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A Word About the Body (the body in a word), 1980

The vastness and immensity of the human body has been an unfailing subject of philosophy, literature and art in times of prosperity and relative social peace. Ancient art as well as Renaissance art raised the position (importance) of the body to the highest level paying attention to its beauty and caring little about the hygiene of the body or its defecating functions. The body represented in the Belvedere Apollo or Apollo with the Lizard is in point of fact a splendid and beautiful doll which it is impossible to imagine in the act of performing a physiological function. In this case, have to do with idealization of the body whose nakedness and perfect proportions were a divine canon put on votive altars.

Puristic Christianity ushered in spurious contempt for the body. The mortal body is only a transient from and while abiding in it man should see to his salvation. Contempt for the body was the leading philosophy of thinkers (Origen’s selfmutilation, in comparison with which Schwarzkogler’s gesture is a banal repetition) and reformers like St Francis. This may also account for the great eagerness shown in condemning heretics to auto-da-fé. If a man burned alive manages in his last convulsive thought to make his peace with God, he may be redeemed. But at the same time, it is the thought of the Christian Middle Ages that is the mother of the thesis, “A snake leaves no trace on stone, a fish in water, a bird in the air and a man on a woman”…… There is hardly a better interpretation of the sovereignty and freedom of the body. The wide-spread movements of flagellants and stigmatists were in fact forerunners on flagellation practices so vividly popularized by de Sade on the threshold of our times.

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Having such noble lines of descent: an aesthetic and a mystical-existential one, the modern artist has to take the decision of defining himself in a complex coordinate system. First, he must answer the question, what is the limit of art and where is the limit of the body? The body of art has a concrete dimension and materiality which is a derivative of the size and physiological conditions of the body which in turn is a case for the soul. The determination of this limit in for me a basic problem. It is a commonplace to say that an oil painting or a pencil drawing is an extension of the movements of the hand of the artist’s heart and mind (i.e. his body). If we overlook the result of the work and focus our attention on the mere process, we shall be able to see a much broader perspective of the body. The body is unique and each of its gestures, twitches, paroxysms or spasms of pleasure is unique and inimitable. In a civilization of gadgets and mass production, the body is a stimulating garden of personalism. Thus Body Art is the first place the joy of manifesting one’s own uniqueness.

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Vulgar materialists persist in croaking about the frail constitution and finiteness of the body. It is true that at the very moment of death the whole of the human brain turns into a heap of disordered atoms which will decompose in the earth into manure. Consequently, the body may be a useful manure for grass. If, however, we adopt a little more elevated point of view, we can say that the body is a uniform for spiritual energy, mental energy. Characteristic is the interdependence of Word and Body contained in St Luke’s Gospel, “And the Word was made Flesh, and dwelt among us”. This worldly dwelling is a transient from for the energy of the word or thought: the word can dwell with us here and now but when the first heaven and earth have passed, it will dwell in another world. On earth, now, this other world is art. The body can be dismantled, but Body Art as an idea persists.

Natalia LL
December 1980

Translated by Henryk Holzhausen