Re-Constructing Femininities: Perverting Performance in Hannahlisa Kunyik’s Susanne fotografiert mich beim Bade (2011/2012/2018)
“If representational visibility equals power, then almost-naked young white women should be running Western culture.” Peggy Phelan’s witty quote perfectly sums up the imbalance between in_visibility and (political) agency. One example of being hypervisibly naked while at the same time lacking agency is the subject of Susanna bathing, which, emerging from the Old Testament Bible story Susanna and the Elders, is one of the best-known and most-cited motifs of Western art history. In the intermedial installation Susanne fotografiert mich beim Bade (2011/2012/2018) by Viennese artist Hannahlisa Kunyik, Susanne is the one who sees.
In the following article, I shall analyze Kunyik’s artwork by introducing my concept of perverting performance as a subversive strategy for marginalized subjects to gain visual agency, as well as the possibility of visual re-constructions of femininities. The possibilities of a perverting performance can be understood in the repeated and parodying reversal of existing norms and modes of representation that have proven themselves to be normative through performative repetition in a cultural image repertoire. With the concept of perverting I revisit and reappropriate a term that has been used to produce Otherness and alterized sexuality.
Contested Notions of Authorized Order, or How to Render the Kankurang In_Visible
This _Article investigates debates on visualizations of the Kankurang and offers a new conceptualization of the interrelation of processes of heritagization and in_visibility. “Kankurang” refers both to an initiatory rite of the Mandinka ethnic group associated with the circumcision of young males as well as the spirit at its center. In the rite, the Kankurang chases away unwanted viewers, and traditionally was intended to remain invisible to outsiders. However, the figure has been dragged into the political spotlight in both Senegal and Gambia, as new institutions have intentionally incorporated the rite into their political interests by making Mandinka heritage visible, while at the same time concealing unwanted information. In 2008, the Kankurang initiatory rite was inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Since then, a documentation center was established in Janjanbureh, Gambia, and in 2018, the Gambian Kankurang was also targeted by the YEP (Youth Empowerment Project), funded by the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF). By revitalizing the Kankurang Festival, the financiers wish to prevent ‘irregular immigration’ to the EU. In this paper, I reveal the different developments and stances on authorized order on this heritage’s in_visibility through visual discourse analysis of the invisible superstructure; drawing on phenomenology and Marxist relational space theory, I criticize and theorize the implicated power-imbalances in these developments. In conclusion, I will elaborate two types of invisible superstructure which disclose the conflicting political aims and ethical implications of visualizing the Kankurang.
This article reads Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s Guantánamo Diary as an intermedial occasion to stage questions on the axis of in_visibility. The concept of in_visibility constructs the methodological and hermeneutical approach of the paper. The book is analyzed as an intermedial example through the lens of the archive structure where two distinct medial voices emerge—one textual, that of the Guantánamo detainee, and one visual, that of the black bars of redacted text that regularly interrupt and brutally abuse Slahi’s narrative. What makes the intermedial work extraordinary is the powerful encounter between visibility and invisibility, concepts that exchange their semiotic significance and are reevaluated. By analyzing the intermedial narratological techniques of Guantánamo Diary, this article describes the complexity of the in_visibility concept and destabilizes its normative connotations.
Illegalized Migration and Self-Representation of Women Domestic Workers in Switzerland
This article deepens our understanding of agency in the context of (in)securitized migration by engaging with the experiences of ‘undocumented’ women domestic workers in Switzerland. By linking the securitization framework with gaze theories and ontologies of the body, the following article accounts for migrants’ embodied and gendered experiences of (in)security and agency. In this perspective, the same bodies which are subjected to domination become tools of resistance enacted through a politics of in_visibilities. While these women mobilize strategies of invisibilization (camouflage, spatial practices of avoidance) to resist deportation, they simultaneously reappropriate self-representation by visibilizing their embodied presence within Switzerland’s visual field, creating a counter-gaze to their (in)securitization. This is manifest in the three cases of embodied plural performances studied through a methodology that combines interviews and filmmaking. While protesting, dancing and testifying illustrate how practices of bodily display can be used as collective rehumanizing tools, they also show how this mobilized visibility remains constrained by women’s (in)securitized conditions. Their agency becomes apparent in their ability to navigate this fine line, that is, the ways in which they creatively engage with the liminal spaces between the visible and the invisible to visually and politically inscribe their incarnated existence, overall destabilizing the securitized gaze.
