The body aches (Nihilsentimentalgia’s Early Years)

Some of my early posts were about the body (its modification, mutilation and sexual dimension). At the time I did a lot of performative photography and self-portrait, so these were pressing issues. It’s difficult to structure the line of thought that arises from revisiting these posts, but three main questions keep lingering in my mind:

  1. How death transforms the place of the body and changes our relationship to it;
  2. How body mutilation and modification are so often misunderstood;
  3. How the sexual body is seen as a medium.


So, first, whenever someone I love dies I am forced to revisit the enigma of the body as an exoskeleton. It’s as if the instant the heart stops and the life leaves the body it becomes something else, something disposable, something with no significance. Photography then plays a weird part in this enigma. So although the body is now lifeless and the history of the deceased person is kept alive only in our memories, whenever I look at portraits of that person I’m suggested to think she is alive and, again, struggle with the idea of there being a void and a presence at the same time. I wonder: were the eyes closed, would that feeling persist; whether I’d still feel her presence. Is it the infinite sparkle of the eyes (and the idea of vision) that suggests a connection that sucks the observer into the realm of the portrayed? In one of my early posts I shared a thought by Wittgenstein and here it is again, alongside a portrait very dear to me:



Regarding photographs that play into the author’s relationship with her/his own body, I feel the observer is too often placed in a place of discomfort that consequently alienates him/her from an aesthetic experience. It’s easier to see it happen with images that represent the extremes of bodily experience (as is the case with the Viennese actionism, for example), for the observer tends to regard those images as representations, even though I think, at there core, they are experiences of the flesh as a frontier and not representations on stages of pain or suffering. But, again, the observer, repulsed or shocked by such violent imagery, is unable to see the authenticity at play, to experience the truth of such artworks, without moral judgment. Judith Butler, in Beyond Seduction and Morality: Benjamin’s Early Aesthetics, (in: “The Life and Death of Images: Ethics and Aesthetics”, 2008, p. 71),  makes the following reflection:



Finally, concerning sexuality as screen or body as medium, I feel the alienation that occurs between artwork and observer is even bigger. This time, instead of being repulsed or shocked, the observer is often seduced or embarrassed in such a way that he/she is unable to experience the image in its aesthetic dimension. Because this dimension becomes unattainable, the observer addresses the body as an object that was worked upon in order to excite the viewer and from here on it’s a mess, with people confusing the erotic dimension and, worst than than, posing the question in an erroneous manner, as if what separates the erotic from the pornographic had to do with the author’s intentions, instead of the context that gives the artwork its visibility. A lot more on this subject can be seen in Propeller‘s edition #0, about ‘the pornographic’:


Note: In June a decade will have passed since I first started Nihilsentimentalgia, so for the next few months I will be revisiting some of my early posts, which were very poorly done.

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