Tada! "Reproductive Exile" by Lucy Beech

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First broadcast 119 days ago

Tada! "Reproductive Exile" by Lucy Beech

54min
Ingrid Luquet-Gad about "Reproductive Exile" by Lucy Beech
Art critic Ingrid Luquet-Gad presents "Reproductive Exile" (2018), a video work by Lucy Beech that is part of the Lafayette Anticipations Collection - Fonds de dotation Famille Moulin and produced by the Foundation for the exhibition "The Centre Cannot Hold" in 2018.
The questioning of the human and post-human condition evokes themes dear to the work of American artist Rachel Rose, presented until September 13, 2020.
The Tada! cycle regularly offers critics and art historians a new perspective and an original focus on pieces from the Lafayette Anticipations Collection - Fonds de dotation Famille Moulin.

Following Ingrid Luquet-Gad's presentation, don't miss the screening of "Reproductive Exile", the film will be available exclusively for 2 weeks on our media library.
Naomi Pearce, Trying to Conceive / Reproductive Exile, 2018

With

Née en 1990, Ingrid Luquet-Gad est critique d’art.
Après des études de philosophie et d’histoire de l’art à la Freie Universität à Berlin et à la Sorbonne à Paris, elle est actuellement en charge de la rubrique « art » du magazine Les Inrockuptibles et collabore régulièrement aux revues Artforum, Cura, Flash Art et Spike. Au fil d’essais, de textes de catalogues et de conférences, ses écrits théoriques explorent la complexité, les ambiguïtés et les contradictions des subjectivités individuelles et collectives : leurs représentations, leurs médias, leurs langages et leurs affects, tels qu’exprimés par ces artistes qui dansent sur la crête des temps présents.
Lucy Beech makes films that are often situated between documentary and fiction, and engage with communities of marginalized women.
The artist has explored how contexts such as biomedicine, death, wellness, diagnosis and illness involve the construction of narrative, focusing on power and the production of visibility in relation to the female body as well as structures of care, wellbeing and the economies deployed around these themes.

Alongside her solo practice Lucy Beech has worked with Edward Thomasson (since 2007), with whom she develops choreographies that involve the live construction of sound. She has presented exhibitions and performances at: Tate Britain, Londres (2017); the Liverpool Biennale (2016); Maureen Paley, Londres (2016); Site Gallery, Sheffield (2016); Lisson Gallery Londres, Frieze Live, Londres; James Fuentes, New York; Tetley Leeds; The Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston (2015).
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About

Bibliography

Article of Andrew Kramer, "100 Babies Stranded in Ukraine After Surrogate Births", The New York Times, 16 May 2020 

Hasssam Ihab, The dismemberment of Orpheus Toward a Postmodern Literature., 1971. Oxford University Press.

Hayles N. Katherine, How we became posthuman: virtual bodies in cybernetics, literature, and informatics.1999. University of Chicago Press.

Braidotti Rosi, The Posthuman. 2013

Mcrobbie Angela, Feminism and the Political. 2002. Routledge.

Mcrobbie Angela, Postmodernism and Popular Culture, 2005. Routledge.

Mcrobbie Angela, The Aftermath of Feminism. 2008. Sage Publications.

Transcript

My name is Ingrid Luquet-Gad. I’m an art critic and I work mainly at Les Inrockuptibles. My research focuses on new subjectivities and the way they are reconfigured by new technologies, by all these new things, these new affects, these new devices, which ultimately bring into question the conception of the human and the subject. Today, I would like to explore the theme of the living in art. In a way, life is a non-subject—we know what life is just as we know the human subject and so, in a way, there is no reason for artists to be interested in it. Except that, in the last few years, we have come to realise that life has become problematic again, it has been totally reconfigured. This has led to young artists taking this on and starting to work on this old ontological question that we thought had disappeared five hundred years ago under layers of humanism and a canon more or less centred on the emotional and structural relationships between humans.

Today we’re going to talk mainly about the work of Lucy Beech who is a young video artist born in 1985, and now based between London and Berlin. The video I would like to explore with you is called Reproductive Exile, and it was produced in 2018 by Lafayette Anticipations. It was seen for the first time at the Foundation as part of the reopening exhibition, Le Centre ne peut tenir. This video was presented in a cinematic context, in a dark room where viewers were aware that they were entering a secluded space where the narrative pact prevails.

