e-flux journal issue 133

e-flux journal issue 133

e-flux journal

Cal Kowal and Charlotte Moorman, Charlotte Moorman Performing Cello Bomb at the 1984 Chicago Art Fair, 1984. Courtesy of Cal Kowal.

February 9, 2023
Issue 133 ​
​with Kateryna Iakovlenko, Jörg Heiser, Franco “Bifo” Berardi, Thotti, Serubiri Moses, Beny Wagner, and Jussi Parikka

In the first e-flux journal issue of 2023, the Ukranian researcher and curator Kateryna Iakovlenko points our eyes at images of forests. The first is from the site of a mass grave outside Izium, a city on the Donets River in eastern Ukraine. The photographer edited the exhumed dead out of the frame, gently removing them from the surrounding woods and medics. Another is a nineteenth-century photograph of a forest in Tasmania picturing lush trees, which on close examination conceal colonizing British officers. A more recent Instagram photograph shows a feminist Ukrainian Army volunteer living, with others, among the trees they are protecting. A final photo was captured by an occupying Russian Federation soldier’s camera moments before his death outside Izium’s woods. His body remains out of view; his unambiguous vantage point of the exploded forest landscape remains.

“Like a vulture that feeds on the body of a dead animal,” Iakovlenko writes, “war feeds on the pain of other people.” In an argument that engages the usual suspects (Sontag) and, more pressingly, Oraib Toukan’s 2019 essay in this journal on what she termed “cruel images,” Iakovlenko insists that certain photographs—and writing about photographs—can help those acutely feeling the pain of war become agents, narrators toward their own freedom. “For me,” says Iakovlenko, “the lens of the camera has disappeared in my experience of seeing this war. And as a result, I can speak about my tragedies, loss, and pain without fear of being hurt. The only fear that exists is the fear of not being heard.”

Jörg Heiser takes a hard look at certain acts of desperation carried out in the context of today’s constant and concurrent crises. Heiser sees the awkward “aspect of apocalyptic messianism” visible in some of the more publicized, theatrical protests carried out in art contexts. He asks: “Whom or what do they actually disrupt in order to exert pressure on whom?” But Heiser does not condemn action. Indeed, he argues, “The messy, radical, pragmatic business of transforming our economic and social system has to start now.”

For those of us who have managed to survive until now, how do we start this transformation? And what is the state of our bodies and minds? Franco “Bifo” Berardi tells us that the pandemic “has completed the process of the de-sexualization of desire that had been underway for a long time.” This long stretch in time, Bifo remarks, began “as soon as the communication between conscious and sentient bodies in physical space was replaced by the exchange of semiotic stimuli in the absence of bodies.”

In this issue, bodies include celestial entities and national corpses as much as human ones. In an essay organized by astronomical headings—Portuguese names for stars comprising the Southern Cross constellation—the artist Thotti, who is from Rio de Janeiro, points to a light “only visible at the very edge of the world.” This light, which Thotti says surely revealed the decayed body of Magellan, is “a torturous cross rather than fire or flame, this light hurts more in its distance than its encounter—already impossible without a name for summoning it.” 

In “We Too Were Modern,” part one of a three-part essay series, Thotti confronts the strange impulse to return to a lost Edenic world that can be seen in colonial modernity, revolutionary thinking, and Jair Bolsonaro’s blind pyromania. Through Bolsonaro, like many right-wing populist leaders recently, Brazil experienced “not a conservative counterrevolution but,” Thotti says, “a late distorted Jacobinism, which, rather than confronting an I and a now with a lost world, instead manufactured such a lost world by convincing itself that the Terror is actually a restoration.” Prior attempts may be linked, as Thotti maintains, to Robespierre and Jacques-Louis David’s pamphlets urging French citizens to spruce up their homes at the height of revolutionary violence. These pamphlets, written for the 1794 Festival of the Supreme Being, consist “in one of the most naive demonstrations of nostalgia in the bosom of culture.” The revolutionaries urged fellow citoyens “to beautify their homes with flowers and wreaths in a clumsy attempt to turn the blood of the guillotine into a trail back to a new garden of Eden.” One pole of a national body’s constant transit, Thotti says, is an object without belonging.

In his inaugural essay as a contributing editor to e-flux journal, Serubiri Moses reads—and illuminates with an opening toward expanded apertures—two decades of the critic David Teh’s writing on video art in Southeast Asia. Teh, as Moses explains, challenges “the relevance of the ‘nation’ as a paradigm for thinking art.” Teh writes that “in Asia at least, the frame of national modernity has done less and less to illuminate the work of contemporary artists intent on stepping beyond it in various ways,” and holds that a contemporary counter-history of the modern should account for today’s “supranational” contexts. Moses explains the stakes further: “This notion of the ‘supranational’ appears in Teh’s writing as a salve or balm for the chaotic entrapment of state capture within which all history remains. But,” as Moses crucially asks, “what is this all history?”

