The art of Homo Sacer

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 James Bridle‘s new installation, Homo Sacer, has opened at FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology) in Liverpool, as part of its Science Fiction: New Death exhibition:

Explore how our relationship with technology has blurred the lines between the real and the virtual; making our everyday lives feel increasingly like science fiction. Artists including James Bridle, Jon Rafman, Mark Leckey, Larissa Sansour and Ryan Trecartin, plus award-winning science fiction author China Miéville present works which explore how technology is creating new ways of living (and dying), of fashioning identities and the growth of cult-like communities.

The exhibition runs until 22 June, and you can (at least virtually) walk through it with Regine here.

There’s not much detail or documentation of Homo Sacer yet  – though see the image above – but James promises a video clip soon.  Meanwhile he explains:

The installation consists of a projected “hologram” in the entranceway to the gallery, of the kind increasingly found in airports, railway stations and government buildings. The hologram speaks lines from UK, EU and UN legislation, as well as quotations from government ministers, regarding the nature of citizenship in the 21st century, and how it can be revoked, which potentially fatal consequences.

BEN YOUNG Homo sacer

Other artists have been inspired by Giorgio Agamben‘s discussion(s) of Homo Sacer too (and, for those who take the Latin stubbornly literally, Femina Sacra), of life knowingly and deliberately exposed to death.  (If you want an artful preview of the final volume in Agamben’s series, The use of bodies, you can read Adam Kotsko‘s ‘What is to be done?  The endgame of the Homo Sacer series’ here.)  But back to art.  There’s Ben Young‘s Homo Sacer (above), for example, philosopher-artist Adolfo Vásquez Rocca‘s Homo Sacer (below), and and Tarek Tuma‘s haunting Homo Sacer series of canvases showing the faces of suffering in Syria (see here and here), which almost viscerally captures the double meaning of ‘sacra’, sacred and accursed.

ROCCA Homo Sacer

In a related vein, as I noted previously, there’s the State of Exception installation which showed what undocumented migrants abandoned as they crossed the US-Mexico border; first staged at the University of Michigan’s Institute for the Humanities, it’s currently at Detroit’s Museum of Contemporary Art.  (The wall of backpacks conjures up an after-image of the suitcases on display at Auschwitz, and although they gesture in different directions – one where movement comes to a hideous full stop and the other where flight takes off – both are redolent of Agamben’s preoccupations).  For a more wide-ranging view of States of Exception, see Angel Calabres‘s much earlier collaboration here, which trades on Agamben’s work to explore prison subjugation, torture and slaughter houses…

And this in turn brings me (back) to Abdelali Dahrouch‘s installation, Homo Sacer (2009) (below), which is a meditation on the waterboarding of ‘enemy combatants’ by the CIA:

Dahrouch

Agamben’s work has inspired not only visual artists.  There’s Christoph Winkler‘s dance-work Homo Sacer, for example, now ten years old,  which tanzjournal described like this:

The choreographer has truly succeeded in formulating a position that is both an aesthetic and ethical one. Life may be a sacred possession – in the face of sanctioned (war) crimes it becomes a disposable commodity. Dance cannot intervene in this state of affairs. But it can champion life, by displaying it in its vulnerability. Homo Sacer is not only in this respect Winkler’s most impressive piece to date.

Sophiensaele Homo Sacer

And Frankfurter Rundschau like this:

One after another, the other seven dancers climb out of the resting niches. All look distraught in the glaringly lit space, whose angularity contrasts with the fragile bodies. Following abrupt impulses, the dancers break out of themselves, only to quickly fall back into the frozen pose. Humans fleeing and hesitating in the same moment, developing an icy atmosphere of vulnerability … But in the following choreographic sequence, in which the dancers seem to be wrestling with themselves as if the truth were strangling them in its grasp, is a brilliant scene in which the ensemble intertwines and connects into complex structures that, only moments later are again severed. Energy shoots up like suddenly occurring memories – symbolizing the sudden convulsion of that very “base existence”…

And there’s even music – although Martin Kücher released only 250 copies of his solo jazz album Homo Sacer…  You can also listen to Vancouver’s own Dubstawk‘s remix Homo Sacer here.

Martin Kuchen homo sacer

All sorts of artworks have been used on the cover of Agamben’s texts, of course, and they can be revealing too: I know it’s often wrong to judge a book by its cover (but not always), and my favourite essay in Geographical imaginations is in fact my reading of the cover of David Harvey‘s The condition of postmodernity.  In any case, it’s interesting to track movements in the other direction and to see how artists engage with texts – particularly if you believe that artwork is part of the research/investigative/analytical process rather than merely one of its products.

3 thoughts on “The art of Homo Sacer

  1. Reblogged this on Progressive Geographies and commented:
    Derek Gregory provides a very helpful guide to works of art inspired by Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer and, in a reference I’d previously missed, links to Adam Kotsko’s discussion of the concluding volume of the series, The Use of Bodies.

  2. Hello, just wanted to say thank you for including me on this page. I am Chad MacQuarrie (aka Dubstawk) and Agamben’s writings have been very inspiring for me. I think that it is very important to keep this discourse going, but I wonder what role the internet plays in the production of the homo sacer. Personally I am not very optimistic. I worry that the internet agitates the realization of the sovereign by globalizing/destroying proximity. The internet seems to hasten a notion of emancipation which involves a sort of ‘nothing is scared’ where discretion itself seems to suffer from it’s expressive role. Agamben himself refused to give his biometric information to the U.S. government and used this experience (or lack of) to express how he doesn’t want to be stripped of his ‘bare life.’ This biometric collection of data would not be nearly as contentious if it were not stored, accessed and circulated via the internet. The internet is not merely some emergent or ‘whatever’ singularity. It is active, dominant, and shows no signs of diminishing it’s hoarding of appropriations.

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