The Horizons of Horror

28/10 —30/10 2016

with Anselm Franke, Bracha L. Ettinger, Melanie Bonajo, Laboria Cuboniks (Diann Bauer, Helen Hester), Anja Kirschner, Sam Basu and Anke Hennig

From 28-30 October we came together at Künstlerhäuser Worpswede to explore the horizons of horror-concerned with its meaning for our contemporary culture. The notion of “horror” functioned as as a fluid ooze that facilitated the transgression of disciplinary and methodological boundaries infecting discourses in the humanities and sciences. We invited practioners, curators and theorists to take historical, psychological, zeno-feminist and ecological approaches.

This symposium proposed that horror is a necessary tool to understand and foreground strategies that undo a conventional and outdated understanding of binary oppositions (such as inside/outside, self/other, natural/artificial) in order to better describe the complexities of contemporary phenomena in their material, technological and political histories that ‘haunt’ them because positive possibilities immanent to them were abandoned.

Our aim was to detach horror from its drive towards death, negativiy and nihilism. Taking the liminal border space of horror as our point of departure we harnessed monstrous ways of becoming and radical reconfigurations of subjectivity.

The symposium opened with a keynote speech by Bracha L. Ettinger (visual artist, philosopher, and a theoretician in the realm of French feminist psychoanalysis). Ettinger presented her paper on the fascination and pleasure derived from the capacity of horror and horror-fiction, to both touch upon the violence of trauma and to retraumatize. Following up with her critique of the ‘mother-monsters’ of psychoanalytic theory she introduced the Laius-Complex, based on the story from greek antiquity of Oedipus’ father, which she analyses as the subject position of a veritable father-monster. Whilst she criticizes the common shortcut between uncanny anxiety and awe in the presence of an artistic sublime, she argues for a psychoanalysis that allows for jouissance and a ‘sacrifice without sacrifice’, emphasising links between trauma and new forms of beauty and the sublime.

Helen Hester (academic) and Dianne Bauer (artist and writer) of the zeno-feminist working group Laboria Cuboniks gave two related presentations. Hester Hester took Linda Stupart’s 2016 book Virus as an example to discuss the tensions between discourses about objects and those about objectifcation, looking at difering approaches to boundary work, and ofering a number of occult images of feminism (alien, witch, virus, cyborg). Dianne Bauer looked into Thomas Ligotti, Thomas Metzinger, Ray Brassier, James Traford and Ripley’s questioning of the decapitated robot Ash in Alien (1979) to think through the horror of living with consciousness, attempts to be a realist in the face of what can be known and the productive possibilities of alienation of consciousness from fnitude.

In her performance lecture Can I Get a Cuddle? Horror or Fun: on the ethics of non human labour onlineMelanie Bonajo (artist) drew on her collection of thousands of online animal pictures and videos, amassed by the artist over a period of 10 years. Surveying a wide array of amateur and scientific depictions of animals online, Bonajo was asking if our access to countless animal pictures on the internet has the potential to modify our bias that only humans possess self awareness, language, culture, land and customs.

Anselm Franke (curator, HKW Berlin) gave an overview of the Western imaginary of Animism in the context of colonialism and its postocolonial fate in globalised capitalism. With the proliferation of technoindustrial culture the mastering things and reification of beings takes such an intensity of opression that Animism emerges as a symptom of Western culture. Western Modernism and Animism are the front and the backside of one an the same coin. He took his starting point from Michael Taussig’s reflections on terror and modern statehood. Taking a detour through modern art history in its aesthetics of liminality, monstrosity, ghostliness and animation in relation to colonial and capitalist histories he discussed the curatorial propositions of his 2012 Taipei Biennale Modern Monsters / Death and Life of Fiction, and what theese mean to politicize the genre-conventions of speculative fiction.

The symposium is generously funded by