| The Milieu
of the Dead
Exercise, study, interview
Installation by Hannah
“It is namely an error
to assume that the dead are dead.”
The first portrait was that of a corpse. A look
in the face of someone dead was the earliest image that humans made
of humans. A puzzling image, for the corpse is a doppelganger, it
shows the deceased, it is his/her face, and yet at the same time
the corpse exposes its absence, the face of the dead. The corpse
is itself already a double – we perceive simultaneously the
sign of presence and absence on/from the corpse. Someone is there
and gone: an actress who plays a corpse must be able to represent/embody
this paradox. The film team observes attentively how perfectly she
performs lifelessness, whether she succeeds in becoming the inert,
lifeless image of herself.
In contrast, when we look at someone deceased we search for signs
of life, sings which enable recognition and trigger remembrance:
while we are alive the dead are not dead.
Photos: Armin Bardel
A stable link, a form of behavior, the
attempt to find a common language for this relationship is problematic.
In this regard, the Milieu of the Dead examines a geographical problem:
where is the place for those who are no longer there but continue
to have needs and make demands of those alive?
Popular culture is obviously a good abode for the dead, for they
are currently romping around there in films, TV series, literature
and comics. In contrast, philosophy and psychoanalysis is a poor
milieu, science and scholarship in general denies the presence of
the dead, here they are declared into allegories, phantoms, ghost,
fictions of our imagination, and shunted off to the realm of symbolical
But it’s not really that simple.
The dead are independent and present, and they have long nestled
in with us in their utter ambivalence. It remains unclear who actually
acts first here, who sees whom first, and if not the dead approach
me, speak through me, or I translate my own inner voice. Our relationship
with the dead is based on error and doubt. The paradox of the corpse
remains as well. What is needed is systematic research into kindred
relationships. The Milieu of the Dead offers three experimental
setups for this purpose: a dynamic mediation exercise which visualizes
the passage from a living person to the image-creation of the deceased;
secondly, an interview on the acting technique for portraying a
corpse; and thirdly, an encounter between three scientists/scholars,
who over several days meet at the Vienna Secession to conduct public
interviews and talks. On this basis they formulate a research proposal
which shall explain the prerequisites and conditions for creating
a good, plausible common milieu between the living and the dead.
The Milieu of the Dead
Actress: Susanne Sachsse
Scientists: Dr. Philipp Ekardt, Prof. Dr. Petra Gehring, Prof. Dr.
Voice: Klaus-Dieter Klebsch
Video: Philipp Hochleichter
Sound: Tito Knapp
Architectural drawing: Florian Stirnemann
Maske: Tan Binh Nguyen
Advice: Alice Chauchat, Florian Stirnemann
Assistance Video: Anne Kathrin Lewerenz
Thanks to: Elisabeth Bronfen, Vinciane Despret, Gertrud Koch, Thomas
Co-production: Wiener Festwochen, Theater Oberhausen und Mobile
Fashion expert Philipp
Ekardt is a Research Associate and Junior Faculty member
at the Peter Szondi-Institute at the Freie Universität Berlin.
He has published scholarly articles on Walter Benjamin’s philosophy
of fashion and Georg Simmel’s fashion sociology. He has lectured
on fashion-related topics at Harvard University, the Warburg Institute
(London) and Oxford University. In his work, Ekardt has investigated
the interrelation between la mode and la mort, in the sense of fashion’s
structural implication with processes of transience and non-permanence,
but also concretely in the sense of fashion’s appropriation
of the color black (“nous célébrons tous quelque
enterrement” – Baudelaire). He is the author of numerous
pieces of fashion criticism. Among his interview partners have been
fashion theorist Barbara Vinken and designer Helmut Lang.
Petra Gehring is
professor of philosophy at the TU Darmstadt. The focal points of
her work include the history of the concepts of “life”
and “death”, theories of demarcating the boundaries
between states of being awake, sleep and dreams, as well as political
issues concerning dying in modern biomedicine. In 2011 she published
an introduction to theories of death (Theorien des Todes: Zur Einführung,
Hamburg 2011), which was preceded by a work on the concept of biopower
(Was ist Biomacht? Vom zweifelhaften Mehrwert des Lebens, Frankfurt/New
York 2006) as well as co-editorship of a volume on the ambivalences
of death with Marc Rölli and Maxine Saborowski (Ambivalenzen
des Todes. Wirklichkeit des Sterbens und Todestheorien heute, Darmstadt
Prof. Dr. Karin Harrasser
teaches and researches at the University of Art and Design Linz.
Her research on the the cultural and epistemological history of
prosthetics founded her interest in the relation of living and dead
entities. She thinks that death as an intangible threshold can hardly
be the object of science but it can be assessed through cinematic
images. She is currently working on a small book with the title
"Body 2.0. On the technological extension of the human"
and is convinced, that symbolical and social extensions are more
interesting then technological ones. She also tries to think along
the lines of Alexander Kluge, Gilles Deleuze and Siegfried Kracauer
when it comes to time, mortality, and history.