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Provocation as Art

Proceedings of the 2nd Ekphrasis Conference:

Provocation as Art. Scandal, Shock and Sexuality
in Contemporary Visual Culture


5, Babe -Bolyai Univerity, Cluj-Napoca

Edited by

Doru POP

ISBN 978-606-561-148-1
Accent, 2015

Provocation as Art. Scandal, Shock and Sexuality in Contemporary Cinema and Visual Culture

of the Provocation as Art. Scandal, Shock and
Sexuality in Contemporary Cinema and Visual Culture,
2nd Ekphrasis Conference in Cinema and Visual Culture,
- May
, abe;-olyai University,
The Faculty of Theatre and Television, Cluj-Napoca

VRM, Horea
Babe-Bolyai University, Cluj Romania
Horea Avram teaches at the Department of Cinema and Media, Faculty of Theatre
and Television, abe-olyai University, Cluj, Romania. Doctoral studies in rt History
and Communication Studies at McGill University, Montreal. He researches and writes
about new media art, representation theory, technology, performance and visual
culture. His most recent publications include ugmented Reality , Encyclopedia of
esthetics, Oxford and New York Oxford University Press,
The Visual Regime
of ugmented Space , in Theorizing Visual Studies Writing Through the Discipline,
James Elkins ed. , New York Routledge,
. He publishes essays in M/C Media and
Culture Journal, International Journal of rts and Technology, Kinephanos, Ekphrasis,
Idea. rt + Society, rta, etc. Independent curator since
. He has curated most
notably for Venice iennale in
Institute of rt History
The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin Poland
Elbieta Botnicka-Mazur is Director of the Department of Modern and Contemporary rt History, The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Poland. She completed
her PhD in
, supervised by prof. Lechosaw Lameski, with the thesis ohdan
Kelles- Krauze
midzy profesj i pasj. ycie i twrczo zapomnianego
lubelskiego architekta i malarza eng. ohdan Kelles-Krauze
Profession and Passion. Life and Work of the Forgotten Lublin rchitect and Painter
published as a monograph
. She also published a complete catalogue of


architectural projects by Kelles-Krauze

. Her research interests include sculpture
and architecture of the th century. She is currently pursuing a project focusing on the
sculpture and phenomena on the sculptures edge in the
s in Poland.
Babe-Bolyai University, Cluj Romania
Delia Enyedi is ssistant Professor within the Cinema and Media Department of
the Faculty of Theatre and Television, abe;-olyai University, Romania. Her main
research interests lie in the evolution of narrative structures in visual arts and in the field
of history and aesthetics of silent cinema, with a particular focus on the Transylvanian
silent film industry. She is currently revising for publication her doctoral dissertation
on Hungarian theatre and film artist Jen Janovics.
GRECE, Olivia
Babe-Bolyai University, Cluj Romania
Olivia Grecea has studied Letters and Theatre Studies and Directing at abe;olyai University in Cluj, Dortmund during a Leonardo da Vinci scholarship and
Paris during a Masters programme at Universit Paris Sorbonne Nouvelle .
Starting with
she collaborates as assistant director and director with a number
of Romanian theatres. Currently she is a freelance director and PhD researcher she is
interested in contemporary playwriting as well as devised and collaborative working
University of Kiel Germany
Christina Grevenbrock is Magister rtium in History of art and German and
Media Studies of the University of Kiel, Germany. Curator at Kunsthalle Emden,
Germany from
. Currently working on PhD Thesis on Social Relations
in the Depiction of Death in Contemporary rt at University of Kiel. Exhibitions and
publications on international modern and contemporary art.
University of Gdask Poland
Magdalena Howorus-Czajka, Ph.D., is ssistant Professor at the University of
Gdansk Poland , Faculty of Philology, Department of Cultural Studies. She has
graduated from the Catholic University of Lublin and is a member of the ssociation

Provocation as Art. Scandal, Shock and Sexuality in Contemporary Cinema and Visual Culture

