The small fraction of a human that is human

It was a true pleasure to write a short essay for multimedia artist Liz Rodda’s exhibition of Total Body at the Lawndale Art Center in Houston, Texas. You can see the dual-channel piece in LAC’s project space until June 13, 2015 and watch an excerpt of it on her website. My thoughts on her excellent work below.

Where is the human body in the twenty-first century? At the gym, in traffic, outdoors, or home alone? Wherever the emblematic sites of embodiment for the present day might be, they are always also online. We pass bodies and their parts to one another via smartphones, we post them on websites, and we find them—absurd, touching, sexy, troubling—when streaming digital video from all sorts of online caches. We can ignore our bodies and those of others, choosing to withdraw into the abstract thoughts that our bodies house. Even so, we can never empty those thoughts entirely of the sensations our bodies produce.
Despite its wry title, Liz Rodda’s dual-channel video piece doesn’t explain
what it means to be flesh and blood. It doesn’t identify the mishmash of
existential musings that make up its soundtrack, or distinguish humanistic, virtual actions from those that are virtually human.
Total Body shows us the extreme irreconcilability of each “small fraction of a human that is human” mentioned in its voiceover. This is no tragedy. Paradoxically enough, Total Body suggests it may be a primary source of life’s pleasure. Rodda is one of the most distinctive artists working in expanded media today. Her aesthetic is cerebral—and rousingly funny. Her work in digital formats as well as her installation practice avoids obvious moral questions of consumer culture and identity, zeroing in on the uncanny forces that drive our media and object-based interactions.
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Harun Farocki on DER RIESE (1983)

riese

DER RIESE, Michael Klier, 1983. Video still.

I was pleased to lend Ekrem Serdar a hand in revising a rather clunky translation of film notes written by Harun Farocki for a screening of Michael Klier’s Der Riese / The Giant (1983). Der Riese is an 80-minute compilation film of video footage taken from FRG surveillance cameras. Experimental Response Cinema screened the film earlier this spring.

Farocki was deeply inspired by Der Riese. It anticipates his sustained interest in posthuman vision.

In “Written Trailers,” translated in the 2010 exhibition catalogue, Harun Farocki: Against What? Against Whom? (Antje Ehmann and Kodwo Eshun, eds.), Farocki explains, “I begrudged Michael Klier his idea of making a film entirely out of surveillance-camera imagery.” (227)

In the same catalogue, Volker Pantenburg suggests that Der Riese (The Giant, 1982), “is an obvious model for Farocki’s Counter-Music.” (98)

Pantenburg continues,

When Farocki wrote about Klier’s video in 1983, he sensed that there was something genuinely new in these types of images. Something that made him think of how photographs must have appeared to the first people to behold a still image: ‘The first photographs – and this can appear over and over again – demonstrated that unimportant people, objects or events can also become the subject of images. Being images in the same way as intended and planned images, they raise the question of what hierarchy, meaning or sense are supposed to be.’ (Farocki, “Kamera in Aufsicht,” Filmkritik 9/1983, p. 416) (98)

Our revised translation of Farocki’s film notes on Der Riese can be found here, on ERCATX’s website.