bodily-intellectual level. This approach focuses on the "material-semiotic" (Haraway 1988) character of the encounter with "dark memorials" and draws attention to the vibrant processes of production, or emergence, connected to the aesthetic/affective intensity, which is born out of this assemblage. Consequently, I think about "dark" installation art in terms of becoming rather than being, which is a logic grounded in a new materialist philosophy.

In what follows, after offering a short overview of approaches to "dark tourism" as well as briefly discussing an inventory of "dark tourists'" motivations, I will advance a perspective that conceives of "dark memorials" in primarily aesthetic terms. For this, I will look into the non-representational understanding of art (inspired by works of Deleuze and Guattari), while situating these arguments within the new materialist framework. I will then proceed by claiming that whilst referring to terror/atrocity and stimulating rather disturbing emotions, some of the "dark installations" also offer positive aesthetic feelings. …

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