Through my recent reading, I’ve been trying to find connections between certain matters that seem to be somehow dependent but yet quite vague. Since I’ve been involved with studying about existential phenomenology and its aspects concerning visual representation, I have stumbled upon some questions related to the contemporary art practice.
If you analyze art through the depth of the phenomenological theory, you will find a three-way relation between the viewer, the artwork (that serves as a form of interface), and the creator. Phenomenology interprets human experience and studies matters such as perception and bodily activity. So in this way, the person described as the viewer is becoming a “subject” towards the artwork. In terms of existential phenomenology, a person is described as a “body-in-the-world”, that is he is connected with the environment through bodily perception.
Vivian Sobchack in “The Scene of the Screen: Envisioning Cinematic and Electronic presence” talks about the material and technological crisis of the “flesh”. Although the flesh/body plays an important role when talking about phenomenological perception of an artwork for example, she claims that there seems to be a trivialization of the body in the “electronic/digital culture”. “The lived-body is in crisis”, as she claims, because electronic visual representation “denies the human body its fleshy presence and the world its dimension”.
Denial of the “flesh” is a general matter of concern in contemporary art practice. Nicholas Blincoe in his article “The death of the body”, draws the attention towards the absence of the body in contemporary art. He talks about the inability of contemporary art and nowadays’ artists to see that the body is absent. “It is as though the body is an unnecessary adjunct to the experience of experiencing”, he argues. So what form does the experience take?
All this made me think about the mechanisms of perception and the phenomenological depth in contemporary “digital” art. There seems to be a kind of conflict between existential phenomenology and contemporary art practice. How do we interpret human experience in an art that seems to become more and more “self-reported”, and a digital culture that moves away from the “flesh”? Can parallels be drawn between the viewer as a “body-in-the-world” and the presence or absence of the human body in art? Or maybe it is a new way of “re-discovering the body”, of addressing bodily experience?
Three Studies for a Crucifixion by Francis Bacon