Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Sensualising Deformity: Communication and Construction of Monstrous Embodiment, University of Edinburgh, 15-16 June 2012

Excitement and anticipation mounts. 

Do join if finance and time permits - it promises to be an extra-ordinary weekend!

Ignorance is bliss: what contemporary artists want us to see

As an artist captivated by the human condition, I will deliver the work of contemporary artists whose illustrative, painterly, sculptural and photographic figures embody distortion and deformity. Artworks will include those by established artists – Joel Peter Witkins and Berlinde De Bruyckere – and of less renowned talent – Matt Lombard and Francesca Dalla Benetta – amongst others.

Joel Peter Witkins

Berlinde De Bruyckere

Matt Lombard

Francesca Dalla Benetta

Bearing witness to these artworks, one might be repulsed, or fascinated, look away, or sneak a peek;  the psychological and emotionally conditions inherent in witnessing these “freaks of nature” is ultimately self-reflective, inasmuch as it exposes and widens the fissures in the viewer’s own consciousness.

The paper will examine where the contemporary artworks reside in the pantheon of nineteenth and twentieth century freak show and medical photography. Do our contemporaries marry the scientific to the spectacular in their rendering of monstrous bodies? Attention will focus on the meanings attached to bodily difference generated by the historical presentation of human anomalies and “freaks”, and how the sensual aesthetics of contemporary artwork transcend these meanings. How do they resonate with the altered attitudes toward disability and deformity since the condemnation of freak shows, which significantly affected our willingness to ogle ‘Others’?

I will entertain mythical and metaphorical readings of these artistic displays of human deformity, and how their aesthetics – not limited to sites of entertainment and science – bring us face to face with corporal volatility; evident in the larger personal, social and cultural anxieties.

Seventienth century philosopher and scientist, Francis Bacon, believed that once we know how the monstrous, the strange, the deviant reveal the laws of nature; we can reconstruct the world as we wish. Here, we sense that ignorance is not, and never has been, bliss. These contemporary artworks exude the sensuality of aberrant bodies – of the universal bodies – so we cannot uphold ignorance any longer.