for Cultural Studies. Her research interests include Polish art, especially in Gdansk,
Sopot and Gdynia Tri-city , history of Polish art press after World War II. She is the
author of the books The Permeation the Idea of Informel and the Polish Press of the
s and
s, Gdansk University of Gdansk Press,
and Wiktor Tokin The
Sculptor. The Monograph, Warsaw Neriton,
LCROIX, Claude
Bishops University, Sherbrooke Canada
Claude Lacroix is ssociate Professor and Chair, rt History and Theory Program
ishops University, Sherbrooke, Canada. Claude Lacroix earned his .. Honours
in Visual rts from the University of Ottawa, his Masters in rt History/Fine rts
from the Universit de Montral and his Ph.D. in rt History and Theory from the
cole des Hautes tudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris, where he held a SSHRC Doctoral
scholarship. Claude Lacroix has a broad range of teaching and research interests,
particularly on modern and contemporary art. His recent research examines how
diverse representations of the human body in the visual arts cross borders between a
real and an imaginary identity, especially when they deviate from artistic norms.
NE, ndrei
University of Bucharest Romania
Andrei Nae holds a English and German from University of ucharest and a
M in ritish Cultural Studies after an Erasmus Fellowship at Salzburg University. He
is currently a PhD candidate at the Doctoral School of Literary Studies, University of
PVEL, Laura
Babe-Bolyai University, Cluj Romania
Laura Pavel is literary essayist and drama theory scholar, Professor at the Faculty
of Theatre and Television of abe-olyai University, where she teaches theatre history
and anthropology of performance. Since
, she is the Director of the PhD Program
in Theatre Studies at the abe-olyai University. She is the author, among other
publications, of Dumitru Tsepeneag and the Canon of lternative Literature, translated
by listair Ian lyth, Champaign & Dublin & London, Dalkey rchive Press,
of Theatre and Identity. Interpretations on the Inner Stage Cluj,
. She co-authored
several collective volumes. Her monographical essay Ionesco. nti-lumea unui sceptic
[Ionesco. The nti-World of a Skeptic],
, translated into Italian by Maria Luisa
Lombardo, is to be published by racne Editrice, Rome, in


POENR, Horea
Babe-Bolyai University, Cluj Romania
Horea Poenar is ssociate Professor at the Faculty of Letters, abe-olyai University, Cluj-Napoca. He teaches courses on Literary and Cultural Theory, esthetics,
Ethics of Community, Ethics of Images and The History of the Novel. He has published
extensively on these topics and other related subjects in various publications. His
doctoral thesis is a study on the concepts of phenomenological aesthetics. He was the
director of Echinox cultural journal between
. Since
, he is the host of
cultural TV programs on the Romanian National Television.
POP, Doru
Babe-Bolyai University, Cluj Romania
Doru Pop is professor at the Faculty of Theatre and Television, abe-olyai
University in Cluj in Romania, where he researches visual culture, cinema and media
studies. He has an M in journalism and mass communication from the University
of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a PhD in the philosophy of visual culture from
abe;-olyai University. In
he was a Fulbright fellow at ard College, New York,
where he taught a course on the Romanian recent cinema. He is the editor in chief of the
Ekphrasis academic journal. His most recent book is Romanian New Wave Cinema n
Introduction McFarland & Company,
URS, Mihaela
Babe-Bolyai University, Cluj Romania
Mihaela Ursa is ssociate Professor at the Faculty of Letters, abe-olyai
University, Head of the Comparative Literature Department. She teaches comparative
literature and authored seven books in Romanian language on comparatism, critical
theory, fictionality, gender studies, and erotic literature. Co-author of several collective
volumes, with more than
articles, studies, reviews, essays published on cultural
studies, literary theory and criticism. Most recent research stages in Caen, Rome,
ard College New York . She was awarded prizes for her books by The Romanian
ssociation of Comparative Literature and The Romanian ssociation of Writers.
Member in peer review boards Caietele Echinox, Philobiblon, Ekphrasis - Cluj .
VIRGINS, ndrea
Sapientia Hungarian University, Cluj Romania
Andrea Virgins is lecturer at the Dept. of Film, Photography, and Media, Sapientia
Hungarian University of Transylvania, Cluj-Napoca, Romania http //film.sapientia.

Provocation as Art. Scandal, Shock and Sexuality in Contemporary Cinema and Visual Culture

ro/en/staff/dr-andrea-virginas , where she teaches film history classical Hollywood

and contemporary mainstream cinema and introduction to communication and film
theory. Research interests film genres, postcommunist cinema, feminist film/ cultural
theory, analog and digital media theory.
postdoctoral research project
The Role of Generic Panels in European Small Cinemas PN-II-RU-PD- ,
UEFISCDI / The Romanian Ministry of Education .



Provocation as Art. Scandal, Shock and Sexuality in Contemporary Cinema and Visual Culture


Doru POP
Introduction: From Art as Provocation to Provocation as Art
Andres Serranos Piss Christ,
Christian Conservatives Protests and Court Actions
Laura PVEL
Beyond Artistic Aura Visuality and Aesthetic Ideology

Ritual Provocation Dialogue.

