Bio-aesthetics (Conceptual cluster 5: Conceptual Crisis)
Some years ago I took a course called Bio-aesthetics led by art historian David Joselit. It was a great course, simply because David is such an inspirational figure. Beyond reading Deleuze/Guattari Anti-oedipus, Foucault Discipline & Punish, Agamben Homo Sacer, we also watched several Andy Warhol movies, read The Ticket that Exploded (William S. Burroughs) and A Novel by Warhol. After all, it was a course in the art history department. But, how then did Warhol and Burroughs contribute to the discussion in class on bio-politics and bio-aesthetics? It’s hard to remember…yet, Wallenstein’s so informative article (I wish I had read it, when taking the course!) makes me go back to what I do remember…
Well, I think, Warhol’s movies and texts reveal much of the atmosphere and microcosm that existed among the people and within the working environment of the factory. The movie Chelsea Girls, definitely reveals a particular social interaction—a power structure, and exertion of relationships that were constructed through the people that seem to have been drawn to the factory; a great array of insecurity, the necessity to be seen, primadonnas and lost bodies. I think that Warhol’s interest in filming and documenting the interactions was specifically in expressing these relationships, where the body was central. The close-up discussions and action illustrate how the people—the actors—are making use of each other, exerting power, establishing rules, faking laughter’s, playing games. To me, the movie illustrates insecurity—or as by way of how Wallenstein describes Foucault’s concept of ‘security’ “…security can be said to work with a set of fluid conditions, constantly fluctuating quantities, and future probabilities.” P.52.
With the camera Warhol documented a kind of control society within the factory environment where the bodies were expropriated and used. The film Chelsea Girls is an artwork where Warhol captures this specific environment. Warhol’s movies and A Novel provided a setting, but hardly ever the actors were given instructions (as I have understood it) and therefore the action that takes place—the interplay between the people and their environment—fascinates me in relation to understanding how Wallenstein takes apart the concepts biopolitics and biopower.