Body horror 2.0
by Ian Haig
- View Ian Haig's Biography
Ian Haig is an artist based in Melbourne.
Body horror 2.0
There is something about fucked up bodies, weather it be in art, movies, television, YouTube or on social media. Something about the body behaving and appearing in a way that it's not meant to that is both compelling and at times confronting. Not confronting in a tedious pseudo radical art shock kind of way, but confronting of your own biology your own corporeality.
As one spends more and more time in mediated realities, surrounded by ubiquitous digital screens something weird is happening to the reality of our bodies. I think the contemporary media landscape amplifies this bodily confrontation, this kind of base level awareness of our own body. It does this through the aesthetic opposite - from the rational, clean, ordered, logical world of technology to the irrational, messy, illogical and wet reality of our own bodies.
I call it "body horror 2.0" a particular form of horror or confrontation where the sophistication of technology amplifies this state of awareness and horror of our primitive meat bodies. Bodies that after all, get sick, age, decay and die, while technology only improves and develops with the next software update. Body horror, or biological horror a genre of the horror film of the 1970's and 1980's1 was all about body confrontation in a different way, the fear of contagion, of viruses, the fear of sexually transmitted diseases underpinned much of the destruction and degeneration of the body in numerous horror films from the period.
While he probably wasn't thinking about body horror per se but Hal Foster has expressed how increasingly one's own subjecthood is affirmed by the destruction of other bodies on screen.2 Technology too confirms our own subjecthood it is our moist biological bodies on the other end of all those computer screens, mobile devices and networks after all.
Blood Brain Barrier
Analogue, Automated Tongues (Good Taste)
Body horror 2.0 is an updated version of body horror via the the lens of contemporary media, while technologies all around us are advancing at an increasingly rapid rate, we remain trapped in the Darwinian husks of meat we carry around with us called the human body.
In my pieces Analogue, Automated Tongues (Good Taste) and Blood Brain Barrier orifices appear in the wrong places, simulated organs operate without bodies, and prosthetic tongues are electronically controlled. Our relationship to the contemporary body as we know it has shifted, transformed and mutated.
In some ways nothing declares the low more so than the base level abject human body in the form of the horror film. Where the idea of abjection functions according to Mark Dery as a:
bracing corrective to the frumpy, middlebrow morality of the mainstream art world. The politically correct, bourgeois mind insists that our guilty cultural pleasures be validated by "redeeming qualities"; it cannot countenance abject art that delights in the irredeemability of its subject and hence of itself 3
While my practice touches on aspects of the abject body, I am more interested in re-casting the abject body as a representation, a simulation. Hal Foster again has commented - can the abject be exposed in culture at all? For culture has a value system attached to it and the abject sits outside of value, so with this in mind, abjection can only ever be quasi abject, and a visceral simulation of the abject.
Decades after post modernism the binary of high and low still plays out in the spaces of the contemporary art world where cultural snobbery is alive and well. Sometimes I wonder if post modernism ever really truly arrived in our mainstream art institutions, who on one hand engage in populism but on the other are allergic to popular culture, or at least where certain forms of popular culture are allowed and others disallowed. Our art institutions cheery picking particular aspects of popular culture but denying and editing out the more 'difficult' aspects, which is just another form of a depressing cultural hierarchy at work.
So while my various works attempt to not only cancel out tired cultural hierarchies but also the dominant cultural narrative of technology itself. We no longer need artists to explore the wondrous possibilities of technology (which has always been a very 1990's approach to technological media) This novel approach of what technology 'can do' and where artists form part of the cultural narrative of affirmative action of digital media in general, this is territory that is now well and truly covered by the likes of Apple and Sony. Thanks, but no thanks.
My work is pluralistic in its approach, dissolving and hopefully canceling out such outdated binaries and cultural constructions of high/low by going directly to and reveling in the lowest of the low: the base level body of body horror and finding value there amongst the re-configured bodies, re-animated visceral organs and organs without bodies. Long live the new flesh.
- Examples of body horror include The Thing (1982) directed by John Carpenter, Shivers (1975), Videodrome (1983), The Fly (1986) directed by David Cronenberg, and Re-Animator (1985) directed by Stuart Gordon ↩
- Foster, H (1996) Return of the Real, MIT Press ↩
- Dery, M. (1998) Medium Rare, 21C. Web. ↩