Minoritarian Approaches to Espionage, Forensic Architecture, and In_Visible Co-Producers
Minoritarian approaches to current manifestations of espionage and hegemony-critical uses of intelligence unsettle both the common distinction in ‘spying’ (as active intentionality) and ‘witnessing’ (as passive incidentality) as well as the association of activism and visibility.
Analyzing investigative practices at the intersections of legal cultures and politicized contemporary arts, the following research question is discussed through the transdisciplinary (Audio-)Visual Culture and Contemporary Art Studies: Which exchange movements and entanglements between contemporary investigative artistic, curatorial, and aesthetic practices on the one hand, and espionage and intelligence on the other, can be discerned, when considered in regards to ambivalences and contradictions of, as well as emancipatory approaches to, in_visibility?
By shedding a spotlight on four investigations by the research agency Forensic Architecture (Torture in Saydnaya Prison, The Beirut Port Explosion, The Murder of Halit Yozgat, and Digital Violence: How the NSO Group Enables State Terror), ‘hiding in plain sight’ serves as a guiding motif to scrutinize in which media-political configurations Forensic Architecture, as a different kind of intelligence agency, and espionage of in_visible co-producers concur in the aftermath of the Cold War and the 1968 movements.
This essay offers reflection upon recent transformations in thinking about and understanding the in_visibility of gendered, embodied selves which is a more digital and a more diverse version of the ‘in/visibility’ of my 2015 text, The Politics of In/Visibility: Being There. Both iterations include the interrelationship between visibility and invisibility. In this essay, using Laura Mulvey’s conceptualization of the gaze, looking and being looked at, and Judith Butler’s analysis of the impact of trans politics, I address changes which have arisen since I first worked on in/visibility through two recent developments: The first is #MeToo as a highly effective social media platform, where politics conducted online has had actual, material, embodied effects on people’s lives; the second includes the impact of trans politics in challenging everyday assumptions about gender and especially the binary logic and embodied properties of sex, citing the example of sport, where bodies matter. Sport has always been divided into men’s and women’s competitions, at least since women have been allowed to participate at all. Recent changes, subverting traditional patriarchy and the binary logic of sex have been contentious, but also offer exciting new ways of exploring in_visibility in relation to bodies, representational systems and subverting inegalitarian, traditional systems, both actual and virtual, which act oppressively and restrictively.
Social Bots in Struggles for Hegemony in Digital Publics
This essay will elaborate upon the ambivalences of unreliable communication on social networks, using the case study of social bots. Social bots simulate human users in social networks. If they do not give any indication that they are machines, they can be classified as fake accounts. Social bots can be considered opinion robots as they are used strategically to influence discussions on social networks. What users see on their screens today when they consume news portals, social networks and online platforms corresponds to precarious in_visibility. Bots are the expression of a new kind of visibility politics as they flood the online communication spaces with their highly visible content, interests, and preferences, simulating public opinions and popular trends, while making their technical origin and identity invisible.What is the significance of social bots in the development of digital society when the boundaries between the human and the technical dissolve? A computer-based intelligence and media literacy is required that is not only able to eliminate bots, but also develops the reflective ability to consider machine-based communication and artificial intelligence as a factor of the digital society.
A Model for Feminist Curating of Collections
This _Perspective reflects on the curatorial strategy employed in the DIY exhibition P is for Pussy, curated by myself in the artist community space The Bookstore in Amsterdam West in April 2017. Proposed here is a non-prescriptive curatorial methodology based on the case study of P is for Pussy and abstracted as a way of dealing with forms of social oppression represented in and by the art histories embodied in collections and archives. The methodology entails a change in approach to art within exhibition contexts and combines artistic, curatorial, and academic strategies in order to express critique of sexist representations by visibilizing underlying cultural values. P is for Pussy exhibited artworks featuring women and cats from the collection of The Cat Cabinet (Amsterdam), framed by prints from the history of Western art and juxtaposed with large, narrating wall texts in thematic groupings. The exhibition sought to convey the cognitive and sensorial experience of an argument and challenge accepted modernist modes of viewing and thinking about art. Breaking with both conventional and feminist curatorial consensuses, the greatly criticized concepts of ‘authorial curating’ and determinate argumentation lines within art and curating are brought here for their feminist potential to counter oppressive artworks without censoring them.
