Consuming the commercial body

As the emergence of geopolitical regimes coincide with neoliberal logics the medical body becomes increasingly and alarmingly literal.

We live in a world full of unprecedented commercialisation and consumption of the body.

The following are readily available and comsumed on the medical market:

  1. facial transplants
  2. designer blood
  3. spare kidneys
  4. cosmetic corrections

Specific tissues are becoming defined as ‘waste’, this is a crucial step in the wealth production process as it ensures the cheap supply of ‘surplus’ of tissue needed for biomedical transformation. Indeed the it follows that knowlegde networks are being supported through hybrid commerical anf community stratergies.

New biotechnologies are making a turn towards markets and capital as a way of obtaining the tissues traditionally assured under the gift-donation system.

Developments in biotechnology enabled blood to be the first truely global tissue ecomony because it could be collected, stored and transported and distribued.

From blood banking to diginatlized gene sequences, this globailty unfolds as a hybrid of micromanaged economic exchanges between biotechnicians, donors, public policy makers, commercial operators and recipients.                                                             Bioscience has enabled consumers to envisage health on the back of theor innovations. This demands a large, aging and wealthy population. It is true the illegal organ trade has exploded, bioscience carefully enables the exploitative networks of biopower bewteen rich and poor.

The performance artist, Kan Xuan 1999 attempts to represent the medically commodified body in “Sleep”. Kan-XuanSleep-1999

This piece addresses the legacy of postcolonialism and the embodiment of hierarchies of race, ethnicity and gender culture and class within biomedical change. In particular Kan Xuan is questioning Chinese corporeal surplus in late capitalism. This can be linked to the Boby Worlds exhibition which will be explored imminently.


The commerical body : BODY WORLDS


This second half will approach consumption of the medical body from the aestheticised presentation of human anatomy, and the comercial and social value of these ‘art’/’scientific artifacts’  relative to living humans.


Biomedicinces relationship with human surplus, class and neoliberal consumption brings to mind an exhibition I saw recently in the Netherlands called ‘Body Worlds’.

This is a controversial site that puts skinned plasinated bodies on display. The enterprising anatomist, Gunther Von Hagens developed the process of plastination in 1977, which is a process of polymer-impregnation to plastinate human corpses.




The treatment is analogous to perimineralization (the natural process that yields petrified wood). Apart from a scaffolding of tissue all bodily fats and fluid have been replaced with liquid polymers.


A team of workers prepares body parts at the Body Worlds Plastination Center in Dalian China



The “uncanny valley” was identified in 1970 by Japanese roboticist Masahito Mori.

Mori noticed that people presented with likenesses of increasing realism respond with increasing empathy, right up to the point where the likenesses are almost real. At that point, people are repulsed. The sudden dip in graphs describing their response gave the phenomenon its name.

It is common for Von Hagen’s human cadavers to evoke feelings of the uncanny, arousing dread and emotional horror. According to Freud (1919), the uncanny is the class that of the terrifying that leads us back to something long known to us for example inevitable death. An essential feature of the uncanny is the feeling of intellectual uncertainty.

For the philosopher Ernst Jentsh,  aspects of the uncanny tie into:

“doubts whether an apparently animate being is really alive; or conversely, whether a lifeless object might not be in fact animate”

There is no doubt that these ill-fitting templates of familiar human forms evoke aspects of the uncanny . Each specimin is posed un an eteranl rigor of normative life, these activites range from yoga poses to enaging in heterosexual sex.

There have been accusations that the bodies are dervived from Chinsese prisoners, despite visitors intererests in the sources of the figures, exhibitors take care to maintian anoonymity. They typically obsure the identities of the bodies by removing features such as tatoos, scars and growths. In addition racaial markers, such as the skin have been altered or removed, revealing what Eric Hayot refers to as:

“Hypernudity of muslce and organ, vein and bone” (Hayot 2009)


While identies are obsured, the figures to participate in heternormaitve gender practices, whereby the ‘able-bodied’ figures are predominantly male, relative to female bodies which participate in typically feminine activites such as growoing babies or demonstating parodoic burlesque positions, such as striking poses and straddleing chairs.

