Király utca is „lively” indeed, but as the Body exhibition finally shows, the price of this life is total dehumanization with the human machine revealing its truths of the living dead. BY MÁRIÓ Z. NEMES.
Due to the radicalization of the continental climate, Budapest becomes a cauldron of flesh from April on. The organic miasma culminates somewhere around the party district, where bodies of countless forms, consistencies and ages bump into one another for a mutual infection. I penetrate it as an anthropologist to begin with, but the apocalypse of human science brings on a panic attack, as the sizzling hyper- corporality is about to absorb me in any minute. On one hand, I find it incredibly ironic that the staff of the JVS Group should open the Body exhibition in Király utca of all places, on the other hand, I am on the verge of cosmic trepidation.
I painstakingly plop out of the street crowd, I try to place my organs into safety, which proves to be impossible, as I once again bump into a group of semi-naked middle-class people while queuing to the ticket counter in order to confess from behind a toned bottom: I have come to look at corpses. I at least have an alibi, I am interested in the cultural representation of the body etc., but what are the people arriving from the horror porn of the city doing here? What sort of truth are they expecting to find on what fundaments?
And then we literally descend into the hell of the body. The peddlers of sensationalism lead us into airless casemates, where proceeding from room to room we can study the structure of the „human machine” (as the texts of the exhibition insist on calling the human existence) sectioned into various organ systems (circulation, breathing, feeding etc.). In the rooms crude video presentations frame the organ or full body specimens that are scrutinized by the visitors sauntering with pious awe or some intimidation. The information content does not surpass the level of Wikipedia, something probably not many people object, as the main attraction is, after all, the collection of plastinated „oriental” (dead) bodies, the sight, closeness and aura of which are consumed by „occidental” viewers with cannibalistic fervour. This is where we find the subterranean alter ego of the everyday sight of Király utca that also disperses the make-believe multiculturalism of Budapest. The colonialist attitude is restored, Western man praises its own corporality – as a human machine – by sacrificing the Eastern „others”. (In this power game even the Hungarian body awareness is relieved from its burden, as it is at last not us representing the barbarian flesh, the role is outsourced to „aliens” deprived of their stories.)
Photos by JVS Group
It is important to stress that these plastinated bodies are not depictions of corpses, but representations of the living body that is turned dead by the clinical-medical gaze. This aestheticization discovers perfect visibility and preserves it as truth, unaware that this operation creates colourless and odourless simulacra. The plastinated bodies are „biopolitical maps” (Petra Kuppers) offering themselves to any appropriation or intrusion. While describing the clinical gaze Michel Foucault writes that knowledge enters the body following the path of the worm, in other words, the pathological approach accesses clinical truth via an act of penetration. „We witness the miraculous transfiguration of the corpse: in days gone it was condemned to rot by stubborn respect, abandoning it to the dark work of decay. Now in the bold gesture that commits no impiety, but merely brings to light, the corpse will become the purest motif of the formations of truth.”
This „miraculous transfiguration” of the dead bodies takes place in Király utca as well, as their primal unfamiliarity is obscured by the poetry of plastination, and the corpses offer themselves to be penetrated in the name of science or history. This, however, has nothing to do with piety, the human machine possesses only efficiency, there is no talk of dignity or sanctity in this underground environment. The spookiest aspect of the collection is nonetheless not the biopolitical appropriation performed by the living, but the revenge of the specimens, as in this space the living organisms turn dead as well, as the penetration becomes mutual. The visitors imitate the specimens, mothers point out the organs in question on the bodies of their children, in other words we merge with the dehumanized corpses in the laboratory of clinical power. This is the uncontrollable eruption of hyper-reality, when the experience of the body is blended with the experience of the image, creating optics in the light of which the bodies of the young couple standing next to me become translucent, so I can glimpse the network of blood vessels under the surface of their skin. I believe I see the embryo in the expecting woman standing left to me. Short of breath I rush up the stairs, but the clinical gaze has almost burned into me, I cannot get rid of it wandering in Király uca, the cauldron of flesh reveals its „true” face. This is real „transfiguration”: after our descent to hell we, too become miraculous human machines following the path of the worm in each other’s body.
Translated by Péter Papolczy