MEMBER ARTICLE: Body Art and Social Power

MEMBER ARTICLE: Body Art and Social Power

from Recon News

16 September 2020

Luca Federici has performed in art events, such as FUCK/LIVE/ART (London, curated by Franko B), Emergency +18 (Manchester), PervArt (London), Exhausting the Body (Berlin, curated by Louis Fleischauer), and notorious fetish clubs like Wasteland (Amsterdam) and Torture Garden (London).

The body has been, for centuries, the space where disciplinary power operates. The body has become the place where relationships of power converge, the territory where social, cultural and political forces attempt to discipline it with regulations, rules and standards. They pass through the body. They control and mark it, policing its actions and attitudes. They shape and manipulate its thoughts, obsessions, sexual drives and needs.

With Michel Foucault there appears to be a thorough understanding of the extent to which disciplinary power operates on the body as a form of authority, and how it finds oppositions that challenge and deal with it. As he suggested (1998, p. 95) in History of Sexuality - The Will to Knowledge Vol. 1 (1998): "where there is power, there is resistance", meaning that power relations entail forms of resistance and dissension, and the body exhibited in art is often the body of resistance, an entity that questions social conventions and norms. That is, throughout the history, body artists such as Gina Pane, Rudolf Schwarzkogler, Ana Mendieta, Vito Acconci, Franko B, Ron Athey, amongst the others, have intervened on their bodies with masochistic acts as a manifestation of the refusal of the regulations that discipline the body. They have created provocative actions to question the established social norms that police the body, gender and sexuality.

I began using my body as an artistic medium in 2015 during my attendance at Chelsea College of Fine Arts and Design. In my actions, the body is turned into a site to be exploited with heavy BDSM and body modification practices, such as piercing, (self)flagellation, hooks suspension, mummification and cutting. I see these practices as powerful means to reclaim the ownership of the body and my actions as forms of political dissent towards the power that governs the body.

In 2017, I have reworked on a piece, Revelation/Passages, performed for the first time at Chelsea College in 2015. Drawing from the awful events occurred in Chechnya to the homosexuals who were sent to the Death Camps and tortured, I have staged an action to express my dissidence for the injustices that these people were undergoing due to their sexuality. I would cut my torso with a scalpel, "drawing" three upside-down triangles, symbol of the homosexuals during the Nazi era, pierce my forehead repeatedly and whip my back as hard as I could. I poured some white colour over my body and repeated the acts of piercing and self-flogging. I ended up pouring a pint of my blood all over my body and wrapped myself in cling film.

The exhibition of my wounded body can be understood as an expression of the rejection of the political and social forces that persecute those who are deemed different. The self-inflicted wounds become means of communication. There is no intention to shock while I am inflicting pain over my body, but I actually intend to communicate with the outside. My wounded body, in other words, becomes a vessel, a medium to connect with the others (audience), showing feelings and emotions, weakness and vulnerability of the flesh through scars and other self-inflicted masochistic actions. The acts of bleeding and wounding my body are acts of connection, ways to link the inner part of myself with the outside, creating a contact with the spectators. I am attempting to make people feel something. I want them to reflect upon the danger that we are undergoing every day in a world that seems to become more and more intolerant towards those who have different sexual orientation, belief, ethnicity. Revelation/Passages was an action meant to show the refusal towards those authorities that defines some sexual orientations abnormal and irregular, condemning them.

Sexuality has long since been exploited by medical discourse and society to police the body. In other words, since the end of the 18th century, medical institutions have turned sexuality into an object of analysis through which categories and definitions were produced in order to address individuals according to their sexual behaviours. They classified and specified some forms of sexualities, such as homosexuals and fetishists, as deviancies and abnormals. They constructed classifications and specifications of forbidden perversions, employed by society to persecute individuals and have power over their bodies.

As Michel Foucault (1998, p. 43) points out

"This new persecution of the peripheral sexualities entailed an incorporation of perversions and a new specification of individuals. As defined by ancient civil or canonical codes, sodomy was a category of forbidden acts; their perpetrator was nothing more than the juridical subject of them."

To put it another way, it is argued (Foucault, 1998) that governments began collaborating with medical institutions and sex became part of those mechanisms of power exercised over citizens. Descriptions of 'regular' and 'irregular' sex behaviours, 'normal' and 'abnormal' sex conducts, constructed discourses, knowledge and judgements used by institutions and the States to discipline the body. The terms 'irregular' and 'abnormal' referred to all those sexualities and sexual behaviours that did not fall into reproductive functions. In other words, society and medical discourse created a disciplinary power based on heteronormative.

Disciplinary power observes, analyses and corrects individuals. It enacts on their bodies as a form of authority in order to produce obedient subjects, namely what Foucault in Discipline and Punish - The Birth of the Prison (1995) defines as 'docile bodies'. A docile body is a body that is under control of the disciplinary power imposed by institutions, such as prisons, schools, hospitals, armies, through "...time-tables, compulsory movements, regular activities, solitary meditation, work in common, silence, application, respect, good habits…" (1995, p. 128) They subject the body with disciplines and rules that train, examine and classify it.

Drawing from Discipline and Punish, I have produced a performance named EXECUTION. The piece, which lasted for two and a half hours, was performed at Exhausting the Body (Berlin, July 2019) organized by Louis Fleischauer, and involved repetitions and restrictions of movements, pain and endurance. During the performance, I tied up my legs and waist, pierced my forehead and wrapped my face with cling film until I could hardly breath. My arms were up and held a belt. The aim was to stay still. If I had moved my arms or removed the cling film because I could no longer breath, I would have taken off the needles from my forearms, pierced my arms and whipped my back harder and harder. Afterwards, I would pierce my forehead again, wrap my face and try to remain motionless with my arms up, holding the belt. If I had moved, I would have repeated the aforementioned actions over and over again.

The tortured body exposed in my actions is turned into a medium that has the purpose of highlighting the relationship between social power and the body. I have sought to underline the extent to which individuals are disciplined and subjugated by rules and standards imposed by society. I have exhibited a body that showed physical pain, transforming it into a demonstration and exposition of the power that regulations and norms have over the body.