Pussy Riot’s and LASTESIS’ Networked Performances
How do feminist activists take over our feeds? And can we really escape the shadows of networked visibility? In a series of five case studies, this text and video-based _Perspective applies the method of visual research to analyze and cross-pollinate visual formulas and platform strategies of Pussy Riot’s and LASTESIS’ networked performances. What started as a social media revolution in 2012 has now spread into the realm of cryptocurrencies and Web3 advances. Formerly situated feminist protests become more and more decentralized and ubiquitory — and so do their audiences. Nonetheless, catering to the demands of networked imagery also entails perpetuating its hegemonic, exploitative, and violent nature, which is ultimately at the hands of the viewer’s and researcher’s interaction.
A Critical Approach to Strategies of Making Women Artists Visible
When it comes to the representation of women artists either in art historical research, in the media, or in exhibitions, the viewer and reader cannot avoid observing the inflationary use of the terms visibility and invisibility. Today, many art historians and other cultural workers try to approach the problem of women artists’ invisibility by launching projects, especially exhibitions, which are specifically dedicated to women artists, and which consider themselves to be contributing to raising awareness thereof. Despite these efforts to correct long-abiding imbalances, some approaches of making women artists visible do manage to increase their visibility, yet at the same time cause other kinds of invisibility. For example, there are attempts to make women artists visible by focusing on their biographies while neglecting to analyze their art works; by employing subjective approaches which lack the necessary critical distance; or by seeing the artists through male gendered lenses. I consider it fundamental to draw attention to these problems because, in the end, these biased approaches do not sufficiently contribute to making women artists visible. Rather they perpetuate historical falsifications and gender-specific hierarchies.
The Case of Anti-Semitic Reliefs in German Churches
In this paper, a personal exchange takes place between the authors, whose perspectives are informed by political philosophy and art studies. These are two disciplines heavily involved in the debate over the de_construction of monuments, statues, and sculptures. An example of such a debate is that on the anti-Semitic and so-called Judensau sculpture, which can still be found on the facades of many German churches. Through the lens of in_visibilities, the authors want to look at the different arguments made for the preservation of the sculptures or for their removal: What makes these sculptures in_visible? Why should they be made, or remain, in_visible?
Reflections through the Lens of Caste and Gender, from a Non-Metropolitan City in West Bengal, India
This paper is an attempt to reflect on my academic journey with regard to the ethico-political and methodological challenges in researching the ‘Other(s).’ The scholarship on the memories of Partition from West Bengal, India (1947) in particular and South Asia in general show that so far the dominant narrative erased markers such as caste, gender and so on in order to foreground a homogenous refugee identity. Thus, I took the hitherto ‘invisibilized’ lower-caste/outcaste (Dalit/Bahujan) women situated in Asansol — a non-metropolitan city in Bengal, where erstwhile rural, Partition-migrants from government camps were rehabilitated to support its industrial development by providing cheap labor — as my protagonists, to rethink the Partition.
However, for such an exercise, the question that became ethically and methodologically crucial was how an academic enterprise by an upper-caste woman, enabled by the consumption of devalued, feminized labor of mostly women from lower-caste/outcaste (Dalit/Bahujan) groups, can seek to ethically understand such lives. Subsequently, in tracing some of the possible answers, in this paper, I argue against a simplistic deployment of self-reflexivity as a method. I propose taking a relational approach that posits not only the upper-caste and lower/outcaste femininity as co-constituted but also the researcher–researched relationship as an extension of that co-constitution. Taking research work as labor that is enabled by other kinds of (in)visible, (un)paid, (de)valued, caste-based labor as an entry point, I seek to further unpack such co-constitution.
Decolonization and In_Visibilities in Colonial Archives: The FCO 141 Series and the (Redemptive?) Power of Placement
Taking up the theme of placement within the context of in_visibilities, this _Perspective shares a series of reflections on the location and availability of colonial archives. It makes specific reference to the FCO 141 series at the National Archives at Kew (England), a series of files released as the result of a 2011 reparations case against the British government for the authorized and systemic use of torture during a war (1952–1960) leading to Kenya’s constitutional independence. The series is comprised of files removed from across the world as Britain’s empire fell, and is located in England despite a fifty-year history of restitution demands. By looking at the ambivalent relationship between archival location and the socio-political placement of the colonial past in England and Kenya, this _Perspective considers how archival custody (re)constructs in_visibilities of the colonial past in the present.