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ThemesCyborg BodiesMonstrous Bodies
Monstrous Bodies: The Disarranged Gender Body as an Arena for Monstrous Subject Relationns [1]
Yvonne Volkart

As Donna Haraway said, it is no coincidence that monsters are related to the word ‹demonstrate›: that is what they do. This essay proposes that— like the cyborgs—they ‹demonstrate› on and with their monstrous bodies the monstrous relations confronting subjects in the age of information and biotechnology. In a first step I will discuss the tendency of the monstrous body to be staged as a gender body that has become deviant. Time and again it is the gender that is no longer quite right and that indicates that something very fundamental has gone haywire. In a second step I will show that apparent gender confusion frequently converges with notions of femaleness. What underlies both steps is whether the staging of monstrous bodies on the one hand leads to an averting and naturalization of socio-political references in which the general contexts are shifted to a ‹simple› body and gender problem, or whether on the other hand the body is designated and repoliticized as an arena for monstrous social and subject relations.

In minority theories, the monstrous and mutation tables have repeatedly been stylized as figurations of liberation. The women's studies theorist Rosi Braidotti,for instance, views the current abundance of representations of monsters both as a symptom of postmodern «postnuclear sensibility» as well as an opportunity for an alternative subject constitution: «[A] shift of paradigm is in course, towards the teratological or the abnormal/cultural decadence. […] We need to learn to think of the anomalous, the monstrously different not as a sign of pejoration but as the unfolding of virtual possibilities that point to positive alternativities for us all.» [2]

Donna Haraway conceives of her cyborgs as artifactual marginal figures and equates them with Chimeras, hybrids and monsters. A disarranging, shifting identity policy of the non-authentic and the «inappropriate/d others» is to be conducted by means of the offensive identification with hybrid cyborg subject positions. [3] While the representatives mentioned above think of the monsters as opportunities for a reconceived humane future beyond androcentric notions of the subject, many portrayals of monsters and mutants have gotten stuck in an ambivalent spectacle of fascination and horror, norm and deviance, especially in art. In the photograph «Klone #92» by Dieter Huber from his «Klone» series we see the naked upper parts of the body of a man and a woman who are kissing. Their tongues have grown together to form a single tongue. Being a clone has been staged as a monstrous threat of gender boundaries becoming unrecognizable, of the collapse of norms and of unforeseeable proliferation. The threatening end of bipolar gender difference indicates that something has gone out of control.

Besides horny women and screwed-up knights in armor, monsters, animals and freaks are the protagonists who populate the photographs by the Swiss artist Olaf Breuning. In «Sibylle» (1997), for instance, we see a mutilated, female monster being—half animal, half human—displayed on a table top. But the woman monster appears to be so badly botched together that we are more amazed than we are startled. The animal-like monster men in the photographic variations «Group,» «Steve,» «Ruben» or «Sam,» all of whom grotesquely grin into the camera before a crimson jungle sky, do not really terrify us either. And yet Olaf Breuning's photographs aremonstrous and uncanny: Because everything has somehow become different. The human has mutated into the animal, into something horde- and pack-like. The only stable thing in this proliferous scenery—the knights and the beautiful women— has become unreal, ironic quotations of a mythical stability and unity. Not only do these myths have to be arduously upheld with the aid of dominant sexist behavior—in «Princess» (2000) a knight rather shakily places his foot onto a cavewoman writhing on the ground—they also seem to have gone out of fashion: The proximity of the horde-like monsters, «primitives» or «Vikings» to grunge, «Skaters» (skateboarders) or urban Indians, the mixing of men and women into long-haired, shaggy Chimeras clearly indicates that something has collapsed and lost all control, that notions of humanistic individuality and subjectivity, but above all of reason-oriented masculinity, have given way to something other, something collective.

In the installation «Durchströmung II» by the Swiss artist Victorine Müller, a perfect doll figure seems to literally lose all self-control: Water, which generates a circulatory system of a very different kind in shiny plastic tubes, flows out of all of the openings of a kneeling, white female doll: Everything flows/dissolves, becomes monstrous and yet still remains uncannily artificial, glassy and compact.

This contribution proposes that monstrous bodies demonstrate monstrous subject relations as they have emerged in recent decades through the fusion of new technologies with neoliberal economies. The aesthetics of physical deformations, the dissolution of physical boundaries and the recombination of limbs symbolize what is happening with bodies on a sociopolitical and subjective level. Using various media examples I will inquire into whether images of the mutationistic body name or ‹dename› the mutations of everyday life and what role gender plays in this.