Aspects of Nudity in the Art of Jerzy Bere
Incorporating the Viewer into the Picture/Incorporating the Picture
into New Media the Art of Dominik Lejman
Horea VRM


Stelarc After Van Gogh. Body in Excess and A Happy New Ear
Olivia GRECE


The Provocative Thoughtfulness of Christoph Schlingensief

Teresa Margolles En el aire
Death, provocation and social responsibility


Arts War. Figures on the Threshold




The burden of the real in Eastern European and Scandinavian
genre ilms: knitwear, dancing bodies, and endoscopy
ndrei NE
Representations of the Monstrous Feminine in the F.E.A.R. Trilogy
Clothing for Nudity: Sexual Practices as Discourse
in Contemporary Fashion Advertising
Mihaela URS
Challenges of Teaching Love Studies. Scandal in the Academia

Beyond Artistic Aura Visuality and Aesthetic Ideology


Beyond Artistic Aura Visuality and Aesthetic Ideology

Abstract. The paper focuses on some of the inluential contemporary aesthetic debates which revolve
around the ethical and the political effects of reception. The analysis will center on a few scandalous
artworks, most of them portraying political igures or ideological tableaux, in an attempt to discover how
their artistic aura is either reclaimed or devalued. The paintings of contemporary Romanian artists
such as Adrian Ghenie and Marius Bercea could be considered self-relexive artworks, relevant for a
parodic mode of demolishing certain identity myths, but also for an auratic reassessment of those
myths and values. Theories and politically performative paintings, artistic and ideological mythologies
enter into dialogue and thus reveal their aesthetic and political irreverence and liveness.
Keywords: aura and post-auratic aesthetics, politicization of aesthetics, Marius Bercea, Adrian Ghenie,
iconophilia, Bruno Latour, performativity of painting.

Post-Utopian Art and Its Politics of Aesthetics.

A Theoretical Point of Departure
While a large corpus of today s art theory is still inluenced by Walter
enjamin s thesis concerning the loss of an artwork s aura, on account of its technical reproducibility, it becomes relevant to consider the new developments of
a post auratic aesthetics, with its intertextual and intermedial implications.
Walter enjamin s primary assessment of the aura deines it as the uniqueness of
an artwork, which could be perceived, in his view, only from a certain minimum
distance1. ctually, the concept of aura proves even more resourceful than the author of The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction imagined it could be.
For the merican philosopher Joseph Margolis, enjamin s disjunction between
aura, on the one hand, and the technology of reproducing and multiplying an original artwork, on the other hand, is rather exaggerated. Margolis contends that the
recoverable theme of an artwork s aura for our secular world is centered much
more on sharing the actual context of production, performance, and reception of
art, or the near traces of such an event s history Margolis,
. In turn,
oris Groys argues that modern approaches to art should not be reduced to the



loss of aura, since modernity displays a constellation of strategies meant not

only to remove, but also to restore the frequently disputed aura Groys
Post-auratic aesthetics has to deal, to a great extent, with how the production
and the reception of art are interpreted in terms of its social eicacy and everyday
operativity. In addition to this, it also has to do with the anthropological relevance
of the artist s posture or personhood, of his/her self-constructed identity, situated between singularity and communality. Is there any room left or any need for
authenticity and for the auratic presence within and in front of art s being, in a
post-Duchamp era, when neo avant-garde aesthetics and the parodic deconstruction of canonical artworks often turn into clichs and sometimes become trivialized into mere cultural entertainment? particularly politicized approach to artistic production aspires to formulate answers to the ongoing aesthetic debate around
the loss of art s aura. This critical perspective, informed by a politicization of aesthetic judgments and categories, has its roots in the works of Walter enjamin and
is also clearly indebted to contemporary philosophers such as Jacques Rancire
and oris Groys, as well as to certain ideological approaches to visuality the theories of Nicholas Mirzoef, for instance .
Taking into account the cultural consequences of the Stalinist era in Russia,
oris Groys categorically denounces the underground energies that link the aesthetic element to the political. Thus, the aesthetic control gained by the artist upon
her material can be compared to the forms of political control over society. In
analyzing the Russian artistic trends which came after proletkultism or socialist realism, Groys maintains that post-utopian art uses the lesson it has learned
to make this defeat [of Stalinism] obvious and inal, overcoming the Stalin period
by mythologizing and aestheticizing it , whereas the art that openly polemicizes with and demythologizes Stalinism fails, since it shares with Stalinism the inadequately articulated utopian impulse Groys
. Groys s paradoxical verdicts about the aestheticization of historical dictatorships and their utopian
worldviews can become interpretative keys for understanding certain artworks by
young Romanian visual artists, like drian Ghenie and Marius ercea, who have
gained international recognition over the past decade.
drian Ghenie s parodic and tragicomic manner of aestheticizing the igures of famous twentieth-century dictators, such as Hitler, Stalin and Ceauescu,
brings into question the mode of deconstructing and reconstructing the portrait s
aura. The later could be interpreted, beyond the metaphorical and quasi-mystical
semantic layers of such a concept, as the aesthetic and anthropological efect of reception, experienced in a certain context, and against a certain emotional and ideological background.
orn in the
s, under Ceauescu s totalitarian regime, and having come of
age in the euphoric, yet almost chaotic and confusing irst decade of postcommu-

