“My question for this workshop would revolve around: how do/can I transform the human bodies I talk about in my work into the animated figures that inhabit my animations and ceramic pieces? How do I invent the figures that are the protagonists of my videos and texts?
I think I would like to give a bit of an overview about my work. Perhaps we can watch parts of Empathic Creatures and The Leaking Bodies, and then try to talk about my new work following the questions posed above. Additionally, I propose a series of writing exercises that we could do together. Exercises that originate from uncreative, automated writing, making lists, transcriptions, descriptions, and simple ones on intimacy, touch, surfaces, and our behaviour.”
Something from Empathic Creatures:
i camouflage 20% of my body
with parts of yours
we move together
simulated technical creatures
kin critters friends
elastic bodies of many kinds
a society of
Breathing, touching, caring, leaking.
In my talk I gave an instruction to my work, specifically into the figures of my animated video pieces. They come out of my interest in animation and the transformation of originally unanimated things and objects into moving and breathing beings. Beings that have agency over their own existence and their surroundings. Communal beings.
When I started working with animation, I was interested in the smallest pieces of speech: phonetic writing, pronunciation, signs. In The Bracket and the O that was shown as part of “The Promise of Total Automation” at Kunsthalle Wien in 2016, O’s and brackets made of metal, ceramics, and vinyl formed a narration about the connection between abstract figures and the human body.
I was always very interested in the materiality of things. How they were made, brought into existence, and the economic and ecological realities as well as the political that are attached to them. So with The Bracket and the O, I let a set of signs come to life and talk about their materiality and how they were made—metal, mining, heat, all that.
It was also a first step to attuning myself to the languages, the possible languages whispered by agents that we are not usually listening to. In the video piece O’s Vocalization that was part of The Bracket and the O, small metal and ceramic O’s and brackets are falling to the ground, shot in high speed at 1500 frames per second— the question was: If we slowed time down enough, what would we see and hear? Would we perhaps be able to hear those things speak?
In 2017 I started designing my own typography, giving my letters and signs the chance to come alive in my texts and video pieces, assigning them roles and gestures and attitudes. In The 8 and the Fist, all the figures I had used so far came together. In the poem accompanying the work, the 8, the O, and the bracket meet in a post-apocalyptic wasteland of ruins and rubble, and they try very hard to relate to each other. In addition, the human body part found its way back into my work as ceramic casts: the hand – the fist. This human presence will eventually become the animated breathing techno-being that you will see in The Leaking Bodies.
In 2018 I produced my first animated video piece Empathic Creatures that was shown at Ashley Berlin. In it we again follow a hand, an 8, a bracket, and an O, this time as CGI moving figures and larger-than-life ceramics. They are the core group in a kind of dystopian post-apocalyptic utopian fiction. We see them moving together, touching, resting—breathing together. But also defying the logics of physics. They liquefy; they crack and shatter into pieces and parts only to become whole again.
Ursula K. Le Guin writes in the foreword to The Dispossessed: “I write science fiction, and science fiction isn’t about the future. […] I’m merely observing, in the peculiar, devious, and thought-experimental manner proper to science fiction, that if you look at us at certain odd times of day in certain weather, we already are. I am not predicting, or prescribing. I am describing.” This is not about science fiction narratives that question “the nature of historical reality, but rather such that connect past and it its legacy in contemporary society.”
The dark science fictions I make up are not so much a fiction but descriptions of our contemporary world. The Empathic Creatures are all affected and stranded bodies. They have nowhere they could retreat to—no hiding places—and they are looking for accomplices. They remember collapse, bodies in distress. And they remember the disappearance of solidarity and empathy. They must explain themselves, their attitudes, and their responsibilities, if they want to start a dialogue with each other.
The 3-channel video piece The Leaking Bodies is set in a desert-like techno extraction environment. The main protagonists are a pipeline and a body part, and fluids. Stefanie Schwarzwimmer and Herwig Scherabon assisted me with the animation, and Rana Farahani designed the soundtrack. It was built around the idea of the leak and the membrane. I mean of course, our skin, but also national borders, soil, the transportation network of fluids like crude oil and portable water that crosses state lines, private land, continents, and seas. They all are membranes and they leak. And we all leak.
Imagine a toxic fluid, spilling from rusty pipelines into a dry and static desert. An animated dark, oily liquid is leaking into a digital terrain and onto a digital desert floor that I created. Imagine how the animated liquid oozes and spills out, extracted with help of machinery, just as the hazardous goo that is crude oil.
Reza Negarestani writes in Cyclonopedia:
“Crude summary: Oil as
– Narrative organizer, definitely (heart of gloopy darkness). Parsani [Reza Negarestani’s protagonist and fictional scientist] comes up with the idea that there is no darkness in this world, which has not its mirror image in oil. The end of the river is certainly an oil field;”
Imagine this animated fluid binding together our existence, coming into contact with us, contaminating and threatening us.
Imagine it pouring out of holes and openings. Imagine membranes. Imagine all kinds of borders, regulated and controlled, to be passed and not to be passed, keeping things apart and closely together.
A computerized gravitational force is directing the flow of the digitally rendered fluid in this animated landscape full of holes and openings. This animated representation of toxicity runs through and out of pipelines; it zigzags through an arid terrain, staining and contaminating the pixelated ground made of meshes, grids, and image layers.
Imagine this animated desert as a site of neoliberal capitalist extractivism; a site of settler colonialism.
Imagine the desert as a forest, as the sea. Not as abandoned terrain, ready to be exploited; a deserted place, void of any meaning, nature, or culture. Let’s try to imagine it as the opposite: wet and dripping.