The Joy and Horror of the Monstrous: The Averting of Perverse Power Relations in Discourse on the Deviant

In particular at the beginning of the nineties, when the posthuman [4] discourse spread, fantasies about disrupted gender, reproduction and individuality, about bodies and organs that had gone out of control, were widespread and were frequently staged by meansof whole, smooth and doll-like bodies. One example of this is the sculpture group «Family Romance» by Charles Ray. The work was received as a sign of the aberrations of biotechnological experiments as well as an allegory of relations of power and violence in the family unit [5] or in a flexible society. [6] While Huber's clone series makes explicit reference to the problem of genetic technology, Ray's works—not only his works with models—more generally revolve around questions of dimensions and proportions, lifelessness and physical excess, and thus address a fundamental condition that has entered into a crisis. The doll-like works in «Chapmansworld» by the British siblings Dinos & Jake Chapman— in particular the sculpture «Zygotic acceleration, biogenetic de-sublimated libidinal model (enlarged x 1000)»—are further examples in which current discourses on reproduction and individuality are staged as a monstrous spectacle of proliferating gender bodies.

In all of these works, the overriding theme is the end of androcentric subjectivity in which the conditions no longer hold true and lead to atrocious perversions. All of them deal with control and its loss. References to biopolitics by means of new technologies and waves of fashion flare up. The hopelessness of the abnormal as an imaginable future is staged in the attractively repulsive image of the collapse of normalized heterosexuality; disfigured or proliferating gender, above all an apparently female reproductive power, is celebrated as an image of the monstrous. Culture-pessimistic notions come to fruition in the one-sided symptomatization of the deviant as an analogization of perverted, frightening power relations. At the same time, these re-install the abnormal as something fascinating and to be condemned, and leave no options open to reinterpret it beyond the debased and tabooed.

Disfigured Gender as a Loss of Identity

In the art of the nineties, the theme of the monstrous disarrangement or disfigurement of gender and the genitals as well as the sealing of the body emerged again and again in completely different media. If one takes the convention into account that gender is not only the fundamental basis for difference, but also for individuality and subjectivity, the incessant outlining ofthe threat of gender is no wonder. The motif of the disfigurement of gender not only applies to the reproductive technologies, which make gender obsolete, but in a more general way to a world in which the sights are set on the end of the individual through biopolitics.

In both «Faith, Honor and Beauty» (1992) by the artist duo Aziz & Cucher and Inez van Lamsweerde's photoseries «Thank you Thighmaster» (1993), gender, pubic- and body hair as well as the nipples are erased using a digital process. The bodies of these young models have become impenetrable surfaces without membranes or openings. Both photoseries show that the compulsion to fashion oneself according to conventionalized ideal dimensions breeds monsters and that gender has become an arbitrary matter that does not rely on evidence, but on ‹technologies.› As will be discussed later with regard to other works, these, too, stage the deeply uncanny and unsettling of the cyborg body in its gender disfigurement and woundless melding. In contrast to the male authors discussed, van Lamsweerde expressly thematicizes the fetish character of the woman and shows that the information society has new opportunities in store for the new woman. In the photoseries «Final Fantasy,» for instance, she links the biotechnological with the male fantasies of Lolita and lets both of them culminate in the little girls' gruesome grin. In contrast, female desire is also present in the photoseries «Well, basically basuco is cocaine mixed with kerosene.» On the one hand, the two stereotypical Barbie beauties appear to be the direct offspring of NASA technology and thus fetishes in a phallocratic order. On the other hand, with their bicycles and their rocketshaped Popsicles they are depicted as demanding women who want to have the male technoculture for themselves. This image is the condensate of a posthuman condition in which everything is artificial and not innocent, but seemingly cheerful and enjoyable. The monstrous is no longer something gone wrong, but normalized conformism and purity of the body itself.

The (Apparent) Fluidity of the Genders

While in van Lamsweerde's early works the monstrous of future bodies is the dissolution of the female and its simultaneous sexualizing hypertrophy, the theme of thesubsequent series «The Forest» (1995) is the confusion of maleness or the genders. The obviously ecstatic state of the effeminate men in elsewhere, the melting away of pure maleness, is not depicted as an abhorrence, but rather as something open, pleasurable. These cyborg fetishes exhibit their non-wounds, the shifts, interventions and disfigurements made in order to position them as fetishes, and they suggest the transgression of gender boundaries as a new opportunity for subjectivity. The dissolution of individuality and gender is followed by the flexibilization of postmodern identities. This appears as fluidity of the genders and ethnicities—a theme that boomed above all in the area of digital photography, advertising and the music clip. [7]

Ugo Rondinone's effective staging of himself as a woman became well known in the photoseries «I don't live here anymore» (1995–2001). As a basis for his work, Rondinonoe took fashion photographs of perfect women and mounted his face onto theirs. The result of this is not only that a female model wears a beard without any qualms, but that when viewing the series the same face looks out at you again and again from quite different bodies. The seamless gliding of bodies and genders, as it is made possible by digital photography, appears to be something placeless, unstable and uncanny. That the male artist represents the instability of (male) subjectivity through his becoming a woman is not, however, an invention by digital media. It was not only played through in the photography of the seventies by artists such as Urs Lüthi, Robert Gober or Andy Warhol, rather it was also a motif that gained a foothold in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries amongst writers and artists, for instance Marcel Duchamp. This media tradition ultimately only backs up the proposition that the confusion of subjectivity is staged as gender confusion, and with male artists it is primarily staged as maleness becoming unstable. As the following will show, at the same time becoming a woman or becoming a monster exhibits remarkable analogies.

