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Army of Love

Alexa Karolinski, Ingo Niermann

This video is no longer available

Screaming from the Inside: Week #3 Army of Love
Alexa Karolinski, Ingo Niermann
2016

40 Minutes

Artist Cinemas

Date
Monday, August 1–Sunday, August 7, 2022

Romantic love is saturated with commoditization. The socialistic premise behind “free love” crumbles when desiring competition gets in the way, and in the age of hook-up apps, the possibility of free sex represents the liberalization, not the liberation, of love. Alexa Karolinski and Ingo Niermann engage these issues with Army of Love (2016), a video campaign introducing a propositional regiment of soldiers diverse in age and appearance and tasked with solving the persistent social malaise of dire loneliness. The docu-fictional video is in part a utopian proposal framed by conversations questioning the basic premises of love and justice.

Army of Love is the third installment of Screaming from the Inside, an online program of films and accompanying texts convened by Camille Henrot as the eleventh cycle of Artist Cinemas, a long-term, online series of film programs curated by artists for e-flux Video & Film.

The film is presented alongside a text response by Jean-Luc Nivaggioni.

Screaming from the Inside runs in six episodes released every Monday from July 18 through August 29, 2022, streaming a new film each week accompanied by a commissioned interview or response published in text form.

Army of Love: A Response in Two Parts by Jean-Luc Nivaggioni

I. From Berlin, Kindness (For All)

The film is shot in Berlin, in a cold, kitsch ‘80s spa in the heart of the commercial and business district and a stone's throw from Zoologischer Garten station, which for a long time was the city’s prostitution hub.
It reports on an artistic social experiment that proposes to redistribute love. The participants do not know each other, and come together to exchange moments of intimacy.

I remember seeing this film for the first time in the small vaulted cellar of KW Institute for Contemporary Art where it was presented during the ninth Berlin Biennial, in immersion.

What strikes you first in these images is the kindness. The kindness of these bodies floating in the liquid element, of these faces in ecstasy at being touched, carried, caressed, kissed, themselves liquefied, in tenderness.
Kindness then, and clarity, in the words of the participants, of the vision they have of themselves. A vision without amenity.
Everyone feels different, be it their age, beauty, or mobility, prisoners of their own physical or psychological limitations. They tell themselves they are outside the norm, outside the circulation of desire.
Sadness, acceptance, but also joy, can be read in their faces whenever that which they are used to living without—namely, love—is evoked, or is being felt, exchanged: physical contact, attention to the other, kindness, those external signs of love since love is not for them.

The fact that the project, and the film, were conceived in Berlin by a child of the city has its importance. Berlin has been, and still is, even if the city has changed, a field of experimentation. Its deleterious history, its eighty years of horror and destruction, of shame, of isolation in geographical and political Europe, meant that those who chose to live there and those who grew up there refused to endorse the social and political organization, the patriarchal, bourgeois system, that had led to the disaster and continued to prevail elsewhere.

When I arrived in Berlin in the early 2000s, this was what struck me first. The space and time that were given to us to reinvent everything, starting with ourselves.
In a city almost deserted, in a wasteland, in short, in a hard place, a family of freaks is playing, experimenting, shouting to the world this is my body, this is my race, this is my gender, this is my death sometimes. Against exclusion, discrimination, oppression in all its forms, through activism, art, through celebration, in one’s truth, a new way of being and living together.

So I remember East German love, and the streets filled only with the wind, I remember Basso and the raves on the immense wastelands by the river, the squats, the coal-fired apartments, the illegal bars and restaurants, the techno that resounded on the dance-floors, in cellars, bunkers, abandoned factories, I remember the harshness of the winters, the violence of the first May, and the exalted spirits and exultant bodies in the summer: an experience of freedom, of community. In a hard environment, kindness, equality.

A model that in a few years transformed Berlin from the least desirable city to the most watched, a city to be copied and exported.

Today, populism, war, the return of the phallus in short, has all but swept away those years of experimentation and social progress. All the headway made in the field of minority rights is now threatened. Here and there the right to abortion is being challenged, laws to ban the promotion of homosexuality are being enacted, everywhere the numbers of racist, anti-Semitic, or homo/transphobic aggressions are on the rise.
I hear that it is the return-swing of the pendulum, the reaction of a social body disturbed by identity claims. Or perhaps they are the hazards of democracy in the age of the internet, which seems to favor populist discourse and the fragmentation of society.
Will history thus become like a broken Swiss cuckoo clock, whose pendulum swings in reaction to crush the bird that has come out of its box to sing?

