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The State should become the museum of its populace, and every human being a work of art. And, in the same way that the management of museums is responsible not just for collections, but also for ensuring that every work of art remains intact and repairing each one of them if there’s a threat of ruin to it, the State must be responsible for the resurrection and survival of every individual.
Boris Groys, Immortal Bodies, 2008
A society that has been promised enjoyment without limits has immortality as its main aspiration. The cyborg, protheses, the body without organs, pharmacological doping, alongside other posthumanist daydreams came to challenge death while acknowledging the obsolescence of the biological body and the limits of what is human. But, as Nuria Gómez Gabriel in this same magazine argued, a politics of mourning is necessary before a “hyperpositive society which glorifies youth and postpones the reality of death”. Beyond the necropolitical turn and the all-too-present speculation in casualties by media during the last year, the tragic experience of death in the current circumstances should lead us to re-think – as it happened during the AIDS crisis – the possibilities of the body as a vulnerable space, the power of limits and the inevitable fate of existence that Hannah Arendt found in The human condition (Arendt, 1958).
In his essay Immortal bodies, Boris Groys ascertains that “the society of immortal bodies is the quintessential biopolitical society”. To that end, he uses the ideas of Russian biocosmists such as Nikolai Federov or the blood transfusion experiments by Alexander Bogdanov, who pursued immortality through technique. Somehow, that intent was not so far removed from the futurist vindication of the machine as an ideological promise in the face of human decadence, its bid to annihilate time for the sake of an “eternal omnipresent velocity”. Maybe that’s the reason why Groys interprets such stances as dystopian rather than utopian, while acknowledging the radical relevance of that discussion today, a time in which imagination is “so obsessed by immortality”. And since (almost) everyone has become producers of audiovisual images, the more suitable way to open up that debate might as well be via an “audiovisual philosophy”, part of the three film collages of Pensando en bucle (Thinking in loop, 2002-2007), originally published by ZKM and recently presented at La Virreina Centre de l’Imatge (November 5, 2020 – February 7, 2021) by curator Manuel Fontán del Junco. Thus, Boris Groys implements the ideas in Immortal Bodies through a number of interferences between text and a selection of film materials regarding how film has interpreted Fedorov’s, Bogdanov’s and Bram Stoker’s posthumanism together.
Cinema has indeed reflected endlessly on immortality: from the countless adaptations of the classic (or not so classic) vampire novel to fantasies of a cybertechnological tomorrow where human obsolescence has been finally replaced by a different kind of ontologies. In the same way, dystopian tales about a dehumanised consciousness, detached from any emotional bond, abound. In Little Joe (Jessica Hausner, 2019), progress in biotechnology and the quest for a full life, far from sorrow and the tragic experience of life, cause an epidemic of indifference and apathy which renders any trace of love impracticable. Just as Andrey Zvyagintsev had shown with Loveless (2018), radical individualism – which is ultimately a wish to persist after death – leads to a landscape of loneliness governed by misanthropy. It is also true that beyond a constellation of presumably immortal bodies, film has never forsaken its propensity towards tragedy: from mortals’ complex eroticism to extreme emotions which traverse us humans, which is probably due to the ability of audiovisual fiction to remain in the threshold of what is communicable.
In this knot of contradictions, between mortality and immortality, obsolescent and eternal, worldly and museable, the exhibition Becoming Immortal and then Die, curated by Caterina Almirall for BCN Production in La Capella (October 13, 2020 – January 31, 2021), was considered from its title as a riddle or an open question. Reprising Nikolai Federov’s ideas to reflect on the museum as a space of negotiation between life and death, the question became explicit in “The Barry’s Van Tour”, (2007) a video by Jorge Satorre in which he resurrects an object to eliminate it once and for all in the end.. From the funeral urn of the Archeological Museum of Barcelona (900-700 BC) to “Goodbye, My Sunny Child (Tamagotchi Memorial)” (2020) by Daniel Moreno Roldán, the exhibition charted a path from the Neolithic into the present times about the ancestral notion of death. The work “Úra” (2020) by Lara Fluxá, a number of glass pieces full of liquid and fitted in one of the walls in the hall seems to talk about the vulnerability of everything alive in an ecosystem. Next to it, Samuel Beckett’s video “Not I” (1972) meant to deny identity as a will to remain.
Samuel Beckett worked intently on the ironic, which is why maybe the idea that it’s the only place where one may lean out over the abyss, rendering visible the harshness of reality from its own contradictions. Precisely, Theodor Adorno reached that conclusion in his Aesthetic Theory that only with the unspeakable it would be possible to create a “tragic art” (Adorno, 1970). MACBA is promising an exhibition about Felix González-Torres at a threshold-time in which our mourning deserves to be remembered in order to provide meaning for images. The etymological origin of obsolescere refers to “being in the process of finding an obstacle”, a threshold. Recovering death as a threshold for life, as a tragic fate of existence, places us not just before sorrow but, embracing looking at the tragic in the eye, we will be also capable to celebrate life with carnival joy.
(Featured Image: ‘Untitled (Perfect Lovers)’, Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1991))