The Monstrosity of the Endlessly Interfaceable, Digital Body

While in the nineties many artists staged the monstrous in the form of variable, doll-like creations withdisfigured or changeable gender and fluid ethnicity, in recent years the tendency has been towards detaching the sexual from an identifiable body and allowing the impression to be a structural one. The gender confusion in Aziz & Cucher's early photoseries, for instance, has been replaced by fantasies of skinscapes and skin objects or copulating electrical parts in later works such as «Chimera.» In the digital body images by Yves Netzhammer, for instance those in his early work «Grosse Spiegel werden verloren. Informationen von Abwesenheit, damit Anwesenheit entstehen kann» (2000) or in his four-part exhibition project «Die überraschende Verschiebung der Sollbruchstelle eines in optimalen Verhältnissen aufgewachsenen Astes» (2003), a reproductive power has seized hold of the figures and drives them to undergo permanent transformation. There is no interior and no exterior, but only multiplying, varying surfaces, endless recombinability, and yet the subjects are reminiscent of sexual fantasies of penetration, fusion, expulsion or birth: Such as when a smooth, compact surface buckles, bulges, when a snail crawls out of it, or when it becomes a human figure, a hand, a finger, a feeler. The monstrous is no longer the ugly or deformed, but the (too) smooth and permanently fluid. In Olaf Breuning's recent photoseries «I never invite my friends again, they are weird! I-IV» (2003), the uncannily fluid of the digital image becomes the literal melting away and becoming monstrous of the face. This homogenous-fluid aesthetics of digital bodies is repeatedly interpreted as the effect of the technical possibilities of new media. However, I maintain that these imagined bodies are less technology-related, but rather that they spring from the imagery of the information age and that they are also more general basis fantasies of the dissolution of subjectivity. The sculptural examples in particular showed that fantasies of the fluidization and proliferation of the body are not bound to media.

From Technology to Metaphor: The Fluidity of Digital Bodies

A horizontal, green ray that forms an aural column and from which a blond man in underwear—the artist—emerges. In Björn Melhus' video «Again & Again (The Borderer)» (1998) notions of feasibility from theareas of biotechnology and cosmetic surgery are digitally staged; the issue is cloning, control, and going out of control: Reproductive technology presents the man as a godlike creator, multiplies his body in ornamental plant patterns, and finally lets him hopelessly fall into a black hole. It is about the collapse and the permeability of categorical boundaries between nature and technology, of body and subjectivity: the protagonist is a cyborg. He may well be a man, but at the same time he is a synthetic juncture of being a man, father, mother, child, brother, plant and inorganic cathode ray. His maleness is no longer sovereign lord-ship, but the meeting place for multiple concepts of the reproductive that have captured the demiurge and raised it to the status of the divested (literally of his clothes). He is—as are, by the way, most of the figures in Melhus' videos—an unmarked revenant and inhabitant of the border to Limboland, [8] beyond death and castration: The black hole is not death but the uterus machine in action, which has replaced death in favor of the endless replication of the One and incessantly makes replicas of humans, plants and images. The central thought in the discourse concerning the fluidity of media technologies and bodies is the principle of algorithmic programmability. This becomes a metaphor both for digital as well as artificial life, or as Melhus' example shows, for biotechnological manipulation. In his book «The Language of New Media», the Russian-American media theorist and artist Lev Manovich writes that the fundamental principle of digital media is one of «numerical representations.» The consequences are firstly that «a new media object» was able to be formally (mathematically) described, and secondly that it became an «object of algorithmic manipulation.» [9] A further principle is «variability.» This consists in the fact that «a new media object is not something fixed once and for all, but something that can exist in different, potentially infinite versions»: «New media […] is characterized by variability. (Other terms that are often used in relation to new media and that might serve as appropriate synonyms of variable are mutable and liquid.) Instead of identical copies, a new media object typically gives rise to many different versions.» [10] By variability Manovich not only means the media surface representation, thesmooth merging of consecutive sequences, but also the possibility of producing similar, only slightly different media objects in an almost unlimited number, a result of programmability. This would correspond to the economy of postindustrial society, which no longer posits mass standards and the serial repetition of the same, but rather individuality and free choice.

