In-between Sexes. Stranger than Angel

Marina Grzinic

L'Ange. Corps des étoiles
«We require regeneration, not rebirth, and the possibilities for our reconstitution include the utopian dream of the hope for a monstrous world without gender» (Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women, p. 181).
Maria Klonaris’ and Katerina Thomadaki’s work is addressing important questions of gender, reproducibility, equality and difference. Their «intermedia» practice is centered on «dissident bodies,» as the «conjoint Twins,» the intersexual «Angel,» and in the last works «an embryo, as the ‘next human’.» In the following essay I intend to situate some of the relations they explore, like intersexuality, body-visuality and dissident re-articulations, within other contemporary discourses dealing with gender, post modern subject, and normality.[1] Insisting on authorship and authenticity, I have to point out here that although my contextualisation of Klonaris’ and Thomadaki’s work is within recent theoretical discourses, their art explorations started much before, already in the early 80’s. Klonaris and Thomadaki stated: «Our first text on the Angel was publicly performed in 1985, and we elaborated a 2h30 radio broadcast at the national radio (Radio France - France Culture) on the question of the ‘Angel’ already in 1985-86.[2] The Anglo-Saxon writers that are today put in relation with our works started to be present for us only from the mid-nineties on, and since then, we have been very attentive to their ideas.» (Cf. Klonaris/Thomadaki, from a personal transcription with M.G., 2002). The reader has to be aware therefore that before my interpretation or immersion of their work within a theoretical context, a very important history of the figures of the body and codes of articulation of time by Klonaris and Thomadaki always already pre-exists, and that this pre-history is also a specific artistic axiom: «the intersexual ‘Angel’ has pre-existed, as often artistic intuition precedes theoretical elaboration.» (Cf. Klonaris/Thomadaki, personal transcription, 2002).

Klonaris’ and Thomadaki’s work tends to provoke both a confrontation and a contact between visualized bodies and the spectator’s body. Within this confrontation/contact, some «monstrosity» is waiting to be reversed, re-imaged, re-imagined. Klonaris and Thomadaki create an immersive mental space, where the human body – intersexual or female – meets with the outer space. This implies the presence of tele-visual/tele-textual elements – tele in the sense of being completely visible and distant to a gaze that observes us from afar. The work deals overtly with the relation between gaze/screen/image/mirror. Here the gaze as a concept is central to the description of the subject’s psychic engagement with the cinematic apparatus. Even when their work abandons the cinematic apparatus to move toward the exhibition space, the relation between gaze/screen/image/mirror remains central.

Klonaris’ and Thomadaki’s dissident bodies, the intersexual Angel figure and the «monstrous» and sexually ambiguous conjoint twins seem to come very near to the cyborg. Donna Haraway defines the cyborg as a creature in a post-gender world; it has no track of bisexuality, of pre-oedipal symbiosis, unalienated labor, or other seductions to organic wholeness through a final appropriation of all the powers of the parts into a higher unity. The cyborg has no origin in the Western sense – a final irony since the cyborg is also the awful apocalyptic telos of the West's escalating domination of abstract individuation, an ultimate self untied at last from all dependency, a man in space. (Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women, pp. 150-151). The concept of the cyborg, like the concept of the monster, involves a certain engagement with borders and boundaries. About cyborgs, borders, and boundaries, Haraway argues that the cyborg is our ontology; it gives us our politics. The cyborg is a condensed image of both imagination and material reality, the two joined centers structuring possibilities of historical transformation. Donna J. Haraway writes that the cyborg does not dream of community on the model of the organic family, this time there is no oedipal project; (…) it is not made of mud and cannot dream of returning to dust. (Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women, p. 151). However Klonaris’ and Thomadaki’s «mirror figures» were once made of mud and have returned to dust. «They are humans who lived and suffered. But now, they reappear as technologically generated images. The preexisting humans look like matrixes out of which spring doubles and phantoms of the self.» (Cf. Klonaris/Thomadaki, personal transcription, 2002).

