Ann Hirsch

Ann Hirsch is one of the best artists working with networked media and performance today.


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As Rózsa Farkas said of her work last night – as part of her presentation on the Mass Exhibitionism Panel at the Photographers Gallery – Ann’s work has updated performance’s previous reliance on the ‘authenticity of the body’ — which is now not relevant — by putting her entire self – emotions, presence and lived reality* – within the public, performative, body of her performance. In this way, the affective body performs within the network, and its viewers, users, participants, as the artist’s body might have done in the past.

This shift away from the reliance on ‘authenticity’ of the live body, to performance via the narrative of the self, affect and presence brings together an interesting re-ditribution of the  idea authenticity, that as David Levine described in an interview with Dan Fox was often predicated on the supposed authenticity of the amateur, with the practice of practiced performance which in the same interview Levine says has been traditionally treated with distrust:

“Distrust of actors has existed since Plato. To the extent that people are identified with their jobs, the actor poses a real social problem: how can you ever trust someone whose job is to be a fake person? … Actors are people who have the technique to seem realistic under phenomenally arti­fi­cial circumstances; civilians, who always perform convincingly in their daily lives, tend to freeze up in a spectacle. This is where I start to wind up in an argument with a lot of performance art that has traditionally favoured amateurs because that is seen as somehow more ‘authentic’.

However more interestingly than the question of to what extent we could trust memisis or the accuracy (truth behind) representation, is perhaps the extent to which, when authenticity becomes less important and “never hit that point where the performance becomes recursive” this then becomes “experiencing reality as someone else.” and not only this experiencing (existing) representations as something else. Again as Rózsa put it, in this “altered context”** — rather than “virtual and actual experiences are two different types of reality; the virtual as an idealised concept of the actual, and that the two acting in conjunction with each other make up one’s reality as a whole” — where our online lives are as much a part of our, and all those we are connected to’s, material realities, network distribution within social narrative is much more important to the production of the self and the artwork than any false notions of real or virtual as separate entities.

To describe how this distributed production connects the non-separation of the ‘real’  and ‘virtual’ (which has up until recently been conflated with on and offline) to experiencing representation as un-linear or analogous, it makes sense to quote the whole introduction of Rózsa’s talk:

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“The above image is one of many Facebook selfies by Amalia Ulman. I unofficially describe it as ‘Self Portrait with facemask’.