In a further step, Manovich's concept of variability, liquidity and mutability applies to the way in which users handle data and media objects, and then generally becomes a model of postindustrial culture that posits the apparent possibility of free choice and free form. With this Manovich makes an important point, which we also permanently encounter in the apparently unrestricted, posthuman possibility of designing the body. However, despite Manovich's putatively technology-based argumentation it soon becomes clear that it is ultimately supported merely by algorithmic programmability and that his discourse with respect to the fluid and the programmable is descriptive and metaphorical. Manovich is not alone with this. Besides theorists such as Marcos Novak or Peter Weibel, this ambivalent techno-metaphorical argumentation can also be found in Vivian Sobchak's anthology on morphing. [11] Both the editor as well as a majority of the authors base their argumentation with respect to the aesthetics of the morph on the one hand on its algorithmic structure, on the other hand they make reference to historical precursors and the general cultural fascination with forms of the fluid, the transformative, and the metamorphic: «Morphing is not merely a novel computergraphic mode of figuration, nor is the morph merely a novel narratological figure. Both are novel—and specifically historical—concretions of contemporary confusions, fears, and desires and both, whether visible or invisible in their use, allegorize the quick-changes, fluid movements, and inhuman accelerations endemic to our daily lives. […] the morph is not only meta-morphic in its shape-shifting formlessness that greedily ‹devours all forms›; it is also meta-phoric in its inherent tropological movement and its historically substitutive activity.» [12] Sobchak makes it clear that the digital morphing method is a question of a new technical possibility of creating images which at the same time nourishes old fantasies and further develops them intheir historical contingence. In this respect, in her anthology a lot of weight is placed on the history of our fascination with morphs and their allegorical meaning: «The morph fascinates us not only because of its physical impossibility and strangeness but also because its process and figuration seem less an illusionist practice than both a presentational mode and an allegory of late capitalist ‹realism›.» [13] The homogenous, smooth gliding that the morph makes us aware of is identified with the functioning of power in the current information society, in which according to Sobchak «centers do not hold» and have no tenable substance. With this he is making reference to the current post-Marxist theories that situate the flowing and networking, the flexible and immaterial as an acute state. The American theorist Manuel Castells, for instance, speaks of the information society as a global capitalist network, whose motions and variable logic ultimately determine the economy and influence society. [14] According to Castells we are in a transformation in which «a space of flows [is being created] instead of a space of places.» [15] The information age is described as a global network, as «a space of flows» in which in principle everything is interfaced with one another and flows into one another without transition. Donna Haraway calls this new logic of interfacing and of flowing «informatics of domination,» meaning that from now on materialities and organisms are to be understood within the logic of binarism and that they have become signs and codes: «The organism has been translated into problems of genetic coding and readout. » [16]

For Haraway, the decisive turn in the information society consists in the «translation of the world into a problem of coding.» Like Castells, with her conceptuality she would like to point out that power and exploitation are not simply dissolved in a network structure, but that they run differently and are rerouted. In his text «Postscript on the Societies of Control» [17] Gilles Deleuze also made reference to the rerouted power structures. He speaks of a society of control as opposed to a disciplinary society, as brought out by Michel Foucault in «Discipline and Punish.» In Deleuze's argumentation it again becomes clear—as was already the case in Haraway's concept of the «informatics of domination»—that the numericalprinciple is used as a metaphor for the functioning of new social and economic structures of order. Further to Foucault's concept of the disciplinary, which is created qua social institutions of enclosure and surveillance (of which the panopticum is the model case), for the society of control Deleuze concludes: «On the other hand, the different control mechanisms are inseparable variations, forming a system of variable geometry the language of which is numerical (which doesn't necessarily mean binary). Enclosures are ‹molds,› distinct castings, but controls are a ‹modulation,› like a self-deforming cast that will continuously change from one moment to the other, or like a sieve whose mesh will transmute from point to point.»

The analogies in the argumentation are clear: As is the case for Haraway and Manovich, according to Deleuze it is now the code that counts as a new language and makes individuals «dividual.» He compares both forms of society with animals: The mole is the «animal of the space of enclosure, but the serpent is that of the societies of control. […] The disciplinary man was a discontinuous producer of energy, but the man of control is undulatory, in orbit, in a continuous network. Everywhere ‹surfing› has already replaced the older ‹sports›.»

Fluidity has become the dominant principle of postindustrial capitalism and its subjects, and for Deleuze, too, it is derived from the principle of numerics. And as do Castells and Haraway, Deleuze also makes it clear that with respect to these transformations it is not just a question of a «technological evolution,» but «even more profoundly, a mutation of capitalism….» Although he may base his conceptuality on that of computer science, Deleuze clearly points out that these phenomena are effects of capitalist or neoliberal policies, i.e. effects which must be viewed over a longer period of history, in which time and again ‹machines› or cyborgs have stood for certain socio-economic concepts.