While Von Hagens urges his plastic models are legitimate educational materials,  many question whether these figures are useful introductions to anatomy, as a result the anatominst is questioned regrading his respect for death and the intergrity of the human body. In 2014 Berlin banned Von Hagens exhibition on these grounds regarding conflict with the cities burial laws.

Body worlds raises questions regrading the ethics of anatomical display, the debate whether the exhibitions are sources of useful knowldge, or by appealing to spectcular traditions of medical and natural history, museums, conlonial archives and freak shows, the exhibition can be viewed as a cynical means of cadaver entertainment facilitated by the econominc climate produced by neoliberalism.

Accepting either of these viewes, it is undoubltable that the uncanny figures communicate various class and gender hegemonies in line with a medically comodified body, as well as the display of ‘idealised’ bodies- limmited to Chinese anatomy- which appeals to colonialism. Reflecting upon the bio-medical ideologies produced in late capitalism, the exhibition reproduces the status of  tissues and the entire human bodies as transactable asethetized commercial objects.



Flights of the forensic imagination

Freud, Sigmund. The Uncanny.

Larissa Heinrich, Ari.  On Biopolitical Aesthetic and the chinese body as surplus.


Live Art, The Body and Pain.

French performance artist, who goes by the name Orlan explores the boundaries of human sensorial pain. Her work puts to question the actual state of the body and the possible genetic manipulations.

She explains her work as the “struggle against the innate, the inexorable, the programmed, nature, DNA – and God.

Orlan refers to her practice as ‘carnal art’ which she claims differs from body art on the basis that it involves personal risk and is mainly persevered in men.


The artist has engineered art projects around nine plastic surgery operations happening between 1990-1995.

Influenced by Duchamp, the artist views her body as a ‘ready-made’ object with the potential to be used as a “medium of transformation”. Typically the artist uses plastic surgery as a means to alter herself. Importantly she remains fully conscious through the operations, this means that she assumes a doubt role in the work, where she is both the observer and observed. She maintains her consciousness is necessary, as this allows her to communicate with people during the 90 minute broadcast, to read and draw in her own blood.

Orlan is one of the first artists to use this practice in a way to divert it from the habits of embellishment and rejuvenation. While carnal art is not fundamentally against plastic surgery, it is again the conventions carried and it and the subsequent inscriptions they produce.

In line with the strong feminist theory underlying a lot of Orlans work, she uses plastic surgery counter to to its normative function, Orlan does not seek the ‘perfect plastic’ body idealised and fetishized in modern Europe. Instead she intends to modify the soma and open it up to public debate.

“It’s all about being different and creating a clash with society because of that. I tried to use surgery not to better myself or become a younger version of myself, but to work on the concept of image and surgery the other way around.”

To spite beautified plastic surgery, in New Work 1993, Orlan has surgery on her brow to create two antlers on her forehead. These silicone implants are meant to be inserted into the cheekbones to make them more prominent. Critics call these “devil horns”.


”My work is not a stand against cosmetic surgery, but against the standards of beauty, against the dictates of a dominant ideology that impresses itself more and more on feminine . . . flesh” (Orlan)

The surgical room is Orlan’s Atlier, indeed each of her performances is cultivated within this space. Famous designers, such as taco Rabbanne have designed outfits for Orlan to wear during some of her performances.

Some criticise this aspect of Orlan’s work, claiming the bourgeous clothing is a unnecessary means to fuel the artists ego.


Body modification as a religious act?

In some ways Orlans carnal art is secular. She urges that she does not desire pain as a means of redemption or to attain a state of purification. According to the Carnal manifesto, carnal art  inherits nothing from the Christian tradition. While it points to religion’s denial of bodily pleasures, it places the naked body in areas opened up through scientific discovery. By no means, it claims, is carnal art self-mutilation.

“I wasn’t in pain and what was happening to my body was of profound interest to me,” she explains. “Pain is an anachronism. I have great confidence in morphine.”