Lucy Beech’s work plays a lot on devices between reality and fiction. She presents a kind of new normality that is situated on a very fine line between reality and fiction. When they first saw the work in the exhibition, the narrative pact was established with the viewer: they knew they were going to see a piece of fiction, a film, and therefore a plot that was ultimately removed from reality. Today, when we consider it again just two years later, we realise that this new normality has become a bit of a daily routine for all of us. When I saw it again on my computer screen, I experienced the whole effect of confinement, whereby the computer becomes a window between us and the world. So we no longer receive these images in the same way, we don’t know if they’re fake news, we don’t know where they come from—were they shot, are they an advertising video for a pharmaceutical company—and in the end it all becomes blurred.

At the time when I started watching the video, I had read an article in the New York Times on the exact same subject, that is, assisted reproduction in Eastern countries being transformed into a neoliberal enterprise. The New York Times article focused on one hundred Ukrainian babies who were still in transit in a clinic in Ukraine because their American parents had not been able to pick them up as the borders were closed. So it becomes clear how much, in the space of a few years, Lucy Beech’s work has changed and finally speaks to us from this very fuzzy interzone, where the living is at once an object of redefinition—the living is crossed by flows of machines as much as it is by animal fluids—but has also become a neoliberal issue like any other. And so, Lucy Beech’s work is really situated at this interstice, that is to say it is a rather broad ontological questioning on life, the subject, the human, the living—in its borders with the animal, with the machine—but once the theme of life has come back down to earth, we also see the extent to which it has become a capitalist issue and also a gendered distinction of labour.

To get into the subject of the video, for thirty minutes Reproductive Exile follows the journey of a woman who goes to the Czech Republic to be assisted in her reproductive work. In this clinic, she discovers a group of women: there are the women who manage this business, women who are in the same situation as her, and a whole staff of nurses whose role is not very well defined. Through a long tracking shot in which she is always quite alone, we follow her as she crosses several border zones—highways, disused spaces, many airlocks, many waiting rooms, many iPhone screens also—and we realise that rumours are starting to take her over. We don’t really know if the hormones they are going to be injected with are horse hormones, if they’re hormones from menopausal women. They themselves are wondering if the clinic didn’t buy these hormones on eBay; are they not, in fact, used, outdated hormones that have entered this very lucrative business of fertility? The whole film hinges a little on this, we don’t know what’s going on, if these are rumours. We also don’t know the status of this central machine called EVE—Eve like the first woman—that looks like a hard disk coursing with fluids, which the woman will therefore start to identify with. This is when we also understand that the stakes here are not only about life but also really about economics. The film is like that, studded with logos: there’s this Fedex pouch, the mention of eBay, and then also this strange machine that we’re told is something of a new matrix that will make it possible to avoid doing tests on animals. And so there is a switch between ethics and, ultimately, profitability.

The video also shows how life has come back down into this rather blurred zone in which the only way to get away from gender boundaries, from all the binarisms of sex, race, and class, ultimately ends up being through the big neoliberal company which is rethinking everything. We see this group of women who explain that everything is centred on care, on attention, on this work of empathy, but in the end it’s also an extremely lucrative business that goes beyond the borders of nation states. There is still this shift, where the state is no longer providing the assistance that it should to these people. There are two cases in the video: a woman who no longer has a uterus, and a single man. In their countries of origin—we don’t know which, but we assume that they are rather rich Western countries—they could not have access to reproduction. Here in the Czech Republic, as in the case of Ukraine mentioned in the article, it is a much poorer country and therefore a place where it is possible to go beyond this area of non-rights, both in the service of an ethical imperative but also purely for profit.

Lucy Beech’s work thus tackles these new subjectivities, this new fabrication of the living in a laboratory, and is thereby situated in a whole tradition of post-humanist thought. Post-humanism is usually associated with an augmented human; we still understand the human and the post-human through representations that have until now come from the realm of science fiction. We tend to think of the post-human as a human strewn with prostheses or extensions, a superman—in the end life is always thought of in relation to the question of death and overcoming death. All the thinking that comes from the films and the writing of the 1950s focuses on a virtual world that has totally abandoned the flesh. The body no longer exists, we think we’re all going to live in a cloud that will be the best of all worlds and where we’ll all finally be equal.

Post-human thought is often misunderstood in the sense that post-humanism is precisely a matter of rethinking the status of the flesh and of life, but it is quite complex to create representations of life since life is precisely that which cannot be defined, except by opposition, by opposition to death, by opposition to disease, and by opposition to the inert. But in this video, we have this intermingling where life is on the borderline of the machine, the animal, and liberalism, but in the end still is this matter, this heart of flesh and affect that might be its eternal—and in the end much more sensitive and incarnated—heart.

