FIGURES OF AFFECT BY SABETH BUCHMANNThough there has been much talk in recent years of a power of affect that was never really there, blazing its trail into the emotions of every man and woman through the consumption and stimulation industry, this is something that, historically observed, must be relativized. Even in the nineteenth century, artists knew how to use the creation of optic/somatic sensations to operate the functionality of mass visual culture, then in its infancy, in an affirmative and/or critical fashion. This was also because artists had understood that the predominant form of exchange is a symbolic one, subject to a not immediately tangible economy of affect. From this economy they sought, consciously and/or unconsciously, to extract aesthetically intelligible forms of producing and perceiving affect. In this way, the primacy of the senses that attaches to modern art, generally brought to bear against the supremacy of scientific rationalism, can also be against the grain, namely as the expression of an economically calculated aesthetic concept. It is precisely such ambivalences of affect in its double role as catalyst of commercial forms of consumption and as critical/emancipatory work designs that are addressed by the works of Friederike Hamann and Pola Sieverding. Here are the clichés of modern pop and media culture in their respective specific cross-references with the Hollywood cinema of the 1950s and 1960s and the club and party culture of the 1990s and 2000s, as well as the culture of the art world itself, from which the two artists create their subjects. They do not do so to invoke again the cultural dominance of 'images,' but instead to make legible and to reinterpret the excesses of (self-)representation of affect manifested in them. The two artists pursue their self-consumption where seemingly long-exhausted images and aesthetics of modern art, media, pop and youth cultures seek to maintain the power of affect through its pure reproduction. In "Eat me," Hamann takes on the role of the kid sister of Warhol, whose indifferent fast food consumption seemed both to celebrate the convergence of art, pop, and advertising and to rob it of its affect-economy surplus value. Just this presents an omnipresent resonance chamber for Hamann’s gender-parodistic replicas of those types of works that seem to serve no purpose but to make aesthetic affect available without effort: whether in the installation video performance "Super Sugimoto (Lucky Strike)," in which a fictive film star takes the film on the canvas – extinguished photographically, after a fashion, by Sugimoto through the sum of his own light in the series "Theaters" – and attempts to restore it to life, or in "Be Wilder," in which the obligatory and universally deployable plastic banana becomes the object of desire. In Pola Sieverding’s work "After MM – Marylin Monroe and/or Mario Montez," the seemingly indestructible sex appeal of Monroe is made into a sign drawn out of its filmic reality, able through its altogether infinite 're-enactment' (as in the form of advertising images) to demonstrate the self-consumption of calculated affect. The reference to Montez reveals the moment of desire inscribed in (re-)presentation even at the moment of the production of the image.
In Sieverding’s video work "Nocturne Arabesque," made in Palestine, the serial ecstasy of male dancers provides a glimpse into Warhol’s filmic process of 'exposure' as a normality excess of performative bodies. Backed by Natasha Atlas' cover of the lines, "This is a man’s world, this is a man’s world. But it wouldn’t be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl," hovering over the exhibition as an audible video-sound subtext, the footage of dancing men seems in no way a medially normalized expression of a pop culture-propagated de-differentiation of bodies and images. Thus it is the growing awareness of socio-cultural differences that conveys an idea of the fact that, as against the short-circuiting of seeing and consuming in cultural criticism and/or affirmation, the reappropriation and recoding of aesthetic affects is needed.
When the artists or their protagonists present themselves in model-like poses, that, too, could be taken as an expression of an interpenetration of bodies and images advanced by the fashion and art industry. Yet just this abduction conveys the insight that potential actors in social movements (must) produce aesthetic affects in order to be able to withstand the logistics of the image culture. Friederike Hamann and Pola Sieverding do not counter talk of the 'affective turn' with a short-circuiting of seeing/feeling and consumption/economy, but rather with an aesthetically and politically outlined field of differential sensations.
Translation: Ben Letzler