Counter to this point, their are evidently religious themes underlying the artists first piece of filmed carnal art, this piece inspired her future work. In 1978 the artist underwent an emergency operation, whereby she she was rushed to hospital for an etoptic pregnancy. She invited a film crew to film the operation process and remained conscious throughout.

Orlan explains that she saw the surgeon as a priest figure, whose assistants gathered around him like celebrants at a Catholic Mass. In addition the artist was riled with religious ecstasy as the surgeries light beamed down upon her. She recalls this light to the heavenly beams that chine down upon Bernini’s baroque sculpture of saint Teresa.

Through these ‘deliberate acts of alienation’, Orlan complicates internal and external social constructs of identity, by bringing together fragmented parts of ideological and mythological beauty onto her own flesh.

“For many years, I had appropriated baroque imagery in my work, especially in relation to Catholic art. So when I lay on the operating table, the parallels between the operating theatre and the Catholic mass were not wasted on me.”




Mythico-symbolic connections are laden in Orlans work, which is a task of incorporating the image of goddesses from mythology and art history, for example Leonardo da Vinci’s “MonaLisa” and the goddess Diana.

From the operations performed so far Orlan’s mouth has been altered to imitate that of Francois Boucher’s Europa; another appropriated the forehead of da Vinci’s Mona Lisa; another imitates the chin of Botticelli’s Venus.

Orlan explains to Goode 1997

“…I devised my self-portrait using a computer to combine and make a hybrid of representations of goddesses from Greek mythology. I chose them not for the cannons of beauty they are supposed to represent, but rather on account of the stories associated with them. Diana was chosen because she refuses to submit to the gods or to men, she is active and even aggressive…”


Recent works

Sine 1994, Orlan has been working on her photographic series “self hybridisations”.

These pictures depict her face merged with past facial representations of non-western civilisations.

So far she has completed the African, American-Indian and Pre-columbian.


Criticisms of  Orlan

Some argue that Orlan’s work is a tedious blur of needless suffering laced with a narcissistic stoicism and a desperate need for attention. Orlan responds to these criticisms urging that narcissistic/exhibitionist qualities may be necessary and important for the creation of art. For Orlan, if the art is interesting and questions society, narcism is necessary “so long as one doesn’t get lost in ones own reflection!”



Orlan’s Philosophy of Carnal Art.

Orlan’s art of sex and surgery


Saint-Orlan Reincarnated: The Artist’s Body as a “Medium of Transformation”


Last weekend I viewed a piece of live performance art. The work of many artists was explored, including Dominic Johnson, Emie//Eva-Marie Elg, Ivan Lupi, Nicolca Hunter and Racheal Young.

Two events fed into a the piece as a whole.

The first of these, ‘Love, pain & intimacy in Live Art’ was a lecture that explained each artists particular work ;

The second half, ‘DEEP TRASH Romance’, was mostly performance based. This took place in Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club.

One) Lecture: Love, Pain & intimacy in Live Art.

The work of Ivan Lupi stood out to me in particular during the first half of the event. I found myself anxious at his ability to so easily inscribe a permanent mark on his body, for the sake of art.

The presentation, ‘Becoming Wounds’ depicts Lupi exploring the art of self-tatooing.

Lupi approached his work, ‘An Open Wound’, by focusing on the influence of myths in intimacy and pain as active devices of love.  Lupi concludes that questioning these notions generates a need to act.

Lupi maintains skin paramount, as the organ that hosts wounds, in this sense, a ‘body without organs’ can emerge from these marked sites.


Self modification: Self tattooing

To end his presentation, Lupi invited the audience to join him on the stage area.

On a table standing in front of the presentation screen, lay a tattoo gun, various inks and tissue paper.

During the first half, Lupi takes the gun upon himself, placing the needle between his eyes he asks for audience guidance to confirm correct placement. With this, he proceeds to ink a red dot between his eyes

During the second half, Lupi announces that he is about to perform a new experiment. He invites members of the audience to take control of the gun and build upon the mark he has already made.

It is not unusual for Lupi to engage with the audience during his performance.

