‘Of Word and Flesh’ – An interview with Julia Kristeva, by Charles Penwarden

Cell-Hands-and-Mirror

 

Cell (Hands and Mirror), 1995, Louise Bourgeois

(Image taken from; http://arttattler.com/archivebourgeois.html)

Under recommendation from Davida during my tutorial last week, I have been inspired to read an interview with the psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva. The interview appears at the beginning of the catalogue for an exhibition in the Tate modern at the turn of the century, entitled; ‘Rites of Passage’. the exhibition holds a variety of different artworks from the past century, with artists such as Joseph Beuys & Louie Bourgeois. Kristeva often focuses on the idea of the Abject body, and states that as a modern human race, we find enjoyment in our own negativity. Rooted in our long history of religious practice, one finds that sin is still very prevalant in our biological mind, and by removing ourselves from God through the means of sin, one finds a sick pleasure in the disgust of ourselves. There is a distinct lack of favour in attempting to achieve beauty in our postmodern, artistic world; instead we find a subtle harmony in a cathartic disgust within our bodies. The work attempts to sit on this very blurred line between psychosis, and catharsis. The work attempts to heal both the artist, and the viewer, through a reflection of the person’s innermost fears and disgust at the human condition. Abjection seems to be the most important area within the work, as Kristeva states; ‘people say there is a kind of theological revival, a return of religion…and refuse to recognise this crisis, whereas the language of the exhibition attempts to come as close as possible, almost to accompany this state of abjection..In this sense, these objects have a cathartic value.’

There is a consistent theme of religion, or ‘the sacred’ in Kristeva’s reading of the exhibition, in which she repeatedly states the idea of rituals being important to the artists in this exhibition. Beuys is often remarked as the man who brought shamanism into Contemporary Art, and the idea of art healing those who can find it. Likewise, Kristeva speaks about the idea of purification in work; and more specifically, two important elements within the idea of purification; murder, and menstrual blood. Anthropologists have states that elements such as murder, excrement and menstrual blood are dirty, but it goes further, in that anything that disrupts a structure is dirty.  Kristeva states; ‘When you have a coherent system, an element that escapes from this system is dirty. It begins with something fairly anodyne. Tears, for example, are considered dirty because they escape the limit of the body.’ This is interesting to think about, As Beuys’ consistent use of materials such as Fat and felt, often considered givers of warmth, are things that one can remove and/or shed from the body, making them seem dirty or disgusting, yet are an integral part of ourselves. This idea of that which resides within us, once being removed, becoming disgusting, almost otherwordly, is fascinating.

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