It leaks. We all leak.
“The closed self-organized body is at best a working fiction.” Elizabeth Povinelli quotes Jane Bennett in her book Geontologies.
Things cross the boundaries of our bodies. We become contaminated and contaminate ourselves. We leak.
There’s this surplus of material and bodily fluid which seems to bubble over or flood everywhere. Rana Farahani’s sound is also flowing, dripping, and oozing. Mine is a tale of a promiscuous desire for a borderless being, of opening up and letting things pass.
I tried to connect the toxic streams of capitalism’s crude oil, poisoned water, its intoxicated bodies, its xenophobia, and its migration politics that leads to the death of millions. Globalized fluids of privatized water and crude oil have been crossing states, nations, and continents for decades, as well as bodies and goods have as private property for centuries.
Our bodies leak, not only our scents and our language, but we also leak the leftovers of the whole pharmaceutical industry. We leak our hormones, and antidepressants. At the same time, privatized water as well as crude oil is transported through continents in a highly politicized manner. These fluids are allowed to cross borders, nations, and states. In both cases, leakage of those nets of pipes and motors is causing devastation. Devastation of soil and communities, both of which are dependent on clean water and clean environment. Life and beings are leaky and at the same time threatened by the leakiness of neoliberal financial capitalism, its infrastructure and machines. Bodies are divided into those with access and those who are denied access to land, citizenship, safe passages, safe births, and human rights.
Still, I kept thinking and reminding myself of the possibilities that lie in the realm of the leaky.
A leakiness that also means communality, care, and relationships. “What is being spread?”, my voice asks in the video and what I mean is not only dangerous substances but something collective, oozing, something that can be shared and spread without fear.
Sophie Lewis in Full Surrogacy Now writes:
“[…] we should cultivate thoughtfulness as to the technologies we use—borders, laws, doors, pipes, bowls, boats, baths, flood-barriers, and scalpels—in order to hold, release, and manage water. When is it time to release a boundary? When is it time to keep a point (cervix like) firmly sealed? At what point (cervix like) must the wall come down? When is a bandage ready to come off? How can a city be open to strangers and closed to tsunamis?”
Skin, soil, national borders, transportation networks of fluids like crude oil and potable water and the state lines, private lands, continents, and seas they cross—imagine them as membranes. Semi-permeable and selective, construed both as protection and weapon, connecting the toxic streams of capitalism’s crude oil, poisoned water, intoxicated bodies, xenophobia, and migration politics causing desperation and death.
Animation itself becomes toxic.
There are no fixed borders in the digital realm: it itself is leaky. The digital skin, the digital architecture, the vector, the algorithm.
Think of a character in a game falling off the edge of the animated world it inhabits, just as the one in Harun Farocki’s Parallel II from 2014. Think of Alice’s body filling up every corner of the house as she grows into a giant in the classic animated film Alice in Wonderland.
Programmed boundaries that can be penetrated, hacked, and glitched. They are as solid as the code allows them to be, and the code is something as permeable as our own skin.
There are no fixed borders in the digital realm. And still—the way it is governed it assumes a non-permeable border.
Is there a way to access our real world through the glitches and hacks of these animated worlds, I wonder?
Imagine the surfaces of the creatures I animated: the metallic coarseness of a not-so-human hand; a dark glossy 8; a shimmering O, bending and reflecting its surrounding off of its apparently moist surface; these human, non-human, and not-so-human bodies, moving together, liquefying, bursting into pieces, breathing together.
“The closed self-organized body is at best a working fiction.”
They leak. It all leaks.
We travel in
and dry skies.
I feel like a global
I am longing for you
Damp things lead us:
on the moist surfaces
of the territory
the outskirts of cities,
bodies of soiled,
I am so much closer
to you than you think.
fragile and open.
to a possible future
What caused the damage?
The loose ends
of our dripping culture.
I am dying for you
What was spread?
full of privatized water
and crude oil.
What caused the damage?
in corners and edges,
under rocks, pillars,
waste and rubble.
Leaking into our
on dry, yellow grass
and corroding iron.
of our wet
I am so much closer
to you than you think.
You feel like a global
I am longing for you
our moist material.
Let it be used
Ours is yours
to share and
in a frenzy
The loose ends of our
I am dying for you
to share your wetness.
You take a deep breath.
Your body leaks
in front of me.
Sophie Lewis, Full Surrogacy Now, 2019, Verso books
Harun Farocki, Parallel I-I4, 2014
Reza Negarestani, Cyclonopedia, Complicity with Anonymous Materials, 2008, re.press Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed, 1974
Elizabeth Povinelli, Geontologies, 2016, Duke Press
Walt Disney, Alice in Wonderland, 1951
BARBARA KAPUSTA lives and works in Vienna. As artist and writer she is interested in time-based digital media, queer feminist theory, and poetry. Her works are articulations of situated bodies, partial perspectives, and queer agency as they question the imperial gesture of universality and binary structuring. Her recent immersive three-channel video installation The Leaking Bodies seeks to describe the effects of environmental, social, and emotional stress, the increasing toxicity of landscapes, political instability, and how our relationship to these events work in and on our bodies. Recent exhibitions include: Kunsthaus Hamburg (2022); Lothringer 13, Munich (2021); mumok, Vienna (2021); Halle für Kunst Steiermark, Graz (2021); Gianni Manhattan, Vienna (2020, 2018); Austrian Cultural Forum London (2020); Kunstraum London ( 2019), Kunsthalle Wien (2019, 2016), Ashley Berlin (2018); KUP, Athens (2016); and Belvedere 21, Vienna (2016).