Therefore the questions to be posed are: What is exactly the status of these images in relation to the cyborg? How is the relationship machine/human articulated in these works? And what is the place of memory here? My answer to these complex questions is multifaceted. The technology and the body relations show an obsessional insistence on processuality; that is, the sign of a deep process of not forgetting the humans, of calling them into mind. What we witness in Klonaris' and Thomadaki's work is not a process of commenting on the body, on distortions and alterations, but a process of performing them in front of our eyes; encoding them in multi layered media from photography on. The path is a query about the position of the human within sexual, physical, spiritual relationships; looking into its exposures in relation to physical presence and spiritual regeneration: birth and death, pain and lust. The presence here means an authentic and original art work, not a commentary but a direct involvement. Using the body, the physical existence and the language of the bodily created experiences as a politics of the body. The self, the labile existence, vulnerability, all is re-shown here, along with the moment of anticipation, but without fixed solutions. The interaction between the event and the image is compelling, and the body is subjected to diversified intentions and actions. The estranged eye imprinted in the image produces therefore a memory, but with a powerful loss. Klonaris' and Thomadaki's work shows an impossibility to recuperate memory; we can only construct it, always and always again, through desire and absence, with errors and within fiction(s) – what is constructed here is an unprecedented interpretation of (post)humans. Klonaris' and Thomadaki's nomadic bodies force us to see defamiliarazing modes of perception, new paradigms of memory and loss. Exile and alterity are the main positions of the politics of the body developed in Klonaris' and Thomadaki's work. Their work shows an accelerating capacity to intensify perception of memory and the inevitability of permanent loss at such rate that it is simultaneously real and strange. The uncanny, exile and migration, memory and loss are the most persistent figures in their work. Klonaris’ and Thomadaki’s creatures bring to the fore the unstable and tenuous nature of «gender» in itself. Klonaris and Thomadaki state: «The intersexual body is for us a paradigm for an alternative concept of the sexed human, a paradigm which allows people to reconsider rigid ideas about the masculine and the feminine and what has been traditionally theorized as ‘sexual difference.’ Actually an intersexual body does not posess both sexes, but is in-between sexes.» (Cf. Klonaris/Thomadaki, personal transcription, 2002). Contrarily, through mass media and populist rhetoric, we witness a constant process to hold stabile the difference between male and female, the difference that is at the core of patriarchy; patriarchy is based on a constant process of nurturing of this distinction, formulated clearly by Judith Butler as «the distinction between being and having the phallus.» Judith Butler notes, «the phallus would be nothing without the penis» (Butler, Bodies that Matter, p. 84). In fact, she writes «to insist, on the contrary, on the transferability of the phallus, the phallus as transferable or plastic property, is to destabilize the distinction between being and having the phallus, and to suggest that a logic of non-contradiction does not necessarily hold between those two positions» (Butler, Bodies that Matter, pp. 61-62). The phallus is in Klonaris' and Thomadaki's work imagery therefore «consciously absent.» They argue: «The intersexual body looks like a male body but without a penis, the faces of the little conjoint twin boys look like little girls'. But, these are not women (who by definition do not posess a penis, and no one expects them to posess one), but strange deviant bodies.» The result is the non-sustainable body, as Rosi Braidotti would say. This is not the cybernetic body that is in the function of progress and of the capital machine, but it is according to Braidotti «a body as a powerful figuration of the non unitary subject in-becoming.» It is a fluid, nomadic body that is critical of liberal capitalism and of the accumulation of capital, that is a process of fixing in time and space certain identities, certain bodies. Against this fixation in time and space, Klonaris and Thomadaki show us the production of eroticized, emphatic and longing (dis)figurations of the body deeply rooted in the social and natural environment. I can say that what was pioneeringly anticipated in Klonaris and Thomadaki work in the mid 80s – the rethinking of the (post)industrial, modern, human through new technology, can be now theoretically re-articulated also with Braidotti, with her questioning of not simply what we are, but rather of what we want to become!
Judith Butler articulates further that just as the psychoanalytic notion of gender identification is constituted by a fantasy of a fantasy, by the transfiguration of an Other who is always already a «figure» in that double sense, so gender parody reveals that the original identity after which gender fashions itself is an imitation without origin. (Butler, Gender Trouble, p. 138). And this is why the reference to the origin is important. In Klonaris' and Thomadaki's work the question is not to seek the first primordial origin, but to interpolate and to make viable into the «story» the images that already existed there. For Klonaris and Thomadaki the imaged bodies came from a real source: «these bodies come from medical archives.» «There is an origin therefore and this origin has to be declared,» they argue. The process of questioning is then put upside down. What we have here is more true than real! In short, the most border identity events take place in the perspective of radical performance stereoscopic visions. The result is a politics of ideas, and not an ontology of beauty; it is important not to surrender to our own anxiety.

