FISICAMENTE körperlich

Paul B. Preciado, Marta Dziewańska, miriam cahn


A table, Miriam Cahn, a screen, Marta Dziewańska, water tumblers, writing materials. The artist and the curator are sitting in the lavishly furbished salon of the Palazzo Castelmur in Stampa ready to take part in a discussion. Joining them online via the screen is the Spanish philosopher and queer theorist Paul B. Preciado. He is a good friend of Cahn and Dziewańska. Their discussion is to centre on physicality.

Just a short time before, the audience was still under the impact of Cahn’s works – her representations of human beings and bodies in the midst of the trompe-l’oeil paintings and the historical décor of the Palazzo Castelmur. Now the spotlight is on the table at which the two women are sitting. And as they enter into conversation with Preciado via video call, the voices of the three of them become our guides.

For a short while, the audience finds itself involved in the warm exchange of greetings between Cahn, Dziewańska and Preciado. We participate in the reunion of three friends, who can at last, after a good long while, converse together again. The two women and the audience are sitting in Bregaglia, Preciado in his apartment in Paris. And we, as it were, are also sitting in his rooms in the big city. The philosopher announces that he is expecting the delivery of a postal package sometime during the discussion. Later on, the postman will be greeted by the barking of Preciado’s dog.

Then Cahn and Preciado delve into the discussion, for which Marta Dziewańska acts as moderator. The overall topic is physicality, societal norms, anger, fragility, monstrosity and politics/policy. The curator Dziewańska gets things going with the question, ‘What is the origin of your anger, your rage?’ Miriam Cahn takes over: for her, rage is part of her everyday life as a woman living in a society in which women’s activity is still hedged in by subtle prescriptions as to what women should and should not do.

Preciado, in contrast, describes his anger as a fundamental part of his political work and of his work as a writer – and also as part of an alchemical, creative and collective process of transformation. Both, however, associate anger with fragility. For Cahn, fragility is a great ‘bucket’ from which she can derive the energy to create art. ‘It is not a bad thing to feel rage’, says Cahn. ‘Rage enables me always to do what I think is right. I feel rage every day. It is a good driving force! I transform it into something new. Fragility, however, is an equally strong force.’

The Body as a Fragile, Vulnerable Point of Departure

Cahn views her body on the one hand as an ideal receptacle for the rage and the living power that fuel creative processes. It is equally important for her, however, to show the body in space and to show space in itself in the perspective of the body. She wants to fly over landscapes with her body – a possibility which Cahn would like to open up for those who look at her pictures as long as they are ready for it.

Both for Cahn’s works and for those of Preciado, the body is the point of departure: a fragile, sensitive, fleeing, vulnerable point of departure. When the two of them discuss physicality, corporeality, they speak also and above all of vulnerability. They view the body as a vulnerable entity that needs to be protected. Her own body Miriam Cahn sees first and foremost, however, as an instrument that dictates her work rhythm, an instrument with which she works and from which she takes her bearings, in short her ‘centre’. It is an extremely interesting experience, she states, to reflect in artistic terms on and through a body that is non-functional, that is ill or injured: this approach, she says, leads to the creation of ultra-interesting works.

While Cahn sees knowledge of anatomy as a precondition of her work, Preciado is fundamentally critical of the perception of the body as an anatomical object. In opposition to modern metaphysics, he says, his work tries to demonstrate that the body is not an anatomical object. For Preciado as philosopher the body is rather a starting point for political thinking. ‘Anatomy is today a site of political debate and conflict.’

For example, the struggle of intersexual, nonbinary persons or trans people also leads to a new political understanding: ‘In anatomy, there is not only man and woman but an enormous variety.’

Cahn clarifies her position: ‘I never negate anatomy’, the artist says. ‘But I would like to show what anatomy in the form “I am a woman” means in societal terms.’ In this, she is concerned also for the field of tension between the feelings of the individual person and societal categorisation – a categorisation which, she states, she firmly opposes.

In contrast, Preciado no longer wants to view the body as an anatomical object as demanded by the modern, capitalist, colonialist hypothesis. The body, he asserts, is more than a labour force, an instrument of procreation and a projection surface for racist attitudes. ‘The way the body is thought of’, the philosopher and queer theorist says, ‘is currently changing radically.’ For example, in her work Miriam is creating possibilities of corporeality that as yet are not granted political recognition at all – as women, as migrants, as non-whites, as trans people, as children, as victims of rape. ‘The bodies Miriam portrays’, says Preciado, ‘go beyond anatomy.’ Cahn agrees but adds that this is possible only because she precisely has exact knowledge of anatomy.

Transgressing Borders – Creating Monsters

Just as Miriam Cahn’s paintings transgress the borders of traditional categories, so equally, the curator Marta Dziewańska is convinced, do Paul B. Preciado’s texts. ‘Both Cahn and Preciado’, Dziewańska says, ‘are creating the monsters of the future.’ ‘Monsters’ is a term for which Cahn demands a positive connotation. For monstrosity, she argues, lies always in the eye of the beholder or of society and never in the representation. ‘If someone describes my representations as “monstrous” then I am not in agreement’, she says.

‘Monstrosity’, Preciado says, ‘arises from an existing physicality that receives no political recognition.’ It is, he adds, nothing rare. On the contrary, in his opinion it is the women’s movement, the gender movement and the migrant movement that have enabled the monsters to awake. Here the philosopher, whose writings start from matters of personal intimacy, plays with concepts and terminology in virtuoso manner. As a trans person he has written an essay entitled Je suis un monstre qui vous parle (2019) (Can the Monster Speak?) about ‘monstrosity’, which among other things is a medically outdated description of ambiguous sexual characteristics. It is a highly political text on human sexuality, on the world of experience of a trans person, and on taking leave from normative ideas. ‘In the past’, Preciado states in criticism, ‘the words of a trans person would have been described as the expression of someone who was mentally ill.’ It is only the current shift in attitudes, he says, that is enabling the ‘monsters’ to produce knowledge about themselves.

Art and Politics

Cahn sees this thesis as corroborated by the women’s movement. ‘Women in art have new, wholly different topics, such as birth or, with reference to anatomy, the clitoris’, she says. Sometimes, she adds, she is afraid that she will not have enough time left to deal with all these new issues. It becomes clear how important the ‘unspoken’ element is for her art. In a very subtle way, she states, there is a political aspect in her work. Those who want to see this can see it. And she hopes also that her works give the beholder food for thought for the real world of politics.

‘Politics’, Preciado is convinced, ‘is the collective construction of reality.’ For him, it is clear that writers and artists participate in this construction of reality. Preciado himself is interested in the most fundamental questions. Those which refer to the praxis of life: Which bodies are allowed to live and which are not? And how does the collective decide on life and death? Why is one body allowed to express itself and another not? Why can one person stay and another cannot? Above all, the philosopher argues, one thing must not be forgotten here: ‘The body is always in relation. It is inconceivable to regard the body as an autonomous, separate, individual entity. It exists only in relation.’

Ursina Trautmann

le migrant a perdu l'état-nation, le réfugié a perdu sa maison. la personne trans perd son corps. ils traversent tous la frontière. la frontière les constitue et les traverse. les destitue et les renverse. / Paul B. Preciado

FISICAMENTE körperlich: FR, 11.6.2021

FISICAMENTE körperlich: DE, 11.6.2021