Introduction. The anagrammatic body

Cover of the exhibition brochure "The Anagrammatic Body" with a picture by Cindy Sherman
The organs of the body as letters - singularization
Reading the body as writing

One of the specific conditions that the new image technology of photography introduced into visual art was the close-up. Through the close-up technique, photography for the first time singled out the organs of the body, from the eye to the toe, and presented them as isolated images. The close-up begins the sequencing of the body into its visual components or building blocks. The body is fragmented ("le corps morcelé," says J. Lacan), divided into individual parts and fragments. The separation and absolutization of the body fragments leads to a kind of visual grammar of the body. The body becomes a sign language in which the close-ups of the body organs form the letters of the body. This alphabetization begins exemplarily in 1926 with the book "ABECEDA" by Karel Teige and Vítezslav Nezval. The body becomes legible as writing through photography. The letters of the body are identified, localized, in a word: sequenced. The body is deciphered, numbered, thus begins its digitization.

The multiple organs - recombinations of the body
Rewriting the body

The analysis of the body is followed by the synthesis. In photomontage, especially with the surrealists, the organs and fragments of the body are recombined. The photographically fragmented body is reassembled, transcribed, reconfigured in the montage. Through alphabetization, the body becomes a system of variables. The body as an order of organs becomes a chain of signs or letters that can always be reshaped or reshaped. The reading of the body, its sequencing into letters or body elements, is followed by the writing and re-writing of the body, i.e. the arrangement of the body elements not according to the rules of the old, natural grammar, but according to a new, artificial anagrammatism, in which new bodies are always generated from the same set of organs: Bodies without organs and multiplied organs without bodies.

Hans Bellmer first described the body as an anagram in 1934 and demonstrated the practice of recombining body organs with his dolls. This constant re-design, re-fashioning of the body is precisely the redaction and reediting of the writing of the body. In the anagrammatic body, the natural body is artificially reprogrammed for the first time. The body in photography, the medial body, is no longer the natural site of identity. As a recombined body, it is the site of a recombinatory, optional identity.

The object marriage - the cyborg
Correcting the body

In classical art, there were marriages of the human body with the animal body (Sphinx, Mermaid, Minotaur, etc.). In modern body art there are marriages of the human body with objects. The natural writing of the body is no longer sufficient. The writing of the body is improved and corrected. The alphabet of the body is expanded. New elements are added to the natural organs of the body, including materials other than flesh and bone. The possibilities of combinatorics and permutation offered by the anagrammatic body are developed beyond the human set of organs - into the horizon of things and machines. In the wake of the free resizing and combinability of the body organs, there is also a partial replacement and substitution of the organic-natural body parts by artificial-technical ones.

The body is shaped and constructed by diets, drugs, training, gymnastics, aerobics, bodybuilding, make up, body styling, plastic surgery, cosmetic surgery, protein engineering and genetic engineering until it corresponds to the ideals that the media present as body image. Collagen lips, silicone breasts, pacemakers, implants, etc. are the first examples of everyday cyborg-like object marriages that are critically observed by digitally or painterly constructed body images. These body technologies are the phantasms of an obsessive body culture centered on the recombination and reprogramming of the body, which will be completed with the genetic engineering of the ideal body.

The virtual body - the body as a pure image
Copying and cloning the body

With digital photography, we are approaching the completely synthetically produced body image. From the cloned to the virtual body, we see that the natural conditions of the body are abandoned in favor of media and social construction possibilities. The recombinable body completes itself in the constructible body, which is medially replicable and duplicable. From the writing of genes to the writing of organs, the body becomes rewritable and ultimately copyable. The body is completely transformed from a natural place to a technical place. A natural script of the body developed over millions of years becomes an artificial script at the levels of media and molecules, organs and genes. The media use anagrammatic techniques of rearranging sequence elements in the range of organs, which they define as letters. Molecular medicine treats the genetic code as a sequence of letters. The specific sequences of individual letters in DNA determine the hereditary code. Genetic engineering also uses anagrammatic techniques in its goal of making targeted changes in the DNA sequence by removing one letter or replacing it with another, or by introducing one or more additional letters. The metaphor of the anagram extends from the organs of the body to the genes of the body.

The media are recombinant body technologies comparable to recombinant DNA technologies. The media used artistically have anticipated, from photography to the computer, what the program of an organism looks like that can modify itself with the means of its own components, from the organs to the genes. This program demonstrates, from Gary Hill's scanline body alphabet to Karin Sander's 3-D body scans, the anagrammatic body of modernity.

Media, from the photographic condition to the net condition, began re-editing the script of the body 100 years ago. The anagrammatic body in the age of its media and molecular constructibility, from reconfiguration to transfiguration, is the future of the body.

Four examples

The anagrammatic body will be exemplified by four examples from the fields of painting, sculpture, video, and TV.

Hans Bellmer: La Demi Poupée

The experience of surrealist photography led Hans Bellmer to transfer the possibilities of the photographic condition of the body to three-dimensional sculpture. The photographic portraits of his dolls show the anagrammatic body for the first time in ever-changing refigurations. Bellmer treated the body like an image. He recombines always new bodies or organs without bodies from the always same body organs or letters. Anagrammatic bodies are recombined bodies.

Francis Bacon: Sand Dune

Francis Bacon's paintings depict an image of humanity that hurts because being human is depicted as a wounding. "Sand Dune" from 1983 summarizes the previous oeuvre of the 74-year-old artist in a visionary pictorial event. The title alludes to a beach formation formed by wind and ocean waves. The blue of the screen-like background is reminiscent of sky, the blue circular disc in the foreground of a puddle of water left behind at low tide. These natural phenomena have broken into an inhabited interior. But the shape and painting style of the sand dune also allow us to understand it as a stranded creature: a piece of meat, a human torso, a body without organs.

Samuel Beckett: Not I

Between 1964 and 1986, between the ages of sixty and eighty, Beckett produced works for film and television, which he considered his adequate medium during this period, some of them entirely devoid of language. Beckett pushes the reduction of his means in his films and TV productions in space, movement and image. While the characters initially appear in gray spaces, restricted in movement, color, and language, the format of the screen reduces the action space to the circle of light, an illuminated square, and finally an illuminated mouth. Originally created as a play in 1972, "Not I" was reimagined for television in 1975. The mouth of a seventy-year-old woman, reporting on her inner life in an incessant stream of words, takes up the entire screen. A speaking mouth, an isolated organ of the body, reduces the body to an organ and the subject to language. Beckett thus rightly associates the reading of the body as language with the problem of identity, as the title indicates.

Garry Hill: Suspension of Disbelief

Gary Hill dissolves the photographic image of a person into its component parts. He uses his images like a language. The deconstruction that Hill engages in with the images consistently leads to the reconstruction of the human being, who, the freer he is to deal with the images, the more willingly he discovers himself in them. The linear arrangement of the monitors visualizes the scanlines, that technical procedure with which, as is well known, video and TV images are constructed. Hill sequentially dissects the body like a scanline on which the body organs are constantly recombined.

Text: Peter Weibel