The tradition of reproduction of the self from the reflections of the Other – the relation between organism and machine has been a border war. Precisely in this sense we have to understand Klonaris’ and Thomadaki’s claim that «What we can learn from the intersexual body is the possibility to assume a mobile and unfixed gender position. An intersexual body is a virtual sexual identity and even if the concept of the Angel from 'The Angel Cycle’ refers to contemporary issues of disembodiment via virtual technologies, our point of view has nothing to do with New Age spirituality very often at work in science fiction.» (Cf. Klonaris/Thomadaki, personal transcription, 2002). Klonaris and Thomadaki insist on a difference - a critical difference within and not as a special classification method marking the process of grounding differences, such as apartheid, as Trinh T. Minh-ha suggests. Haraway is also precise when she states: «If the stories of hyper-productionism and enlightenment have been about the reproduction of the sacred image of the same, of the one true copy, mediated by the luminous technologies of compulsory heterosexuality and masculinist self-birthing, then the differential artifactualism I am trying to envision might issue in something else. Artifactualism is askew of productionism; the rays from my optical device diffract rather than reflect. These diffracting rays compose interference patterns, not reflecting images. The ‘issue’ from this generative technology, the result of a monstrous pregnancy, might be kin to Vietnamese-American filmmaker and feminist theorist Trinh Mihn-ha’s ‘inappropriate/d others’.» (Haraway, «Promises of Monsters», p. 299). For Klonaris and Thomadaki it is important that «the particular intersexual body on which «The Angel Cycle» focuses is a REAL human body. «No prosthetic extensions have been used to achieve the intersexual condition» – Klonaris and Thomadaki insist. In such a way as Kate Bornstein indicates, this tells us more about «normality», its construction, and its self-disciplinary nature, than it does about the monster or the transgender! Here the question of the conjoint twins should be taken into consideration. Because they ARE real and absolutely "OTHER". Klonaris' and Thomadaki's bodies shout out: «Je suis un/e étranger/e!» Or: I am a stranger! and not solely an art work. Here the question of an ontological catastrophy is neither delirious, nor trendy - bodily superficial.

Donna J. Haraway describes also this situation through the existence of a category of the «Other» on to which the anxieties of the «normal» are displaced. This Other exists as a category of abjection in order to «properly» discipline the «normal»! It is a situation of representation and articulation that warn us: don’t be like those entities or you’ll be feared, killed, rejected, and/or destroyed. In relation to this topic Kate Bornstein makes a clear distinction between claiming allegiance with a gender and ontologically being that gender. Similarly to Bornstein, Klonaris and Thomadaki do not call for a «world without gender.» In fact, Bornstein thinks that this would be boring and she assumes that «there is gender and it’s very difficult to imagine ourselves genderless. We need to differentiate between having an identity and being an identity.» (Bornstein, Gender Outlaw, p. 117).

For Klonaris and Thomadaki «the particular intersexual body is just a naked human body. The fact that the photograph comes from a medical archive means also that this REAL body, this REAL and historical subject, has endured normalization processes and suffering. The medical context denotes this body as a problematic, ‘ill’ body, as a socially unaccepted body or as some kind of monster.» (Cf. Klonaris/Thomadaki, personal transcription, 2002). This body could be made out of bits and pieces of life and death, of animals and minerals, animate and inanimate objects, but always «rendering the gender ‘unstable’» (Halberstam, Skin Shows, pp. 32-37). This nomadic, non- sustainable condition of life, of art possibility of bodies disability, stays as the only fixed ontological credo in the work of Klonaris and Thomadaki. In this sense we can draw a line that is going from a work of Klonaris and Thomadaki into the theoretical writings of Haraway, Braidotti and Halberstam, ending again in the work and writings of Klonaris and Thomadaki. If it is vicious circle here, then it is just as a Mœbious strip!

In such a way we are confronted with a creature that disrupts a variety of categories, as Halberstam notes. She «locate[s] monstrosity primarily within monstrous gender and monstrous sexuality» (Halberstam, Skin Shows, p. 26). Halberstam writes that «the monster always represents the disruption of categories, the destruction of boundaries, and the presence of impurities and so we need monsters and we need to recognize and celebrate our own monstrosities» (Halberstam, Skin Shows, p. 27). Klonaris and Thomadaki are aware of this moment and try to reverse the movement of monstrosity by «placing the intersexual body at the center of our universe, at the center of the gaze. We take this body out of the medical context and we place it in an astronomic universe (we use astronomic photograpraphs). This means that we attribute to this body an important metaphorical and philosophical meaning. This also implies the relationship between stellar matter and body matter (the same chemistry constructs the macrocosm and the microcosm).» (Cf. Klonaris/Thomadaki, personal transcription, 2002).