As the works of art discussed above indicate, these processes are repeatedly concerned with the question of what these processes of transformation mean for humans and what kinds of subjects they produce. Thus Sobchack not only identifies the morph with the information age, but also with new types of subjectconcepts. She writes: «At the same moment, its very fluidity destabilizes dominant Western metaphysics (primarily focused on essences, categories, and identities, including those of gender and race) and dramatizes instead a ‹process metaphysics› that is less about ‹being› than about ‹becoming›.» [18] Donna Haraway speaks of «cyborg subjectivities» or of «The Female Man,» Rosi Braidotti of «monsters,» and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari speak of «becoming» instead of being. All of these subject concepts are based on concepts of fluidity, transformation and mutation. They are body and subject concepts that spring from, embody and symptomatize the relations of domination in the information society; however, at the same time they are also their resistant traversals and effects. The protagonists who appear in media art projects such as «Dandy Dust,» «I.K.U.,» «Dollspace,» or «Host» embody these kinds of unruly and distopian/utopian cyborgs. [19]

The Fluid Femaleness of the Information Age

A further aspect in this debate concerning fluid digital bodies is added if we examine the gender images they are veiled by. It turns out that in their representation and reception, the fluid (techno)bodies and subjectivities are frequently analogized with images of femaleness. The uncannily proliferating and uncontrolled reproductive correspond with unconscious notions of maternalness. Reference is frequently made to the film «Terminator 2» in this regard. In this film the flexible-fluid cyborg T-1000 and the hard-as-steel terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) stand facing each other as opponents. T- 1000 represents evil, while in contrast to the previous film «Terminator 1,» Schwarzenegger has now been molted into a life-saving cyborg. T-1000 is a dangerous adversary because he—incomparably smaller, more agile and more flexible—is able to morph into unpredictable states and bodies. He permanently adapts himself to extreme conditions; one minute he is a razorsharp weapon, and the next he is a collapsing body or coagulating liquid that fuses into a new shape. T-1000 does not seem to be a being, but rather pure information code. This is why he has time and again been interpreted as a representative of electronic technology and thus of the information age, whichwould battle against the anachronistic, already touchingly lumpy and harmless industrial age. [20] Both terminator types ultimately end in a pool of liquid steel: T-1000 so that his evil is eradicated, and the terminator so that his cyborgness does not endanger the purity and naturalness of humanity. That the victory of the human and anachronistic over the technologically new is only a temporary one is made completely clear in the sequel «Terminator 3»: In this film the fluid morph has been resurrected, this time in the form of a female, and in the end she will not be destroyed, but will continue to smolder as a deadly threat. In deconstructivist reception the cyborg T-1000 has repeatedly been interpreted as a female principle, and this although except in a short sequence in which he also becomes a woman, T-1000 primarily appears in the form of a male. Female is what morphs, melts away, is resurrected, what is a pure fluid and immaterial information code, antihumanistic and weakly. [21] In other words: The battle between the two types of machine is also read as an allegory of two economic social formations, but as one that stages itself by means of the gender matrix and thus also negotiates the crises and reconstitutions of subjectivity. With the numerous challenges of the information age, the androcentric fantasies of an «impermeable wholeness» (Haraway) literally start to flow or lead to dissolution.

All of the authors mentioned make reference to Klaus Theweleit's study of men of the volunteer corps published in his two books «Male Fantasies I and II.» Theweleit's pioneering analysis of the psychopathology of fascism shows it as a borderline case of patriarchy, whose aim is to install ‹maleness› as the norm of subjectivity through the notion of an invulnerable, whole body: In order to sustain this phantasm of the whole, stable ‹body armor,› the male subject splits off everything that might threaten it as a dangerous female floodand- flow fantasy.

The juncture this description posits is from Theweleit, but other feminist theorists as well have brought out the cultural imaginary, which identifies femaleness with the fluid, the monstrous, and the maternal-abject. [22] The ‹ego› is in a permanent state of confusion regarding boundaries: The image of the fluid symbolizes both the threat posed to the body armor by the flowing as well as its literal melting away.This makes it clear that these images also deal with representations of eminently physchical states of mind, with crises and symptoms that revolve around the junctures of empowerment and disempowerment, with coherence and dissolution, with the loss of boundaries. What the fascist body armor, the cyborg and the fluid morph have in common is that one cannot certify them an ‹ego,› that they are pure integuments and bundles of flesh in a permanent state of confusion regarding boundaries. «It [the perceiving subject] also finds itself in a kind of dissolution. This process, in which the killer as well as his victim lose their boundaries and form an alliance in which a hallucinatory perception prevails that sends the man into a state of trance, appears to be the real aim of the attacks.» [23] Theweleit compares this predisposition for the «dissolution of individual boundaries» with the fear of dismemberment that the infant experiences, and with the longing to fuse with the mother in the pre-Oedipal phase of the mother-child relationship. Theweleit's analysis of this relationship corresponds with the notion of the ‹abject› as developed by the French psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva, and stemming from this, as it is also frequently implemented in culture and subject analysis. For Kristeva, the maternal body is the abject, with whom the subject is in a permanent state of confusion regarding boundaries.

Thus monstrous is no longer the Other (female) that has been split off from the One (male), but rather the indivisibleness and amalgamation. Otherness always also contains the One; flexible mutability is always body armor and its melting away. The mutual dissolution of both opposing types at the site of liquid simplicity as well as their seriality identifies them in principle as beings of the same kind. Only this explains the fact that T-1000 and with him many of the digital imageries are less a ‹female-disgusting morass,› as Mark Dery says further to Theweleit, than more of a refined, metallic immaterial-artificial liquid.

