Love as muscle

In an interview conducted by Heather Davis & Paige Sarlin and published on No More Potlucks, Michael Hardt invokes Spinoza to explain love. There, he states: When I get confused about love, or other things in the world, thinking about Spinozian definitions often helps me because of their clarity. Spinoza defines love as the increase of our joy, that is, the increase of our power to act and think, with the recognition of an external cause. You can see why Spinoza says self-love is a nonsense term, since it involves no external cause. Love is thus necessarily collective and expansive in the sense that it increases our power and hence our joy. Here’s one way of thinking about the transformative character of love: we always lose ourselves in love, but we lose ourselves in love in the way that has a duration, and is not simply rupture. To use a limited metaphor, if you think about love as muscles, they require a kind of training and increase with use. Love as a social muscle has to involve a kind of askesis, a kind of training in order to increase its power, but this has to be done in cooperation with many.

Sometimes, when coming across certain works of art, I get a glimpse of that transformative power of love, which (some) art can bring about. In general, works that deal with corporeality and femininity not only grab my attention but awaken my senses and faculties. The same happens with certain uses of color; it’s like there’s fireworks inside my body. Usually, women’s work resonate in a deeper  manner, but from time to time that strange and unsettling feeling arises from seeing a man’s work. That was the case when I came across Ulay‘s polaroids online, in the context of his recent exhibition at the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, entitled Ulay: life-sized.

© Ulay.

More often that not, the promotional texts that accompany the exhibitions tend to deviate me from the work, instead of informing or enticing another level of interest. Take this for example: “Through the friendship with Jürgen Klauke he discovered separately the problem of identity and invented so called performative photography”; this features in the short introductory text from the exhibition’s online page and it’s the kind of sentence that really gets on my nerves, because I find that it deviates from the dimension of the artwork, towards that of the nominal authority. Is there really a need to make this sort of statement? Did Ulay invented performative photography? Really? What other value, besides historical (in an extremely subjective way), does this add to Ulay’s artwork? In the press release someone states about Ulay that he “has used the medium of photography to document and assimilate the process of his sometimes more feminine, at other times rather masculine appearance and identity”. Why don’t we let the art do the work?

© Ulay, ‘SHE’, 1974.






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