I also wanted to come back to two key works of post-humanism, which show a little bit of the evolution of the living from augmented living to a naked life as defined by Giorgio Agamben. The term post-humanism first appeared in 1970 with a theorist named Ihab Hassan. He wrote a book about the myth of Eurydice and Orpheus which illustrates how we search for the living in the underworld and bring it back to Earth.

The first theorisation of post-humanism from the field of social sciences, on the other hand, comes from N. Katherine Hayles who in 1999 wrote her seminal work on the post-human called How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Little work had been done on this theme up until then, so she relied on literary references from science fiction and film, which speak of a totally different world expressed through signs and a whole set of codes, a world in which there are cyborgs in the end, creatures that we don’t recognise and therefore appear rather than post-human, beyond human. Her book is the first to really do this work of synthesis, so she needed to use all these references, in order to open out onto the question of incarnation, by saying that, behind all these bodies, we need fiction to get out of this post-structuralist thinking that has restricted the human, we need the cyborg to kill Vitruvian man, who in the end is an able-bodied white male. How do we get away from this? It will be through the cyborg, the alien, through all of that, but in the end there is still a body of flesh that remains. Hayles was the first to open her work up to human desire, to the fact that post-humanism cannot be either anti-human nor post-apocalyptic. There is also this idea, of course, that the post-human will necessarily be associated with a planetary war, a space war, something sensationalised like that, which is still dominated by a kind of figuration that is still quite masculine, of domination over nature and other species. At the very end of her book, she writes that the post-human can in fact allow us to escape all that, to escape the canons of the human sciences, to escape the idea of the human being as separated from the animal and from the machine, and who would thus be the master and possessor of nature, and that we can also escape the gendered definition of the human.

It took almost a decade for a second theorist, also a woman, to return to this question of the post-human. In the meantime, the world had changed, all those possibilities that were in the making had become concrete realities through artificial intelligence and the decoding of DNA. In 2013, when Rosi Braidotti wrote her book on the post-human, reality was already informed by all of this. Flows coursed through everything; we already had GMOs, prosthetics, robotics. In her book, she devotes a chapter to assisted reproduction. For her, once these themes were anchored in popular consciousness, she was able to go beyond them and do the work of deconstructing these categories. Rosi Braidotti’s positioning is explicitly feminist, she immediately inscribes the post-human in a feminism that is no longer linked to the female body and therefore no longer linked to reproduction. That is the great shift in the conception of the human, by saying that what remains in the end is the affect, it’s not the body at all. The body remains but as suffering, pleasure, pain, and turmoil. This is also a way of asking what remains of identity when the human is split into flows, organs, and genetic codes.

This is where the terms knowledge and power networks appear for the first time, or at least formulated as explicitly: Rosi Braidotti thinks from an explicitly Foucauldian perspective but tells us that the reality described by Foucault, with its surveillance and bio-politics, no longer is that of the new situation which is even more atomised. Surveillance is now no longer panoptic but computerised and therefore all these systems will have to be rethought in an equally atomised way. She therefore tells us that, as a feminist, the question of power remains central; it is not because we have gone beyond binarisms that men and women are no longer separated and that power structures have been overcome. For her, they have simply shifted, strengthened even.

She tables the idea that the political landscape of the post-human is not necessarily less sexist or less racist, but that we don’t yet have the codes of thought for it. She says that the machine is built on a model that is transgender, that has no gender, but the humans who operate it obviously reproduce this distinction.

In the video Reproductive Exile there is therefore this second aspect which is also central: that science does not liberate individuals. In the end, it’s a way of going against everything that the feminist theorists of the 1990s tried to put on the table, including Donna Haraway, who deconstructed science because, for her, science was explicitly masculine, it renewed the relations of domination over nature. With Lucy Beech, and all the post-humanist writings that have appeared, we realise that science remains an instrument of power for everyone, including this group of women. The way in which they shift the subject is really to show us the power relations that are woven between these different women, one of whom is the head of a company, the other who is in need of assisted reproduction, and the rest who provide care, which is certainly also a way of controlling the group and implanting a logic of collective thought within these individuals who had in fact asked for nothing else than to order their offspring on the internet (there is an explicit reference to the fact that it is done through a website).