In many digital image concepts dual principles overlap: That which was previously the ‹natural,› the principle of fluidity and permeability that created openness and a sense of well-being or, conversely, disgust and fascination, has become something completely impenetrable-closed and artificial; neverfixed-rigid, but rather incessantly movable and superficial, something turned inside out. The concept of ‹nature,› which according to Theweleit stands for fluid femaleness, has mutated into a second, artificial, (male) programmed nature that continues to keep alive associations of a fluid femaleness. These overlappings explain how in Yves Netzhammer's recent computer animations, for instance, the subject of an apparently conventionalclosed doll body can become the focus, but at the same time is a pure variable surface and thus completely contradicts the concept of the closed body armor. [24]

The Monstrous Maternalness of Surveillance Technology

In the digital video installation «Departure—Arrival/Arrival—Departure» (1998) by Björn Melhus, too, the fantasies of the overlappings of a sexually dissolved, compact doll body combine with those of a monstrously proliferating reproductive power: Bodies fall rhythmically in a double video projection. In a display case opposite there are two LED towers that have the effect of a secret control center. The loudly crashing, coming and going bodies seem desexualized, without genitals or a navel. Sometimes a stomach suddenly swells up as if it were pregnant or is about to proliferate. That the concealed monstrous is connoted on the one hand with the disfigurement of gender, and on the other hand with the maternal belly, is neither coincidence nor the exception: It combines the fantasy of new reproductive possibilities without a mother and at the same time phantasmically binds the reproductive to the maternal-abject. The horror lies in the collision of a boundless maternal with the simultaneous dissolution of sexuality and femaleness. Besides in many of the artistic examples discussed in «Cyborg Bodies,» this fantasy turns up primarily in horror films, e.g. in «Alien» or «Tetsuo.» The film theorist Mary-Anne Doane writes: «Technology promises more strictly to control, supervise, regulate the maternal—to put limits upon it. But somehow the fear lingers—perhaps the maternal will contaminate the technological. For aren‘t we now witnessing a displacement of the excessiveness and overproliferation previously associated with the maternal to the realm of technologies ofrepresentation, in the guise of the allpervasive images and sounds of television, film, radio, the Walkman?» [25] The material ability to reproduce has been changed into an omnipotent (media) technology that produces monsters, who in turn stand for the monstrous of new technologies and economies.

This fantasy also turns up explicitly in Chris Cunningham's music clip «Come to Daddy» (1997), in which a television gives birth to a monster. As Doane's argumentation shows, the amalgamation of the media apparatus with the female-material body, that is to say with the uterus and the vagina, is nothing new. [26] But «Come to Daddy» also thematicizes elements of the decline of androcentric subjectivity and at the same time the question about other forms of subjectivity. There is a significant moment in the clip that tells of the threat to the autonomous ‹white man›: In a multi-story parking lot, the only man who appears to be human is frightened to death by the brutal games being played by mutant children. He gets into his car—so to speak into an armored vehicle—and drives off at full speed. Although he, like the children, wears a ponytail and could thus potentially become one of them, he does not want to mutate; rather he prefers autonomy and isolation in the car to the hybrid horde-like behavior of the children.

«Come to Daddy» works with fantasies of both the monstrous-female as well as the utopian-female that have been handed down through history. [27] The children are more boys than girls, yet there is no congruence with the female body. Rather body and gender are mixed up, undefined, variable and mutating. With this the clip stages both the overpowering and all pervading of media- and biotechnologies as well as it also envisages promising, future means of escape. As an arena for the symptoms and effects of late-capitalism they hold elements of criticism and hope, which have a lot in common with Haraway's cyborg conception. Her cyborg mythology conceives of the cyborg body as an effect or symptom body of the media- and biotechnologies that produce it. For Haraway, body is—in line with Michel Foucault's tenor—the impression and effect of the technologies of power that produce it. As she repeatedly says, the cyborg originated unnaturally «in the belly of the monster»; [28] it is an effect of the power that turns against its ownconceptions. This is precisely what is latently suggested here: Media technology produces its own deviants, i.e. unpredictable monsters who can turn against themselves. These flitting creatures personify an organic remnant that can neither be recorded nor shared by the broken television set. And in that their pack-like behavior allows contexts to shine out that lie beyond obdurate heterosexual norms, they appear to be extremely lively creations of the monstrous present, which gives birth to their monsters.