In 1959 Erving Goffman wrote in his book ‘The Presentation of the Self in everyday Life’, that: “Approved attributes and their relation to face make every man his own jailer; this is a fundamental social constraint even though each man may like his cell”
And so here, in Amalia’s selfie, it’s the facemask which really struck me and reminded me of Goffman, that the face is both ones security blanket, or safe cell, but also a tool in which to hide and to perform.
The idea of performing the self isn’t about questioning authenticity or reality, now. In my mind the performed self is not threatened or challenged by our ‘altered context’, but rather it becomes outwardly normalised. Goffman stated the social constraint of the performed face, and I think today’s challenge to his notion is more whether this performance in itself is socially constraining or releasing.”
This is the paradox at the center of Levinas’ ideas of the encounter with the Other, specifically with the Face, in which in the encounter the other person’s proximity and distance is strongly felt. Levinas’ first philosphy of ethics, the Other is not reducible to an object of the self (as was the case in metaphysics), but that the subject is created by the relation to the Other. Hence we have an ethical responsibility to the other that is not derivative of our subjectivity, but foundational to its construction. “It is a paradoxical notion that is suggestive of an immobilizing encounter that facilitates authentic action.” (Meyr, 2007, 1) At the same time as the encounter the revelation of this face, we have already had no choice than to instantly recognise the transcendence and hetrenomy of the Other. The subject thus has a responsibility to the Other through the Face as the presentation of the Other’s qualities in the expression of itself on the encounter which interrupts our “reductive perception and representation of the other” (Hofmeyr, 2007, 2). Further, Hofmeyr goes on to say:
“According to Levinas, the encounter with the other person coincides with the “epiphany of the face”, i.e. the face consists in a manifestation of God. In order to “embody” an expression of this nature and magnitude, the face clearly cannot be reduced to a person’s facial expression. Instead, the face is “invisible” – irreducible to a person’s appearance or representation (TI, 194/168). Precisely because the other defies all fixating representations it can show itself – “express” itself beyond what is seen or understood. This expression is a confrontation because it interrupts our reductive perception and representation of the other (cf. CPP. 20-21).”(Hofmeyr, 2007, 2).
Representation here is contingent on the performance of the self / face across networks and platforms to the extent that it can only form within the presence it has as it is performed between those and where it occurs. This is not the crisis in the image it has been held to be, but that shift into something else; into networked or distributed representation, non-delineated production. This is not based in the idea that the quotidian, or everyday practice of much contemporary image making – including the selfie – makes it more real or non-representational (or authentic in the metaphisical search for truth in perception) but that the image is part of a network of narrative and perfomative forms that are both everyday and symbolic, not located in only one image, as Hito Steyerl said in Venice, 2013, there is no ‘truth’ behind the digital image, the networked digtial image joins all others like the skin of a 3 dimensional shape that is morphing and shifting, but has nothing inside. Rózsa again, “with the idea of ‘The Face’*** in artist practices, and what it may signify now outside of the obvious connection to our self-image, or selfies [then]… Goffman’s face as a cell, has become many cells in the performance of self across increasing and various modes, [and so] then the cell is no longer one’s own (actual) face, or literal representation of this.” but instead could be seen as as an attempt to embody radical passivity as a praxis. Thus we could see Ann Hirsch’s various ‘total’ performances as this radical passivity as a praxis of ethics, performing other ‘Faces’, seeking, through a netowrk of narratives to explore the relationship one has to various subjects of the Other (for example, female celebrity, reality TV, or young female identity as the Other to patriarchy).
While in some ways Levinas’ rejection of perceptually based ontologies, such as Kant’s and his ethical first philosophy which indicates a potentially un-heirarchical relation outwards from the subject (at least in how it might construct the self) towards all otherness (objects, things and people) might suggest some route towards Speculative Realism, I would suggest instead that the lack of responsibility with which SR treats the Other as an object – as described by Svenja Bromberg in her recent essay , The Anti-Political Aesthetics of Objects and Worlds Beyond (2013) as providing a crucial deviation:
” The search for what Diederichsen calls ‘de-reification’ ventures towards that which evades representation, which is not rendered object qua instrumental reason but qua its own force, the dark, the mystic, the animate but soul-less – something that is more truly cold and yet not cold at all. This line of argument, however – which is echoed in Hito Steyerl’s emphatic call for us to finally accept the death of the subject and embrace the forces of construction and destruction, of violence and the possibility stored within things – problematically sidelines the classed, racialised and gendered oppressions of capitalist reality. Within this, masses of people have never been granted any ‘subject status’ in the first place and are, instead, rendered mere objects or even superfluous, because not productive, for capital. From the point of view of these relations, the move towards accepting or even embracing objectification as in itself emancipatory can be nothing more than a bad joke.”
Instead, looking back to a potential praxis of radical passivity, could we look at the framing and making use of devotion (described as such by Matt Drage in the Arcadia Missa Open Office Anthology – Concession of Stages) in Iain Ball’s practice, or that of K-Hole (following Huw Lemmey’s description of it as consumer fiction in Rhizome) as a radical passivity towards objects as part of our subjective, narrative and networked experience. It is potentially arguable that, in this way, objects are not separated from subjects in the means by which Speculative Realism seeks to disengage from anthropocentrism with all the problems associated with this, not least by Bromberg, but rather can be viewed as like the image-component and the narrative and affective component of the selfie, as part virtual world, “as posited by Deleuze wherein it is a facet of reality in its idealised form, yet sits firmly still within reality, and all reality is on the virtual spectrum[1].” (Rózsa, unpublished text.)
Work in Progress

[1] Gilles Deleuze, Dialogues II, 2006

* To the extent that she was a participant in Frank the Entertainer…In A Basement Affair , a reality TV show in which female contestants had to compete for the love of Frank, and ongoing with The Science Channel’s Oddities:

** You can read the whole talk, which was cut short, here
***In the Levinasian sense, see: