Medial Inversion as an Artistic Strategy: An Analysis of Two Contemporary Works of Art

By Robrecht Vanderbeeken.

Published by The International Journal of the Image

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

Contemporary artists use all sorts of artistic strategies in order to generate a creative demarche, e.g., deconstruction, alienation, contextual displacements or antinomian juxtaposition. This presentation aims to make explicit a different kind of strategy in which the common approach of an artistic medium is used as a background to do something completely different. In such cases of so-called medial inversion, artists take the leading tendency in a genre as a stepping stone and radically work against it, for instance by returning to an outmoded mode of production.
By way of illustration, an analysis of two different cases is given. The theatre performance ‘Springville’ (2009) of the Belgian performance artist Miet Warlop puts the many-sided image of catastrophe on stage. Instead of developing a dramatic play supported by different technical media, Warlop skips text, uses simple living props as characters, and returns to the lively and cheerful slapstick of the silent film age. The precariousness of this live event, which probes a peculiar suspension due to the possible failure of the different acts, brings in a special political dimension that underscores the vulnerability of our contemporary culture.
The documentary art film 'Not Waving, But Drowning' (2009) from the Belgian director Elias Grootaers brings a film portrait of Indian refugees intercepted by the Belgian coast police during their journey to London. Although the documentary art genre of the last decade is heavily experimenting with exhibitionistic testimonies and performative approaches, Grootaers inverts this tendency. In contrast, he chooses a subtle and poetical aesthetics within a classical, observative stance. Due to this atypical positioning, the power and authenticity of the film is maximized.

Keywords: Medial Inversion, Artistic Strategies, Documentary Art, Theatre, G. Debord, Catastrophe, Precariousness, Homo Sacer, Refugees, Aesthetics, N. Bourriaud, T. Adorno, J. Rancière, S. Bruzzi, S. Žižek, B. Brecht

The International Journal of the Image, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp.69-86. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.343MB).

Dr. Robrecht Vanderbeeken

Professor, Theory Department, Academy of Fine Arts Ghent, University College Ghent, Ghent, Belgium

Robrecht Vanderbeeken obtained his PhD in Philosophy in 2003 at the University Ghent with a dissertation that brought an analysis of the explanation of action from a philosophy of science’s perspective. He has published widely in magazines, academic journals and books on subjects ranging from metaphysics to aesthetics. He was a researcher at the theory department of the Jan van Eyck Academie in The Netherlands (2004-2006) and is/was a visiting lecturer at the postgraduate institute Transmedia in Brussels, the higher Institute of fine arts (HISK) in Ghent, Sint-Lucas Art academy in Ghent and the School of Social Sciences at Brunel University London. Since 2007 he has been Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Faculty of Fine Arts (KASK) at University College Ghent. He is currently doing research into performance, fine art and the cultural-philosophical implications of technological evolutions.