“I trust the audience. I don’t just consider it merely to be an audience. Once we are in the same room at the same time and we are all focusing on each other, the audience is performing as much as I am” Ivan Lupi 

For me, this performance participated with elements of Marina Abramovics ‘rhythm zero’, where Lupi’s body stood in passive vulnerability to the audiences active, permanent marking.


Bethnal Green.

The main event is emerged by performances from various artists.

The performance artist Nicola Hunter stood out most to me. The scene depicts Nicola swatting beside a kneeling, nude man.

Physically the man is bigger than Hunter. Under normative circumstances one would expect the binary to follow as;   man : woman :: dominant : subordinate.

The performance reverse these gender prescriptions in conjunction with exploring the physical and metaphysical boundaries of the human body.


Ritually, Nicola dunks the subordinates head into a bowl of water. She holds his head down for roughly 45 seconds. Every time breath is required, the subject would indicate using slight hand gestures, noticeably the time of submergence is in in direct proportion with the time of the performance.

This happens continuously for an hour.

As the subjects body becomes deoxygenated, the labouring effects become evident in his bodily appearance.

Skin turn pale and shrivels.



Indeed, told way through the performance, the psychological effects of the action began to take hold and become observable. The dunking momentarily ceases, and Hunter allows the kneeling man to cry and gasp for air. Counter to his physically dominant, manly body, the man is left vulnerable. As soon as he regains his breath, the dunking proceeds again.

Once the performance has ended. The mans torso falls to his legs. After a minute of deep breathing, he has enough energy to stand, but shaking as he does so.


The simple nature of the performance drew attention to  basic human functional needs and our bodies fragility. A small deprivation of oxygen mixed with monotonous dunking has physical and metaphysical impact upon the man, suggesting that the entirety of the human body needs a  careful balance of conditions in order to normatively function.




Love, Pain & Intimacy in Live Art

Ivan Lupi, performance artist




EATING up the Objectified WOMAN. Some peformance art.

RHYTHM 0.                                                                                                                                          MARIA ABRAMOVIC.                                                                                         1974.

In a controversial, masochistic performance, Abramovic offered up a stage for the public audience to reveal humanities all consuming tendencies.

Maria Abramovic, Rhythm 0.



72 objects on the table.

Use these as you wish on the subject.

Objects present included those of pleasure such a flowers and feathers and those of destruction names a razor, a gun and knife.

DURATION: 8 hours ( 8pm-2am).

For this time the artist was an object to be used by the public.

The performance.

Abramovic fearlessly stood erect, complete in her human (in)vulnerability, projecting her gaze towards the audience. Her biographer notes:

“she maintained a perfect thousand-yard stare through and beyond anyone in front of her” (Westcott, 2010)

Initially no-one touched her. After a period of time people began to take initiative and approach the table of instruments.

As time progresses, the policing gaze of societies assigned morality begins to disintegrate. Simultaneously the treatment of Abramovic gets progressively more violent. These actions show normative boundaries defining the treatment a human agent being transgressed.

By the end of the performance the public had unclothed, cut, man handled and mildly  sexually assaulted  the artist. One participant even licked up blood after cutting at her throat. Most shockingly, a visitor had placed the gun in Abramovic’s hand, pointing it towards her body.

The second half of the performance depicted the artist regaining her agency. Still unclothed, she walked around the room among the visitors. She found that the people who had done harm to her couldn’t look her in the eyes. A majority of the offending spectators left the performance at this point.

Freudian Ambivalence

Abramovics performance is highly illustrative of Freud’s analysis of the Totem and Taboo, illustrated most famously in ‘Civilisation and its discontents’ (Sandaoui  2016). The actions of the visitors exemplify the momentary submergence of the socially constructed superego, whilst the normatively suppressed id, encapsulating the cannibalistic “wetiko” spirit engulfs its host and assumes corporeal control (Ladha, Kirk 2016).

A taboo contains a prohibition. This cannot be separated from the desire it prohibits (Sandaoui  2016).

“There is no need to prohibit something that no one desires to do and a thing that is forbidden with the greatest emphasis must be a thing that is desired” (Freud 1930)

Freud concludes that the desire to murder is present in the unconscious.