Beyond Artistic Aura Visuality and Aesthetic Ideology

Adrian Ghenie, The Trial, 2010. Oil on canvas, 200 x 363 cm

Courtesy Mihai Nicodim Gallery, Los Angeles
Photographer: Adrian Ghenie
Collection SFMOMA

nism, Ghenie confesses to his constant obsession with the monstrous ideologies
of Nazism and Communism. When speaking of how he found inspiration for his
Pie Fight series in slapstick comedies, the artist ataches to the blurred and disigured faces in his paintings a surprising, demystifying psychological interpretation, which underlies his view of the twentieth century s often sinister history
of dictatorships. The burlesque pie ights from black-and-white movies with the
Three Stooges and Laurel and Hardy are turned into painted stills which convey
a dramatic gesture of humiliation and even terror: It s also about humiliation ,
Ghenie explains, which is a very strange ritual in the human species and still one
of the most important features of a dictatorship , since humiliating people means
exerting a form of terror on them. The inluence of painter Francis acon s distorted igures is not only acknowledged by Ghenie, but it is also originally recontextualized and oriented towards new ideological and historical signiicances. In
this respect, The Trial evoking the grotesque trial of the two Ceauescus, which
was broadcast live on television on Christmas Eve in
and Dr. Mengele, the
portrait of the Holocaust physician and torturer Josef Mengele, are among the
relevant artworks in which ominous igures, with scraped away features, stand
for decomposing historical masks, apparently alive and still haunting the present viewers.
They seem to invade the space of the painting, in the same way in which
Pirandellian characters impose themselves on the mental stage of their author. The
communist leaders phantasmal faces arise from beyond the canvas surface and
acquire pictorial materiality, as the embodied metaphors of a traumatized collective unconscious.



Imaginary Selves: from Power Figures to Visual Textures

The historicity of painted igures and landscapes can actually be perceived as
a live process, which is performed by the viewer from his/her own position towards the picture, within his/her own gesture of erasing the authoritarian faces of the past. While a painting like Nickelodeon
contains allusions to the
Holocaust, atesting the terror inscribed in the act of defacing the protagonists,
other dysmorphic and aggressed faces belong to dictators: Stalin s pseudo portrait
in The Moth, or Hitler s igure in Pie Fight Interior 8, or in Untitled
. The latter paintings encode another ethical theory that Ghenie develops in diferent interviews and aesthetic statements of intent, pointing to the viewer s atitude towards
the ghosts of historical dictatorships and genocides. Thus, the imaginary act of
throwing pies at horriic faces from the past expresses, this time, a moral atitude
of keeping the specters of totalitarianism at bay and ighting against them.
particularly dictatorial character is, in Ghenie s vision, Charles Darwin himself, whose monstrous igure exposes the way he was misappropriated by despotic leaders, via the social philosophy of eugenics and the idea of evolution based
on the survival of the master races. The title of Ghenie s exhibition at the Venice
iennale of
, Darwins Room, alludes to the artist s understanding of twentieth-century history as a laboratory of evolution , where the will to abusive power appears to be inherent in humanity s biological destiny.
disturbing title is, for instance, Study for Self-Portrait as Charles Darwin. If we
are to paraphrase W.J.T. Mitchell s syntagms ekphrastic hope and ekphrastic
fear Mitchell
, which deine opposite reactions to the batle of priorities between the painterly language and the ekphrasis implicit in the verbal description of a painting, we can speak of an ekphrastic irony that several of drian
Ghenie s titles contain. ctually, they are pseudo-titles which bring along a sort of
suspicion about the meaning-making potential of the pictures. The paradoxical titles express an imaginary self-lagellation of the artist, through his projective identiication with famous historical igures, seen as the painter s nightmarish doubles or his other, alien selves. The already invoked Study for Self-Portrait as Charles
depicts, by superimposition, the anguished construction of a dual
identity. s for artistic singularity, it comes along precisely when the self recognizes the existence of a famous double. This is a psychological and anthropological otherness, rather than a merely aesthetic one, as in Self-Portrait as Vincent van
n artistic peer of Ghenie s, himself a painter trained at the School of Cluj ,
Marius ercea takes his imagery from a personal archive of memories, recovered from the childhood lived during communist times. Paintings such as Sunset
of Joy
bring about a special nostalgia, combined nonetheless with an accurate sense of irony. The biter ironical destruction of a supposedly traumatized

