Art Death and Gender


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Lectures ICI Berlin

Art, Death and Gender

Sigrid Schade & Arnika Fuhrmann

Jan 2010

Sigrid Schade: Representations of Death. The European pictorial tradition and its critique in the photographic Totentanz series by Birgit Jürgenssen

Death, being “amenable to images” (Philippe Ariès), links up with other images and texts: in the European tradition, its personifications become narratives, moral instructions for leading the right life and for dying artfully. Death is revealed in many ways and at the same time eluded. Even if there is no meaning in or after death, the living use it as a sign to mark cultural, social, ethnic, and gender-related differences. In European culture since the early modern period, “femininity” has appeared as a signifier in a variety of death images, and conversely, death as a signifier of the “female”. Birgit Jürgenssen’s photo series thematizes the pictorial tradition of “death and the maiden”. Updating the theme, the series radically eliminates the possibility of carrying out gender attributions within the structure of representations of death. Upon closer inspection, the photographs in the Totentanz series do not allow for a clear reading of the depicted body in terms of its gender specificity. In Jürgenssen’s reformulation of the European tradition of death images, a utopia of abolishing the dualisms of gender difference appears, a utopia of a “third gender” that is ahead of its time.

Sigrid Schade is professor for “Kunst- und Kulturanalyse” and has been head of the “Institute for Cultural Studies in the Arts” of the Zürcher Hochschule der Künste since 2003. Before, she was professor for “Kunstwissenschaft und Ästhetische Theorie” at the Universität Bremen.
The talk is based on: "Der Leichnam lebt. Bildtradition und Geschlechterkonstruktion in den Totentanz-Serien von Birgit Jürgenssen", in: Gabriele Schor, Abigail Solomon-Godeau (Ed.): Birgit Jürgenssen. Monografie, Ostfildern November 2009 / "The Corpse Lives: Pictorial Tradition and Gender Construction in the Totentanz Series by Birgit Jürgenssen".
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Arnika Fuhrmann: Flirting with Death: Contingency, Fantasy, and the Performance of Impossible Intimacies in the Video Art of Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook

For almost a decade contemporary Thai artist Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook worked exclusively with corpses in a hospital morgue. In her video performances, she reads passages from Thai classical literature and from her own erotic writing, sings to, converses with, and dresses the corpses. Investigating Araya’s long artistic history of intimacy with the dead, the talk follows the question of how loss and desire are made to relate in the films. It discusses how the videos defamiliarize popular depictions of female death and Buddhist forms of engaging with the dead in Thailand to sketch out a feminist anatomy of desire. The reversals between the dead and the living that are the hallmark of Araya’s art further provide the basis for the artist’s critique of inequalities of gender, agency, and longing. Rather than focus on the artwork’s relation to mourning, the talk thus examines how Araya’s video installations use the domain of death to proffer critiques of women’s current erotic possibilities.

Arnika Fuhrmann, fellow at the ICI Berlin since 2009, is an interdisciplinary scholar of Southeast Asia working at the intersections of the region’s aesthetic and political modernities. She completed her Ph.D. in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. Her ICI project examines Thai queer and feminist art in relation to contemporary local and transnational logics of minoritization and understandings of injustice.

The ICI event "Art, Death and Gender" confronts two different ways of approaching the nexus between death and gender with means of art. The lectures will be followed by a discussion between Schade and Fuhrmann.  

Time: 28 January 2010, 19:30 - 21:00

Venue: ICI Berlin, Christinenstraße 18/19, 10119 Berlin




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