– Autumn/Winter 2006

Bad Example: Andrea Bowers

Mike Sperlinger

Tags: Giorgio Agamben

Gesture Becomes a Destiny

George W. Bush's quip about his gait - 'Some folks look at me and see a certain swagger, which in Texas is called "walking"' - was a kind of declaration of war on human gesture.1 Some two centuries earlier Heinrich von Kleist had a dancer in his short story 'On The Marionette Theatre' (1810) expound the theory that human beings are incapable of the 'natural grace' of a puppet: 'Grace appears most purely in that human form which either has no consciousness or an infinite consciousness.'2 We might speculate where George Bush would fall on that graduated scale; but he is the product of an epoch in which kinesics have increasingly displaced rhetoric and made an anthropologist of every television viewer. It is well over a century since Gilles de la Tourette published his Clinical and Physiological Studies on the Gait (1886), and no one should imagine by now that there is anything straightforward about putting one foot in front of another - not least for a politician. As Giorgio Agamben puts it: 'An age that has lost its gestures is, for this reason, obsessed by them.'3

Andrea Bowers and George Bush have at least one thing in common: they recognise the umbilical connection between body language and the body politic. Bowers is not an anthropologist, quite; she is rather an ethnographer, in minor key, less interested in taxonomy and more in misshapes, mishaps. 'I have tried,' she said recently, 'to search for actions that express individuality where unexpected behaviour occurs or expected behaviour fails to occur.'4 This embraces a

  1. From George W. Bush's acceptance speech for his second term, 2 September 2004, at the Republican National Convention in New York.

  2. Heinrich von Kleist, 'On the Marionette Theatre', in Idris Parry (ed.), Hand to Mouth and Other Essays, Manchester: Carcanet New Press, 1981, p.18.

  3. Giorgio Agamben, 'Notes on Gesture', Means Without Ends: Notes on Politics, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000, p.53.

  4. Andrea Bowers, 'Magic Politics - Feast or Fasting', Cakewalk, no.6, 2004, p.23.

  5. Artist's statement, press material from Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects.

  6. Ibid.

  7. Ibid.

  8. From an interview with Sam Durant and Monica Bonvicini, Neue Review, December, 2003, p.5.

  9. Ibid., p.4.

  10. From an interview with Cara Baldwin at interReview.org, http://www.interreview.org/CBonAB.html. Last accessed 31 July 2006.

  11. See G. Agamben, op. cit., pp.56-57.

  12. Barbara Epstein, Political Protest & Cultural Revolution: Nonviolent Direct Action in the 1970s and 1980s, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993, p.16.

  13. Ibid., p.192.

  14. Claire Bishop, 'The Social Turn: Collaboration and its Discontents', Artforum, February 2006, p.183.