Proliferations and Excesses

The artists Lee Bul and Patricia Piccinini were the first, however, to provide us with the actual deconstruction of the naturalized relationship between woman, technology and monster. Despite the difference between the two, both of them topically deal with the woman as a controllable techno-cyborg and as an uncontrollable, proliferating animalistic monster. One could say that Lee Bul develops the aesthetic subtext of the gendered unconscious of old and new media and technologies. In doing so she stages the conflict between both fantasies of a closed and proliferating, monstrous and cyborg-like body as having sprung, as it were, from a fundamental fantasy. That in the process allusions are made to Manga and Anima as well as to historical works such as those by Hans Bellmer or the Surrealists exposes the fantasies—which are in a process of constant rearticulation—as universals of recurring fears. In 1997 Lee began with the production of various cyborgs. The series «Cyborgs W1–W4» consists of sculptures made out of silicon and showing fragmented women's torsos with a smooth and closed surface. The excessively aesthetic productions of the eroticized mechanical woman of the avant-garde and the cyborgs out of the Manga are at the same time broken and deformed, and do not allow themselves to be looked at as fetishes. Both Lee's inflatable monumental sculptures out of plastic with an Asian beauty atop them as well as the human-sized sculptures «Monster: Pink» and «Monster: Black,» which seem to be proliferating sores, are analyses of the projections of the monstrous-proliferating-female. They are reminiscent of notions of the abject, of a hysterical spreading without either system or organization. What is being staged here is thereproductive aspect of the maternal body, fitted with cables, mechanical parts and wires. That Lee does this in a very conscious way can be seen in a performance in which she put on a proliferating creation painted red and went out on the streets. She showed herself delightfully pregnant with the ability to gruesomely proliferate. Lee's work makes it clear that the fear of female monstrosity and its ability to reproduce despite new technologies, which appear to take over these (reproductive) abilities, has not been overcome. Rather it becomes clear that the monstrous of the techno-social is projected onto the female-maternal. By her staging the terrible-aggressive and overflowing-disseminating of this techno-organic creation, she reveals the strategies of the shiftings of psychosocial fears onto the monstrous, sexualized or desexualized maternal body, without, however, repeating one-dimensional closures. Although Lee Bul makes direct reference to the reproductive fantasies in bioengineering and the new media, she situates her own work in traditional media, in particular sculpture and the (video) installation. This media distance allows her to direct her attention to the phantasmatic aspect. With all of their media difference, the remarkably smooth, compact and impermeable surfaces of these ‹innards,› which have apparently been turned inside out, have a lot in common on a phantasmatic level with the permanently mutating and fluidizing images we are familiar with in the practice of morphing, where there is nothing else left except mutating surfaces without an interior, without permeabilities. Thus it becomes evident that not only do the cyborg woman made a fetish of and ugly monsters have something in common on a phantasmatic level, but also that the apparently so radical difference between the closed cyborg body and the open and proliferating monster body is not a fundamental one.

The Woman and Her Monster: Gender

Patricia Piccinini stages the deconstruction of monsters and goddess-like models as products of the same fantasy of perfect control and uncontrollability. In 1994 she began her series «The Mutant Genome Project,» for which she created the animated 3D figure «LUMP» (Lifeform with Unevolved Mutant Properties). In German, LUMP means clump, sore, mass; but forPiccinini it is a kitschy doll being out of the consumer culture. It seems to be synthetic through and through, and somehow familiar. In series such as «Psycho,» Piccinini brought the Australian television personality Sophie Lee into the picture, having her hold the deformed but cutely done up LUMP in her arms like a child. Like the ‹mother,› her LUMP has always been a fetish: monster and goddess as projections of the same fiction of the abnormal—ideal and degenerate—and its complete repression and dissolution in the smooth, calculated surface. In the photo and video series «Protein Lattice,» which she began in 1997, pretty female models carry the mouse with a human ear growing on its back that became well-known through the media. This naked hybrid mouse with its gigantic auricle and the uncanny opening into the inside of its body also points towards female genitals, and literally becomes more similar to them through the staged proximity to the model: Both of them are monstrous cyborgs.

In 2000–2001 Piccinini developed the project «SO2.» The SO2 (synthetic organisms 2) are a kind of hairless mole or embryo—hybrids between an undeveloped human and an animal—who turn up in Piccinini's digital photographs or even in the zoo. In the photograph «Waiting for Jennifer» a young man is sitting at the steering wheel of his car; crouching next to him and awkwardly lolling about is one of these naked monsters. There are no female creatures in the SO2 series: only monsters and men. In «Social Studies» three small boys with skateboards are crouching on the ground marveling at a monster running around the parking lot. In «Kick Flip Ollie» we see one of these animals scurrying unnoticed past the boys. What is precarious about this photoseries is that these monsters already appear to have gained ground and become a part of everyday life. Associations with swarms of mice and rats, with a non-ending formless mass of flesh and skin involuntarily come to mind. Not only because women in female form are so obviously absent, but above and beyond this also because these formlessly naked, seemingly obscene and potentially unendlessly swarming monster animals have a structural similarity to the proliferating-abject-maternal. The assumption involuntarily comes to mind that these ugly, but somehow nice little monsters have taken‹Jennifer's› place.