II. The Song of Solaman

My name is Solaman, I am thirty-five years old and I am trans. Non-op, since I know it is, always, the question that first came to your mind.
Ten years ago, I lost my sight. In one week I went from light to shadow.
Was it difficult? Yes, it was a cataclysm. You get organized, you get used to it.

They say that on my face, emotions scroll by like clouds in the sky. I don't know, I don't control it.
So, does sight control one’s consciousness of oneself? Try it, close your eyes long enough, the world is there. And without the image, no doubt you will feel your surroundings more strongly.
Without sight, perceptions summon memories and associated feelings. Without sight, we see in depth, in emotion.
These emotions pass over my face like shadows of clouds in a sky of regrets.

Sex is also difficult. Not to mention kisses, sensuality.
Never tender, never intimate. All transgender people complain about it.
Look at me, I am real, not a fantasy, not a trophy.
Listen to me, I am sensitive, I long for more than your pre-scripted encounters.
And the dangers... Without sight they are multiplied tenfold.
I've gotten used to it.

Sometimes on Sundays I put on a bodysuit. It's the most comfortable thing, I've found, to go dancing.
The cab drops me off at the entrance. The lads at the door know me and come to get me.
They take me past the queue like a queen at her jubilee, they escort me up the grand staircase. They seat me at the end of the bar, on the last stool, my throne, and I order first an espresso, then a cocktail: Mezcal Margarita.
I let myself slowly surrender to the rhythm, the sound, the bodies and the energies that circulate, high, around me. I feel, I hear, I remember.
Sometimes people come to talk to me. Their surprise, always, when I tell them I don't see them. Sometimes they stay with me, sometimes they even listen to me, sometimes they ask me to dance. And sometimes not.
I am always struck by these moments of truth, by the kindness, the humanity of these strangers whom I do not see but whom I feel in depth.
No matter if their lives are real or invented, no matter their race, gender, age, money, education, or beauty. As before death, we are all equal before the night.
At night, and in my darkness, differences dissolve like solitude and time.
The only thing that counts is you, your vitality here and now.
Does sight, then, command social awareness?
Try it, close your eyes long enough.

When I'm ready, I go dance, accompanied or alone. Three steps from the bar to the pillar. My hand now on someone’s arm, now on the corner of the pillar.
I feel the dancing bodies around me, the energies, the desire and the joy, around me, just beside me, I see them.

And I join them. My body starts to move by itself. First the hands, then the arms, then the shoulders, soon the hips and then the feet, each limb independently of the others dances with the current.
My body and my thoughts float with theirs, beside theirs, tight but never touching, like crustaceans in the wave.
And it is thus, delivered of all heaviness, carried away by the sound, in the sound, that we form no more than one: the dance’s body, the dance’s consciousness, this form of ultimate love, by all, for all, in the instant, in eternity, the dance’s heart in fusion.

Sometimes they come and touch me, sometimes they even kiss me. They say that I dance like a queen, that I am my own dance-floor, that on my face the light, the music, like the clouds in the sky, scroll by.
I don't know, I don't control it.
What I do know is that these moments, I keep them inside me for a long time.
They’re what allows me to hold on and to move on, without the light, in the memory of the shared energy. No camera can capture such intimacy: in the dance’s heart-in-fusion, kindness, love for all, in freedom.

-
Translated from the French by Amal Issa

Jean-Luc Nivaggioni studied literature and history, after which he worked as a screenwriter for cinema and television for several years. He is the author or co-author of a dozen films. In 2007, he decided to leave Paris and his profession. Since then, he has lived between Berlin and São Paulo, working as a writer. He is the author of a collection of texts on the end of love L’arrachement, le souvenir, le sentiment (Paris: Éditions Léo Scheer, September 2022), and is currently working on a series of character portraits as songs.

For more information, contact program@e-flux.com.

Category
Utopia
Subject
Disability, Love, Care, Social Change, Post-socialism
Return to Screaming from the Inside
Return to Artist Cinemas

Alexa Karolinski (b, 1984) is a German filmmaker, whose work includes music videos, commercials, film, and television. More recently, she co-wrote, produced, and co-created the Netflix series Unorthodox (2020).

Ingo Niermann is a writer and the editor of the Solution Series. His recent publications include Burial of the White Man (with Erik Niedling) and Solution 275–294: Communists Anonymous (edited with Joshua Simon). Based on his novel Solution 257: Complete Love, Niermann initiated the Army of Love, a project that tests and promotes a just redistribution of sensual love.

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