The Goo of Art: Necropastorals, Woundscapes, Blood and B-movies

by on Mar.03, 2011

In a recent post, James wrote:

“With both–and with Grosz too, I would say– we’re left with an aesthetic that I like to think of as the abandoned house approach to art. You go in and wander around, but no one lives there anymore.”

In her post about “Strange Meetings” in the Necropastoral, Joyelle wrote:

“This spasming, ampersanding, defective interpenetration, with its goo-, moan-, and pity-effects, is of course a model of politics and temporality completely alien from liberal models of the body and the state, of points and events, of agency, of hierarchy, of flowcharts of power, linearity, historical time.”

Both of these makes me think about B-movies. Of course Plath with her goo-language and Wilfred Owen with his already-kitsch imagery of the war don’t feel out of place in discussions about B-movies. Nor for that matter does Trakl, whose poems often feel like the accounts of serial killers and madmen.

Here is a trailer of Aase Berg’s favorite movie, The Beyond:



I would ad to James’s statement that Art might be a haunted house. What I like about b-movies like this is the way the shoddy production and shoddy plot leads to a breakdown of the illusion of representation, but not in a way that it lets me have some kind of easy distance from it. I’m often quite taken in by these movies – but not by the emotional depths of the characters (they don’t tend to have much of that, thankfully), but by suspense and by a kind of theatrical materiality.

It’s a little like I imagine Allan Kaprow’s happenings or, better still, Joseph Beuys’s happenings: a visceral interaction with material, with stuff. “Surfaces that generate sensations.” Beuys’s was criticized by the Fluxus people for being too theatrical, and this is what – to me – makes him so much more interesting than the Fluxus group with their oppressive anti-theatricality, oppressive “everyday-ness,” their oppressive emphasis on the true life (vs reproduction, theatricality);

From Megan Milk’s recent post on Justin Bieber:

In Platonian terms, then, the simulacrum is a degraded copy — and Baudrillard shares in this sneering at the simulacrum. Deleuze however recuperates it from this assumption of ‘degradation’ (or maybe more so from the assumption that degradation is negative, automatically inauthentic because impoverishing to the Original). For Deleuze, the simulacrum is not so much a false pretender as an active pretender, a pretender that pretends “underhandedly, under cover of an aggression, an insinuation, a subversion, ‘against the father,’ and without passing through the Idea.” In other words, the simulacrum enacts the falsity of the Original – like Butler’s drag.

The goo-quality of the horror movies for me evokes not just Beuys’s fatty substances but also Matthew Barney’s goo (which I got all over myself when I went to his retrospective at the Guggenheim a few years ago):

Art is not just “violence” (though it is that too as Barney notes in this piece) but also in that goo. That goo is art.

We see this connection between Art, Violence and Liquids in poetry as well:

“[Kevin] Bacon has been beaten with broken bottles and has had his chest smashed in with a large flaming couch section. A mob of whites poured gasoline all over his chiseled stomach and then lit him afire. Brad Pitt lay next to him, his stomach breahtless and glistening in the flame’s light. […] The bodies did not burn. They did not char or turn black. They simply shined in sweat.[…] Brad Pitt’s dying, and how he eventually turned over on his stomach, his penis turned down and scrape-fucking the street – Brad Pitt ejaculating and on fire, the liquid shooting out of him as he looked up, staggered to his feet to let out something between groaning and laughter out to the black sky. Though Pitt had been beaten with bottles and wood, it was not clear where he was hurt, only that he was a screaming surface, dripping with lit gasoline and semen.” (From Ronaldo Wilson’s Narrative of the Brown Boy and the White man)

Or:

“…Guinea pigs are swarming. They are born, they hatch out of caves and holes… Everywhere the membranes, everywhere their bloated puff bellies. We run with the heart in the tunnel, you and I, while nervous systems break down behind, while the amniotic fluid surges in the pumping, pulsing chasm. Rotting acids and guinea pig lymph are streaming yes streaming down the walls…”

The fluid of art run between surfaces, penetrate and leak in/out, thus denying the inside/outside division. The house itself seems to bleed in The Beyond, the guinea pig is like a giant female body, and the fluid infects everyone so that even the “love” in the end has become a “treacherous guinea pig organism.” This is the fluid of Art. The goo of Art.Or as Berg’s third collection would have it: “tranfer fat.” Transfer is media. Media reproduces. Art is the transfer, the “mediumizing” (ouiji boards etc).

Related are insects that swarm and penetrate us – whether in Plath’s “Arrival of the Bee Box” or Berg’s insectoid guinea pigs or in The Beyond, the spiders that poke out eyes (making holes, wounds) or crawling into mouths to lay eggs. Teenage girls swarm for they are the most mediumizable bodies (see Megan’s entry). The coherence of the body is broken down: the original, the interior, the meaningful gives way to counterfeits and intensities. But more about that later.

Another related body: Nathalie Djurberg’s claymation bodies. The claymation suggests no difference between inside and outside; they both have incredibly potential to develop wounds or orifices, terrific potential to intricate outwards, not in a hierarchcial way but like a termite artist, like a gothic artist, like an “excessively ornamental” art.

3 comments for this entry:
  1. James Pate

    I’ve been thinking about the horror-cult/pseudo-pagan-ritual film Begotten recently, and I think the opening, with the self-destructive humanoid god figure, relates to this notion of goo and spillage.

    As you say, “the coherence of the body is broken down” and the viewer is also in danger of becoming stained/dirtied/infected. Hence the extreme reaction viewers have of the film, either hating it, or, like Susan Sontag, saying it’s one of the ten best films of all time.

    One of the things that’s amazing in that opening scene in Begotten is how the grainy quality of the picture makes the viewer aware that this is a film, that this is fantasy and performance, and yet that very aspect of performance adds to the horror. It feels like footage we shouldn’t be watching. It’s obscenity in the strongest sense of that term.

  2. megan

    because i’m editing a divinity student’s thesis right now, i’m thinking about how transubstantiation might fit into this theorization — the goo of the eucharist in the mouth, in many mouths, the ingestion of christ’s body as transferred onto the host, the haunted house of the church. the idea of bodily transfer and corpse-eating would be quite horrifying in any other context; jesus christ’s zombie flesh. surely some b-movie has exploited this, or jodorowsky. the transfericity of religion v. the transfericity of art – how would you relate the two, if you would?
    lots to chew on, heh – thanks for this post, i’ve gotta see these movies.

  3. Johannes

    I totally agree. In fact I just wrote a thing for Joshua Marie Wilkinson’s blog about Velvet Underground’s “Heroin” (“I feel just like Jesus’ son”) that delves into this connection a bit. Not just the worshipper either but Jesus too – violence turns his body into art, puts his wounded body into circulation (as “Christianity”).

    Johannes