For Piccinini and Bul the horror does not lie in the apparently female mutations and monsters, the gender confusion, or in the maternal reproductive power that has become uncontrollable. Rather the monstrous lies in the complete synthesization of the world and the total relativity between impermeable compactness on the one hand and complete openness and nakedness on the other hand. Thus these concepts are located within the context of the current fluidity fantasies of the digital age discussed above. However, in contrast to most of the works discussed, these concepts make the symptomatic shifts of femaleness, fluidity, digitality and monstrosity evident.


Referring to different media productions, the approach of this chapter was to get onto the trail of the fantasies about a dis-arranged and/or fluid artificial gender body and to read them as a juncture for the analysis of technologies and subject relations that have become monstrous. The productions discussed called attention to the overlapping of two apparently opposing conceptions of body and gender: On the one hand there is the notion of a closed, perfect and woundless whole body, whose homogenous and compact surfaces contain no interfaces whatsoever with an interior. Human characteristics such as a navel or orifices are missing; the bodies are either genderless or superficially marked with gender; gender-distinguishing traits such as genitals, nipples or body hair are often erased. Whether as sculptural body armor or serially deindividualized data clone—the representation of gendered characterlessness or disarrangement combined with the notion of an air- and watertight, ageless body without the ‹wounds› of gender division and the of umbilical independence from the maternal body bears up to an obvious constant of visualizing cyborgs, mutants, replicas, monsters or hybrids. This model frequently signifies ‹maleness› in that the neutrality of gender is connoted with a kind of universal male gender. [29]

On the other hand, besides these closed bodies there are figurations with a tendency towards openness, towards permanent change, towards a proliferating, monstrous transformational power thatappears to be nothing but mutating, fluid surface. Because it is generative, monstrous and fluid, this model connotes ‹femaleness.› Both models can appear separately, but they frequently overlap so that both notions appear simultaneously. These overlappings arouse the association that a monstrous-maternal reproductive power has seized hold of the ‹male› model. Both of them signify the adsorption of human ‹nature› by technology, the end of permeability and gender-specific reproductive power. Genitals and orifices no longer make any sense if mothers are no longer required in order to give birth. Or conversely, there can no longer be natural reproduction if the genitals have been disarranged. And if there no openings, but only bulges and reversals, fluid, multiplying and varying surfaces, then there is also no longer an interior. A body that descends from machines, that is about to become a machine itself. This kind of body no longer requires liquids that flow though it, penetrate it and are excreted from it. This kind of body has itself become machine fluid, digital liquidity.

The digital media, whose basic numerical structure produces seamless, homogenous and fluid surface aesthetics and suggests analogies to biotechnological feasibility, were of central importance in our discussion. Both our discussion about the technical requirements as well as the media spectrum of the works analyzed have shown, however, that the recurring theme of the homogenization and fluidization of body gender cannot only result from the modern technical means made possible by the new media technologies, but rather that on the one hand, the issue must be one of the basis fantasies that recur with every medium, and on the other hand one of specific historico-technical conditions that cannot be semantically negotiated with every medium.

If we assume that the dis-arranged gender body provides the arena for subject relations in the information age and its economies, then these recurring fantasies suggest the following conclusions: Both body models—the closed one and the open-fluid one—negotiate the two forms of control as discussed using the example of Deleuze's text «Postscript on the Societies of Control.» While the closed body armor model negotiates the older models of discipline,enclosure and sealing, and at the same time again tries to lift the image of the individual whole body («the mole»), the second model represents the new forms of control as generated by the «informatics of domination» («the serpent»), and at the same time the possibility that something could go out of control and begin to monstrously proliferate. The effects and ambivalences of the productions are controlled to a substantial degree via latent structural gender attributions as described above, and they ultimately aid in the gender crises unconsciously becoming more important than realistic political references.

The reference to Theweleit showed that for the dominant notions, which revolve around the fusioning-closed or, conversely, the superficial-fluid body, at issue are not naturalistic-mimetic representations of acute anthropogeneses, but rather imaginary gender-based and gender-specific fictions. If one considers current stem cell research on human embryos as well as experiments with artificial insemination; if one looks closely at the fact that reproduction, even from a historical point of view, has been and continues to be one of the most vehemently disputed political fields; and if one sees that reproduction is being detached from women, then these kinds of fantasies of fear are not unfounded. And then artistic productions that ask how one can have a say in designing the human of tomorrow are appropriate. The only problem I see is that many artistic works do not even go that far, but that they get stuck in staging emotional and latently gender-specific conditions and thus encourage the naturalization of social relations.

With this it becomes clear that even these new forms of power and control, as they are understood by Deleuze or Haraway, are still continuing to be upheld by old representations of oppression and deindividualization: The end of the whole (male) body and his sexuality, and the emergence of a female-minority power that invalidates the rules. A certain tendency can also be made out with respect to time: In the early and mid-nineties the fear of dehumanization was expressed primarily in these desexualized or genderconfused (doll) integuments without organs, while in recent years images of microcosmic, fluid entities are increasingly beginningto spread. [30]

© Media Art Net 2004