Beyond Artistic Aura Visuality and Aesthetic Ideology

Adrian Ghenie, Pie Fight Interior 8, 2012. Oil on canvas, 301 x 280,7 cm
Courtesy Pace Gallery
Photographer: Adrian Ghenie
Private Collection, New York

past, infested by the political utopia, blends with apparently serene and mythologized memories. There is an evident and therefore parodic dystopia to be discovered, as it is constructed in ercea s painted objects and architectures. The relevant examples here would be Elegant Rationalism and Fraternity Arches.
The dystopian quality evoking works that belong to the Russian so-called sots
art of his ictional architectural setings points to the reinvention of a lost or perhaps never really possessed psycho-social space. n artiicially constructed urban landscape, such as the one in Truths with Multiple Masks
, conceals a historical and geographical void.
This is illed only by the painter s and the viewer s emotional ambivalent input, divided between the authoritative assertion of visuality and the right to look
, - , to claim autonomy from superimposed visuality.5
ll of these paintings enact sometimes a melancholic and, at other times, a parodic vision of political igures, conjugated with ideological landscapes and
myths, as well as with a subjective, emotional way of iltering such myths in the
composition of a personal and communal identity. Symptomatically, in Ghenie s
works artistic intentionality is embedded in the projection of clichd political characters as it is sometimes also the case with the paintings of Luc Tuymans or of
marionete-like protagonists, in ercea s paintings, set in utopian spaces. Marius
ercea s decaying setings are inhabited by anonymous silhouetes or puppets, as



Marius Bercea, Truths With Multiple Masks, 2011. Oil on canvas, 280 x 385 cm / (110 x 151 in)
Image courtesy of the Artist and Blain|Southern
Photographer: Peter Mallet, 2011

in Untitled Swimming Pool , devoid of liveness and actual identity, as some kind
of objectiied or even mortiied selves. The mummies, marionetes or fallen statues
in his Truths with Multiple Masks resemble Tadeusz Kantor s use of mannequins,
those dead counterparts of the actors in his famous performance The Dead Class.
For drian Ghenie, to critically deconstruct and reconstruct a much too subjective understanding of the past is to actually grasp, in his paintings, the texture
of history . The dysmorphic igures paradoxically allow access to this luctuating
and often misleading texture . When asked why he has chosen the igures of dictators as his characters, he argues that they have a much more clichd, stereotypical nature and have therefore entered the collective consciousness and the common visual reservoir.
The paradoxical, blurred portraits painted by Ghenie or ercea s postcommunist urban landscapes seem to represent a void, or an imponderable entity, the
mere political essence that inhabits an apparently empty space of the non-image, of the Other. Moreover, by way of the use of colors, composition and a dense
pictorial mater, the paintings embody a mutual relection between an imagological stereotype and an archetypal image. The mental matrix of the self is seen
through a mythological, albeit quotidian and derisive, historically determined alterity, perceived as a ulgakovian other , in Ghenie s The Devil
. This way,
set against the authoritarian modes of controlling visuality, the cultural clich is
parodied, denounced and then assumed. s such, it gains visual substance and a
sort of strange and ethically problematic aura.

Beyond Artistic Aura Visuality and Aesthetic Ideology

Confronting and Rejecting the Face of the Other

There is an intentional shock value atached to Ghenie s defaced portraits, relevant not only from an aesthetic angle, but also from an ethical one. The shocking efect triggers a process of critical reception, whereby the political, the aesthetic and the ethical values subvert one another, while also becoming partially convergent. It is as if the paintings were somehow depicting and enacting the spectacle of our reactions to them, as if they showed the lack or refusal of the face
of the Other, the dictatorial igure, and our backing of from facing it. Instead,
they show our faces, consumed in the traumatic gaze of retrieving a collective past,
lost in the absence of their faces. Not only once, works from the Pie Fight series
could be read as visual metonymies of an ethical drama. The French philosopher Emmanuel Lvinas should be invoked in the atempt to interpret these artworks, since his ethical theory emphasizes the need for alterity, for confronting
the face of the Other.
ccording to Lvinas, the face is a sort of privileged space where alterity, the
Other, exposes himself or herself to the I. n auratic entity, I would say, which encodes an invitation to the ine risk of approach qua approach, to the exposure of
one to the other, to the exposure of this exposedness Lvinas
. Otherness
should be merely acknowledged, in its diference and even in its strangeness, and
not appropriated or reduced to the same. Therefore, the face is refractory to being grasped by restrictive cognitive categories, and cannot be objectiied. What is
more, the ethics of alterity and responsibility to the Other is based on the face s resistance to possession, to any abusive power position: The expression the face introduces into the world does not defy the feebleness of my powers, but my ability
for power Lvinas
Ghenie s faces, for instance, look back on present beholders and continue to
disigure themselves in front of them, as in a theatrical process of exorcising an old
guilt. The viewer experiences emotional distance and/or empathy with the pie
ight, as Ghenie s paintings contain, for instance, both ludic, biter detachment
and the exposure of a collective trauma from a totalitarian past. The alienating effect is made possible by a few intentional kitschy elements, which subvert a digniied monumental representation of the political and historical igures. However,
the Verfremdungsefekt blends, out of a nostalgic empathy, with the faces, objects
and moods represented on canvas or actually, with the objectiication of moods,
noticeable in Marius ercea s mannequins and setings.
In the case of Marius ercea and drian Ghenie, the critical exposure of communitarian and national identity myths is an endeavor to cleanse or at least to
elaborate upon the former appearance of a much more vulnerable, subjected self,
or of a morally reprehensible one.