Accordingly, notions of ambivalence persist, since keeping our destructive instincts at bay perseveres the fabrics of our society. For Freud, prohibitions are the price humanity pays for its civilisation (ibid).


Abramovics created a liminal space where normative societal rules were upturned. She embodied a corporeal shell for people to manipulate. Her refusal to respond, and to passively facilitate every action reproduced her objectified status.

Within a small space of time, the performance reveals humanity  inner most instincts. In Freudian terms, the minor changes in conditions, that inverted societal order, lead to the revelation of the suppressed all-consuming animalistic being. Indeed, simplicity of the experiment highlights the fragility of civilisations veneer (Sandaoui 2016).

Abramovic concludes that given the right context, people will consume you. However the ambivalent human disposition means that perpetrators do not want to face the consequences of their actions. Whereby totemic-fetished objects simultaneously sir up feeling of disgust and admiration (ibid).

“I felt raped, they cut off the clothes, they struck me with thorns of a rose in the stomach, aimed the gun to my head, another came apart.”

Maria Abramovic on rhythm 0

Reading the performance from a Freudian perspective raises questions about the human psyche, as well as the nature of humanities morality and civilisation(Sandaoui 2016) Does the latter soften the edges of our most  rudimentary cannibalistic tendencies? or does it just put a lid on our deepest human instincts, assigning us all to a volatile neurosis encapsulated by guilt, anxiety and destruction.


  1. Ladha, Alnoor. Kirk, Martin. 2016. Seeing Wetiko: on Capitalism, Mind Viruses, and Antidotes for a World in Transition.
  2. Marnia Abramonvic on performing “Rhythm 0″ 1974. Obtained from”: 
  3. Marina Abramovic on Rhythm 0 (1974):// fromReality 0 — What We Can Learn From This Terrifying Experiment:
  4. Freud, Sigmund. 1930. Society and its discontents. 80-81.
  5. Sandaoui, Ana. 2016. 0, Marina Abramović, and Freudian Ambivalence.
  6. Spector, Nancy. Collection Online. Maria Abramonvic.
  7. Wescott, James. 2010. When Marina Abramovic Dies: A Biography. MIT press.

Metaphorical Cannibalism

This blog will critique the complex, predatory and exploitative nature of human beings who simultaneously produce and are the products of our current perplexed society.

Cannibalism has existed since the beginning of life systems. To some extent physical cannibalism occurs in western society today whereby the transfer of flesh is proceeded by blood transfusions and organ transplants (Mushtaq 2015). Nowadays within most modern systems, materialistic carnal consumption has shifted to metaphysical means, whereby an insatiable consumerist society is gulping up humans metaphorically, often as a means of securing individual wealth and power (ibid).

Cannibals of todays world are constructed by the conditions around them, institutional systems driven by power consistency produce competition to flourish and conquer, in turn this drives consumptuous internal ideological mechanisms (ibid). These feed a mass psychological infection which is driving humanity to extinction (Ladha, Kirk 2016).


Wetiko is an Algoquin word for a human devouring spirit that is driven by greed and consumption. It convinces its host that cannibalistic life-forces are natural and rational (ibid). Indeed these self replicating structures enveloping metaphorical cannibalism can explain poverty, climate devastation and consumption fetishism. The malevolent logic of the virus demands the blinded infected entity to consume more than it requires, within a murderous daze (ibid).

I will explore how the wetiko infrastructure has immeshed itself within todays societal schemes. In particular, I will focus upon the objectification and consumption of women. The cannibalistic infection will be exposed most within a non-normative liminal space, such a place is produced by artistic practice.



  1. Ladha, Alnoor. Kirk, Martin. 2016. Seeing Wetiko: on Capitalism, Mind Viruses, and Antidotes for a World in Transition. Obtained from: 
  2. Mushtaq, Aneesa. 2015. Metaphorical Cannibalism in Margaret Atwoods Novel Oryx and Crake. Maulana Azad National Urdu University. Vol 3:7. 148-150.