To turn again to images: what is a still, or moving, or “sensitive” image’s place and its current modes of action in this “all history”—or counter-history, or any other way of telling the stories of art, death, love, survival, cosmologies, and so on—including, as Iakovlenko points out, the history that is actively being created by wars and other competing realities? Beny Wagner, in these pages, also urges us to look at the material substrate of moving as it evolves. As Wagner says, “The logic of consumption has been continuously reinscribed onto the boundaries of the camera-body-screen nexus.” In a text on operational images, following Harun Farocki, Jussi Parikka advises everyone who reads images as operational to look for detail, for nuance. Today we have to resist what Parikka classifies as “the temptation to pack all sorts of abstractions—and abstract images of technical and calculational use—into one box, implying a kind of Enlightenment gone awry, a stream of violence and extraction that is merely about military power in the restricted sense of warfare.” We should continue to look at “the operational violence of capitalism” and “the colonial uses and functions of measurement and their neocolonial forms,” Parikka maintains. But standing against abstraction just for the sake of taking a stand is misguided, “leading us to insufficiently nuanced readings about technical images.” In a landscape that includes “environmental imaging, remote sensing, AI, and platform culture,” Parikka writes, “we can no longer afford to miss the more detailed high-res insights.”


Please join us for the New York City launch of e-flux journal issue 133 with contributing editor Serubiri Moses and contributors Kateryna Iakovlenko and Thotti on Wednesday, February 22, 7–8pm. Introduced by journal editors. 

172 Classon Avenue
Brooklyn, NY


Kateryna Iakovlenko—Exactly That Body: Images Against Oppression
Images produce bodily effects and wield the power of persuasion. They reveal invisible and hidden violence; they show the suffering associated with loss and trauma as something very physical. While photography can convey such feelings, it can also build distance between those suffering and those viewing images of suffering, who may not want that closeness. After all, being close hurts. But all of these bodies, suffering or not, are a part of one collective body at war, with all its legs, breasts, and broken hands wearing a yellow and blue bracelet.

Jörg Heiser—The Noah Complex 
Like Noah, the acting subject seeks to resist the coming doom; but like Noah, the subject’s question is whether they feel obligated more to the public/the collective, or to a higher purpose. In what way is this subject, in the end, thus obligated only to itself? Before attempting to answer these bigger-picture questions, it’s necessary to have a closer look at some of the details.

Franco “Bifo” Berardi—Hyper-Semiotization and De-Sexualization of Desire: On Félix Guattari
In 1974, I was in compulsory military service, living in an Italian army barracks. But military life was not my cup of tea and I was looking for a way out. A friend suggested I read a French philosopher. And so, I began to read Félix Guattari.

Thotti—We Too Were Modern, Part I: Of Brazilian Autophagic Flowers and Navigators
There is a light hovering over the end of the world, only visible at the very edge of the world. A torturous cross rather than fire or flame, this light hurts more in its distance than its encounter—already impossible without a name for summoning it. This light is conjured within the blindness of the night’s currents, a night that dresses the castaways of Iberian galleons as stars. This light is not a guide, though at the end of the world, it was prone to misuse, whether as astrolabe or compass.

Serubiri Moses—Luck, Statecraft, and Withdrawal: Video Criticism in Southeast Asia
Writing from 2023, can it be argued that Southeast Asian video has outgrown that “embryonic” stage, arriving at a point when it could and must be viewed in equal terms with art produced in the West? This raises the further question of how to situate and historicize video art criticism in Southeast Asia, especially when an exhibition like “Video, an Art, a History” could only present an art historical survey of video art in the region through its comparison to art from the West. Is such a comparison beneficial or necessary? Could this show reveal the specificities of the “local” even under such comparative circumstances?

Beny Wagner—Eat the Camera, Feed the Screen 
The human stomach was said to be one of God’s greatest inventions, an oven for his earthly chemistry lab. The human ability to understand and manipulate individual chemical elements would always pale in comparison to the alchemy of digestion, which was designed with celestial complexity. In this model, digestion takes on expansive metaphysical dimensions that appear far removed from how we might conceive of digestion today. But digestion theories are fundamental representations of how one conceives of the threshold where the body meets the world. As such, any understanding of how the body digests is always in some way metaphysical, a product of models for how the body is more broadly situated in the world within a given cosmology.

Jussi Parikka—Operational Images: Between Light and Data
Coined by the renowned German filmmaker, artist, and writer Harun Farocki, the term “operational images” appeared in the early 2000s in his video installation trilogy Eye/Machine I-III (2001–3), which investigates autonomous weapon systems, machine vision in industrial and other applications, and the broader move from representations to the primacy of operations. Farocki’s film installation series presents this shift as a particular kind of image that emerges in those institutional practices, although it also articulates the shift through the various histories and spaces that condition both the emergence of such images and their industrial base: these include military test facilities, archives, laboratories, and factories.

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