Adrian Ghenie, Nickelodeon, 2008. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 230 x 420 cm
Courtesy of the artist
Photographer: Adrian Ghenie

The Iconophilic View and the Performativity of the Visual

s pictures of an obsessively alive communitarian past, works such as Marius
ercea s Untitled Swimming Pool , or Ghenie s Nickelodeon come forward mostly
on account of a speciic pictorial materiality and texture, whereby they put into
question the use of visuality. The later is more of an enactment of collective and
personal resistance to abusive or insidious power.
Such paintings display a symptomatic ethical and political performativity and,
consequently, they call for being perceived from beyond a purely visual angle.
Still, the use of a concept like performativity might seem somewhat paradoxical in this context, since its sphere of meanings revolves around the aesthetic qualities of presence , of directness and immediacy. s deined by performance theorist Josete Fral, performativity is at the heart of what makes any performance
unique each time it is performed Fral
, . However, the analytic potential
of this concept can be tested and operationalized insofar as the process of painting
is paralleled by that of continuously confronting the igures of the past.
The atempt to tame and to exorcise the ghosts of totalitarian worldviews
brings along an imaginary self-lagellation of painter and beholder alike. In
Marius ercea s Elegant Rationalism, for instance, the apparently elegant building seems to gain a rather ominous surrounding aura, which encapsulates manipulative emotions, power-driven impulses and authoritarian ideological discourses. In drian Ghenie s works, there is a strong dynamic of ambivalence, to be seen
in the combination of an often morbid imaginary with a positive and vivacious use
of color, as well as in the coexistence of abstract and igurative approaches within

Beyond Artistic Aura Visuality and Aesthetic Ideology

Marius Bercea, Untitled (swimming pool), 2011. Oil on canvas, 52 x 52 cm / (20 x 20 in)
Image courtesy of the Artist and Blain|Southern
Photographer: Peter Mallet, 2011
Private Collection

the same compositions. The inner dramatic substance of the paintings lies not only
in the psychological and ideological consistence of the subject mater. It has to do,
to a great extent, with the exposition of the pictorial process as if it were an open
performance, happening before the viewer s eyes. The sometimes unpredictable
nature of his paintings is actually recognized by Ghenie himself, who thus enthusiastically takes on something of the emancipatory statement of a performance artist. Instead of a brush, he resorts to a palete knife and to stencils, emphasizing the
spontaneous, even accidental character of his art-making: Something is applied
to the surface which can destroy the surface, but if it doesn t destroy it turns it into
something good. Fifty-ifty. It s a Russian roulete moment. 8
t other times, both drian Ghenie and his critics insist on the apparently cinematic quality of his artworks. Indeed, the expanded paintings aim to provoke catharsis by a seemingly immersive experience into a sort of pictorial vortex. Still,
Ghenie paradoxically claims that, by exposing a still of the otherwise rapid low of
narrative visuality, one that could have been turned into a whole ilm, painting really enables the viewer to gaze upon the most dramatic and surprising details of a
composition. seminal cinematic sequence is Duchamps Funeral I
, in which
the artist stages the funeral of the father of conceptual art. Near the coin, there is
the somehow ironical element of surveillance and spectacle, in the image of a camera held by some anonymous hand that is ilming the show of the funeral and,
maybe, the viewers themselves. The self-referential painting comprises stereotypical images which evoke the pompous state funerals of dictatorial leaders. cyn-



