The Human Figure in Semiocapitalism

Why is the human figure returning in recent art? An international conference in Frankfurt asks the question. Kunstkritikk conferred with participant Ina Blom.

Rachel Harrison Haycation, 2009.

This afternoon, at 15:00, the conference Art and Subjecthood—A Conference on the Return of the Human Figure in Semiocapitalism starts at the Städelschule in Frankfurt. Initiated by the Institut für Kunstkritik (Isabelle Graw, Daniel Birnbaum, Nikolaus Hirsch) participants include Hal Foster, Caroline Busta, Michael Sanchez, Ina Blom, and Jutta Koether. Kunstkritikk sat down with Professor Ina Blom for five minutes on her way to Frankfurt.

The conference seeks to speculate on a perceived re-emergence of the human figure, and of anthropomorphism, in recent art. Is this a premise you would agree upon?

– I am not so sure that there is a reemergence of the human figure specifically (at least not in the sense that associates «figure» with a distinct form), but I am curious to hear what the other participants have to say about the subject. What interests me is the fact that human-seeming forces—capacities of sensation, perception and agency—seem to be attributed to a number of non-human phenomena and situations.

Your paper is on artist Rachel Harrison. What is the basic tenet?

– I am interested in the way in which Harrison’s work seem to engage with the old question of the «life» of images, the notion that images are in fact living entities. The notion of living images is foreign to modern forms of thinking, which associates it with fetishism and the power of images to cast spells and breed unwanted behavior, as seen in the critique of the spectacle and commodity fetishism. However, the «life» of images was taken seriously in Aby Warburg’s anthropological/cinematic theories, and is reactualized in contemporary media culture. There is a kind of residual animism in Harrison’s sculptural/painterly ensembles in the sense that all sorts of things seem imbued with subjectivity and agency. However, her animism seems filtered through a new media scenario where the question of «live» images is central and where numerous artists explore the boundaries between technological and biological forms of life. I am just trying to figure out some of the implications of this.