The important point here is to get rid of any innocence. Similarly Haraway argues that «A cyborg body is not innocent; it was not born in a garden; it does not seek unitary identity and so generate antagonistic dualism without end (or until the world ends); it takes irony for granted. One is too few, and two is only one possibility. Intense pleasure in skill, machine skill, ceases to be a sin, but an aspect of embodiment. The machine is not an it to be animated, worshipped, and dominated. The machine is us, our processes, an aspect of our embodiment. We can be responsible for machines; they do not dominate or threaten us. We are responsible for boundaries; we are they.» (Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women, p. 180). The creatures produced in Klonaris' and Thomadaki's works are as Homi Bhabha would say: not-quite/not-right. They also speak about the technology of reproduction, about pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and for responsibility in their construction. (Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women, p. 150). Klonaris and Thomadaki emphasize «We use visual and poetic strategies to re-empower this socially marginal body». (Cf. Klonaris/Thomadaki, from a personal transcription, 2002). Similarly as Haraway writes, «every technology is a reproductive technology» (Haraway, «Promises of Monsters», p. 299). She argues: very rarely does anything get reproduced; what’s going on is much more polymorphous than that. Certainly people do not reproduce, unless they get themselves cloned, which will always be very expensive and risky, not to mention boring. Even technoscience must be made into the paradigmatic model not of closure, but of that which is contestable and contested» (Haraway, «Promises of Monsters», p. 299). The consciousness of the technology boundary is crucial. To act within such a boundary field means to react without limits. Klonaris' and Thomadaki's visual models do not originate from an opposition to other art works, and do not directly refer to pictorial inventions, but react to technologies' transformative potential. At work in their universe is not simply an exhaustion of imagery or a simple cloning of images. In their work it is important to pay attention to the technology of reproducibility, but as a source of new possible collective future identity! Klonaris' and Thomadaki's juncture of art, culture and politics seeks to reflect how artists, intellectuals and activists intervene within culture and politics in a critical way, trying to make visible and to reverse the capital logic of the ways citizens, beings, humans are produced, re-circulated and re-constructed.
Marina Grzinic 

in Klonaris/Thomadaki. Stranger than Angel. Dissident Bodies. Cankarjev Dom, Ljubljana 2002

[1]All the quotations and references to Maria Klonaris and Katerina Thomadaki are taken from a personal correspondence trough e-mails, taking place in the last half year. These references can be seen also as parts of a private interview that is now publicly shaped and visible. All the quotations and references from these on line conversations will be marked in the main body of the text as Cf. Klonaris/Thomadaki, from a personal transcription with M.G., 2002, abbreviated as Klonaris/Thomadaki, personal transcription, 2002.

[2] Cf. Klonaris and Thomadaki, "Incendie de l'Ange", multi-media performance, galerie Donguy, Paris, 1985 and broadcast title: «Incendie de l’Ange» suivi de «Petit Traité d'Angélologie.»

Bornstein, Kate, Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.
Braidotti, Rosi, «Between the no Longer and the not Yet: on Bios/Zoe-Ethics,» in M. Grzinic, ed., The Body/Le Corps/Der Körper, Filozofski vestnik, FI ZRC SAZU, Ljubljana, no. 2., 2002.
Butler, Judith, Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of «Sex,» New York: Routledge, 1993.
Butler, Judith, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, New York: Routledge, 1990.
Halberstam, Judith, Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters, Durham: Duke UP, 1995.
Haraway, Donna J, «The Promises of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropriate/d Others,» in: Cultural Studies. Eds. Lawrence Grossberg, Cary Nelson and Paula A. Treichler, New York: Routledge, 1992. 295-337.
Haraway, Donna J, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, Klonaris, Maria, and Thomadaki, Katerina, from a personal transcription with Marina Grzinic, 2002.
Klonaris, Maria, and Thomadaki, Katerina, «Corps dissidents à l’ère numérique,» in M. Grzinic, ed., The Body/Le Corps/Der Körper, Filozofski vestnik, FI ZRC SAZU, Ljubljana, no. 2., 2002.
Klonaris, Maria, and Thomadaki, Katerina, «Intersexuality and Intermedia. A Manifesto,» in M.Grzinic, ed, col. A. Eizenstein, The Body Caught in the Intestines of the Computer and Beyond, Maska, Ljubljana, 2000

Le Cycle de l'Ange (1985-1993)
Le Cycle de l'Ange (1994-2003)
Stranger than Angel
The Angel Cycle

Photos: copyright Maria Klonaris/Katerina Thomadaki. 
Texts copyright: the writers