Adrian Ghenie, Duchamps Funeral I, 2009. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 200 x 300 cm
Courtesy the artist and Galerie Judin, Berlin
Photographer: Adrian Ghenie
Private Collection, Switzerland

ical and tragicomic parallel is drawn between the ideological ghosts that haunt
art and politics alike. The dead Duchamp also invoked by Ghenie in his famous
work Dada is Dead is a living metaphor, calling to mind the image of the corpse
from the ilm Repentance, by Georgian director Tengiz buladze. Once buried, it
reappears, with ludicrous fatality, over and over again.
nalyzing the possibility of a migration of the aura between the original artwork and its reproductions, runo Latour and dam Lowe reveal the performative potential of painting, namely its capacity to preserve or even to reconstruct
an aura throughout the history of its public exposition. In spite of the common assumption that painting, architecture, sculpture, and art objects in general would
possess in themselves a stubborn persistence to keep their aura inseparable from
the original, the two authors contend that the diference between performance arts
and the other arts is not as dramatic as it might appear: For paintings, too, existence precedes essence. To have a continuing substance they need to be able to
subsist Latour and Lowe,
. Their life is a continuous process of becoming what beholders expect them to represent or to stand for. They have to be
reframed, restored and reinterpreted by critics, curators and viewers, who atach
diverse narratives and meanings to them. Hence, a certain degree of reproducibility, be it a minimum one, is needed in order for the paintings to survive the odyssey of their exhibition.
ctually, drian Ghenie testiies to the visceral character of his painting, which
depends, he thinks, on the artist s corporeal posture, on a physical interaction with

Beyond Artistic Aura Visuality and Aesthetic Ideology

Marius Bercea, Sunset of Joy, 2012. Oil on canvas, 150 x 200 cm / (59 x 78 in)
Image courtesy of the Artist and Blain|Southern
Photographer: Matthew Hollow, 2012
Private Collection

the canvas and with the initially inert, decomposed color. The painter s bodily impulses and the luctuating states of mind bring along a transformative dynamics. The performativity of an apparently passive artistic medium such as painting
is rooted, as Ghenie explains in his conversation with critic Luiza Vasiliu Ghenie
, in a sort of rownian motion of the painter s moods, rather than in a
pre-established pictorial scenario.
In order to beter analyze the surprising performativity of the painting, its visceral relation to the painter and its vivid interpellation of the viewer, an adequate
hermeneutic atitude would probably be what runo Latour calls iconophilia.
What does it mean, for Latour, to follow the path of iconophilia, distinct either from
that of idolatry, or from that of iconoclastic standpoints? The iconophilic atitude
implies the respect not for the image itself but for the movement of the image, so
that the interpretative gaze should be focused on the series of transformations for
which each image is only a provisional frame . Latour
. The analysis of
images in art, as well as in science and in religion, would then beneit from such an
interdisciplinary, balanced anthropological perspective. The interpretative angle
of critical theory, which politically informs the ield of today s aesthetics, should
probably be joined by an iconophilic view, in runo Latour s sense, upon artworks and artistic creativity, whereby an integrative hermeneutic approach can be
Such a balanced hermeneutic is most appropriate for grasping the oxymoronic quality of Marius ercea s paintings, which encode both utopian or dystopian



ideology and domestic, communitarian emotions and daily rituals. ercea displays
a nuanced painterly power to represent the subtle ilters of subjective and communitarian memory. Thus, his works can be read mostly in terms of the evocative
power they exert on the viewer, rather than through the lens of their performative dynamic impact. ercea s socialist and post-socialist urban setings are illed
with imposing albeit dilapidated buildings and apparently familiar citizen igures,
who seem to be passively waiting for silent catastrophes to occur. The frail, anonymous silhouetes in Untitled Swimming Pool , or the strangely vivid ediice and
the dummy-like igures in Sunset of Joy allude to both the cold, titanic sterility of
decaying, evanescing utopia and to the core identity of septic, organic medium of
painting Iacob
If we are to accept that the visible is only the freeze-frame of a process of transformation that remains extremely diicult to grasp, a proper form of invisibility
, an iconophilic atitude would enable the art critic to grasp the
sinuous, often conlictual process that goes on beyond the image. It would help
the analyst to observe the reversible and unpredictable, therefore performative relation between artwork, which comes to occupy a subject position, and its context
of appearance and that of its reception. Or between its self-contained status, its resistance to being abusively appropriated, on the one hand, and its openness, on
the other hand, to being exposed, ininitely interpreted, inserted within a whole
chain of historical transformations.
The viewer s position towards the igures of an often disturbing past is inscribed and enacted in the dynamic subject mater of these paintings, which speaks
for a continuously present and live process of sharing communal obsessions, identity myths and psycho-historical complexes. The parodic texture of Ghenie s defaced portraits and the disenchantment provoked by ercea s artiicial, decaying
architectural images mark a paradoxical destruction, cleansing and reenactment
of aura, by a double gesture: one of simultaneously detaching from and indulging
in identity clichs and communitarian mythology. This ambivalent atitude is followed by an imaginary and somehow cathartic suturing of the gap between past
and present. The atempt to revalue such communitarian myths is made possible
by self-referential and critical narratives of projection into the heroic or antiheroic igures, psychosocial ghosts and complexes that, once acknowledged, can be
temporarily healed .
Situated at a crossroads of aesthetic thinking, artworks such as Ghenie s The
Pie Fight series and Duchamps Funeral I and II , or ercea s Sunset of Joy and Truths
with Multiple Masks are signiicant for an oscillation and even for a complementar-