We also see the reappearance of a central theme in Lucy Beech’s work, which is the persistence of gendered labour, even within a generally post-human and genderless neoliberal ecosystem. Beech picks up on themes developed by certain sociologists, I am thinking in particular of Angela McRobbie who, at the end of the 2000s, showed that, in the end, neoliberalism and all the creative values that were then associated with work reproduces and solidifies even more the gendered distinctions of labour. She shows that all these values of creativity, of self-realisation through work are not so much an emancipation as a way of fully controlling the body, creativity, and life of these people. In particular, Angela McRobbie discusses fashion, which is a way for many people to free themselves from an identity straitjacket through self-transformation, but which requires total availability and which, in her view, further hardens the gendered distinctions of labour.

Obviously, in a biological field, the duality of the position is evident, because these women are trying to regain control of their own reproduction. An entire section of the film explains that scientists used to be men, but also that the animals on which the tests were carried out, such as the laboratory mice or the horses that appear in the video, were male. The director of the laboratory explains to what extent all this work has been biased, but the fact that these women want to regain control of their own reproduction may also be a way of solidifying these codes.

Lucy Beech’s work sits on a very fine line: one of her films is called Pharmakon to show us that all reality at the same time brings back poisons. This is where Lucy Beech’s discourse really fits with this new normality that’s on everyone’s lips, since you never know, she invents fictions but it’s not fictions that will help us solve a point of reality. They’re not fictions with a narrative arc—with a beginning and an end—but rather a kind of endless recursive loop, where you don’t really know, you’re stuck in a kind of blur and indistinction that it keeps from resolving, but that it will always, on the contrary, make it more complex.

Pharmakon is a film that she made two years earlier for the Liverpool Biennial and it’s also a film that reads in a totally new way today, since all these themes that were discussed through essays and articles, in a rather theoretical way, are now something that we experience on a day-to-day basis, as I showed earlier, through films—firstly through narrative stories—and increasingly through the university canon that is also changing. In Pharmakon a group of women—once again there is this dimension of self-help—who take control of the functions that the state can no longer manage to provide. This group of women encounters a strange epidemic and they have to help themselves, self-diagnose, and test drugs.

Here, too, there is a strange power relationship at play; whereby this palliative dimension, which goes beyond an increasingly privatised and expensive system of care in order to search for alternative solutions, constitutes a power relationship that is also quite tyrannical. We can sense the women’s need to conform to certain mechanisms, to certain gestures that are always the same, and once again we remain in this dimension of being freed from a first oppression only to fall back into another. These women’s relationships remain codified between the woman who is in a position of power, who speaks, who expresses herself, who teaches others how to act, and these women who are not so much in a kind of self-defence or self-healing, but who are content to repeat gestures that they don’t understand either, and who don’t really have any other reference than a charismatic leader.

These purely feminine societies that Lucy Beech stages have ended up no longer paying attention to whether they are women or men because what we see is first and foremost power relationships in a new economy and a new way of conceiving life. Lucy Beech reveals the moment when the living has become an object of knowledge and power, when the question of life is a research theme in its own right, while allowing us to start questioning the wider society in a post-Foucauldian and post-humanist logic.

We can of course also draw a parallel with Rachel Rose, whose work, unlike that of Lucy Beech, cannot really be recognised or defined since she works not on film but on collage and found footage. Rachel Rose’s work and aesthetic is like life, that is to say it is so vast that no shared foundation can be found. In the end, Rachel Rose, who explores stories, modernist houses, and witches’ tales and who goes back quite far in history, deals with the complexity of a common heart. She says herself that she is ultimately exploring life and all these stories are different formulations of these questions that we ask ourselves in relation to life.

It’s true that Rachel Rose, who is Lucy Beech’s peer, ultimately asks herself the same question about life. She asks it in a different way since she’s not even going to answer it with Pharmakon, by clouding the issue, but rather by taking narrative elements and very concrete images and superimposing them. It is also for her a way, she says, of freeing herself from artists who would rather work on death, the afterlife, or the machine.

In fact, she is one of the first, alongside Lucy Beech, to dare to take up this ultimately ontological question and the question of the metaphysics of the living. She is interested in impermanence, and so she says that each specific story is a way of giving sensitive form to this question of life, death, cycle, and generation, all these questions that are not associated with any narrative forms, except that of overcoming them.

In Rachel Rose’s work we also realise the extent to which the question of the affect, of care has become central: all these issues which were previously associated with a feminine essence, with gendered labour, come back in Rachel Rose’s work but as a way of defining the living by saying that what remains is the affect; that at the heart of the cell, at the heart of the egg remains this kernel of affect and of cells and networks.