Beyond Artistic Aura Visuality and Aesthetic Ideology

ity: the in-between of aestheticized politics the aesthetic adjustment and interpretation of political operations and politicized aesthetics, the unravelling of the inherent and often overtly political life of art forms.
enjamin circumscribes the concept of an artwork s aura by comparing it with the aura
of natural phenomena, when gazed upon from a certain distance: The concept of aura
which was proposed above with reference to historical objects may usefully be illustrated with reference to the aura of natural ones. We deine the aura of the later as the
unique phenomenon of a distance, however close it may be. See, in this respect, Walter enjamin, The Work of rt in the ge of Mechanical Reproduction . Illuminations,
trans. by Harry Zohn, New York: Schocken ooks,
, p.
ccording to Groys, the forms of art documentation, such as installations, are proofs
that the diference between originals and copies is no more than a topological and situational one. Once set within an installation, the copy can acquire the aura of the actual
living, historical artwork, reaching the status of an original. This is how modernity enacts a complex play of removing from sites and placing in new sites, of deterritorialization and reterritorialization, of removing aura and restoring aura. See oris Groys, Art
Power. Cambridge, M & London: The MIT Press,
, p. .
drian Ghenie b.
and Marius ercea b.
along with other representatives of the so-called Cluj School of Painting, such as Victor Man and erban Savu are
among the most renowned artists on today s art scene.
Ghenie quoted in Rachel Wolf, IN THE STUDIO: Romanian Painter drian Ghenie s
Sinister Mythology. Art+Auction, March
s it is understood by the visual culture theorist Nicholas Mirzoef, visuality involves
an ideological way of seeing.
The renowned visual artist Luc Tuymans recreates, in his portrait of politician Jean-Marie Dedecker, entitled A Belgian Politician
, a paradoxical aura, by way of using the
translucent tones, around the protagonist s face. The aura is intrinsic to the portrait on
account of which the elgian painter has been surprisingly accused of plagiarizing a
photo of Dedecker taken by a journalist , in spite of the appropriationist and apparently parodic character of Tuymans s artwork.
See his opinions about the need to resort to accessible subjects, taken from a collective
cultural background, in Metoda mea e administrarea eecului [ My method is the
proper management of failure ], interview with drian Ghenie, by Luiza Vasiliu, in
Dilema veche, no.
, March - ,
Ghenie welcomes spontaneity and creative accidents in the painting process, in his conversation with Karen Wright. See drian Ghenie, painter: You cannot paint this with
a brush. It s simply the result of an accident . Interview by Karen Wright, The Independent, June ,

Works Cited

enjamin, Walter. The Work of rt in the ge of Mechanical Reproduction .

Illuminations, trans. by Harry Zohn, New York: Schocken ooks,



Fral, Josete, Foreword . SubStance. A Review of Theory and Literary Criticism. Guest
editor: Josete Fral. Issues & , Vol. , Nos. & ,
3. Groys, oris. Art Power. Cambridge, M & London: The MIT Press,
4. Groys, oris. The Total Art of Stalinism. Avant-Garde, Aesthetic Dictatorship, and
Beyond, trans. from German by Charles Rougle. London & New York: Verso,
5. Iacob, ogdan. Marius ercea at lain Southern , at htps://
/ / /marius-bercea-at-blain-southern/, consulted on November ,
6. Latour, runo. How to be Iconophilic in rt, Science, and Religion? , in Jones,
Caroline ., and Peter Louis Galison eds. , Picturing Science, Producing Art. London:
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the Original Through Its Facsimiles . Switching Codes: Thinking Through Digital
Technology in the Humanities and the Arts, ed. Thomas artscherer and Roderick
Coover. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press,
8. Lvinas, Emmanuel.
Totality and Ininity. An Essay on Exteriority, trans. by
lphonso Lingis. Pitsburgh: Duquesne University Press,
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Lingis. Pitsburgh, Pennsylvania: Duquesne University Press,
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11. Mirzoeff, Nicholas. The Right to Look. A Counterhistory of Visuality. Durham: Duke
University Press,
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13. Vasiliu, Luiza. Metoda mea e administrarea eecului [ My method is the proper
management of failure ], interview with drian Ghenie, Dilema veche, no.
March - ,
14. Wolff, Rachel. IN THE STUDIO: Romanian Painter drian Ghenie s Sinister
Mythology , Art+Auction, March
15. Wright, Karen. drian Ghenie, painter: You cannot paint this with a brush. It s
simply the result of an accident , The Independent, June ,