‚Jenny Brockmann: #LIMITS’ by Linda Rocco

Jenny Brockmann: #LIMITS
At Goethe Institut London

The discursive performative installation Jenny Brockmann: #LIMITS curated by the author of this text at the Goethe Institut London refers to the allegory of skin. As the largest and most versatile organ in the human body, the skin acts as a shell delimiting the inside from outside to protect us against environmental influences and maintain homeostasis, our inner balance. Jenny Brockmann: #LIMITS will set up a public laboratory in the library and auditorium of Goethe Institut London for four weeks, centred around the interactive sculpture Seat#12, discursive materials as well as objects and thought cartographies.

Unfolding through three curated events at Goethe Institut London, #LIMITS will look into the properties of skin from a literal and metaphorical point of view, considering processes of regeneration and permeability in relation to digital technologies. To this end, guests and the public will be invited to introduce questions on the relationships between inside and outside, permeability, sensitivity, and the shifts within and dynamics of demarcation, identification and re-identification.

Referring to the work of French psychoanalyst Didier Anzieu on body-centred theories and approaches to human subjectivity, Jenny Brockmann: #LIMITS refuses binary oppositions of body and mind, inside and outside, perceiving dualities as radically relational and interconnected. Following the psychoanalytic tradition beginning with Freud’s idea that the ego is first and foremost a body ego, therefore psychic phenomena are always embodied, Azieu further identifies the skin as the origin of the ego – not just its container. According to Azieu, the skin operates as a surrogate ego in the infant, and it is the primary site of a rudimentary understanding of the newborn’s own body in relation to the one of its caregivers. In the early stages of development, a newborn does not understand itself as a singular human entity, nurturing the phantasy of a ‘shared skin’ with its caregiver. Azieu calls the ‘body ego’ that initial state of a not fully-formed ego, mainly played out on and through sensorial stimuli. As the baby grows, the transition from the shared skin domain to a developed skin ego requires both a physical and mental understanding of a skin of one’s own, which goes through the traumatic loss of the fantasised shared skin. The relationship to the caregiver’s body, as the source of nutrition and care, demonstrate the intrinsic relational nature of the embodied experience. At this point, Anzieu recognises specific functions related to the skin ego which are crucial in developing one’s own subjectivity. Announced in 1974 and expanded furthermore in 1995, the eight functions of the skin ego maintain and protect the psychic system, as flesh does for the organs in the human body. By privileging the surfaces of the human being, both in a psychic and somatic sense, Anzieu argues that the superficial is at least as necessary as the profound.

Critical to each event, or Entanglements, is the sculptural installation Seat#12. Mounted on a single central axis, #Seat12 is a kinetic sculpture developing from a wood base into 12 aluminium branches, which are 12 seats for people facing each other. Displayed together with discursive objects and cartographies, Brockmann’s situated discussions welcome casual audiences and invited speakers, expanding the artistic process beyond institutional contexts.

As part of the programme, Entanglement #1: Into Out-of Skin explores modes of communication as tools for knowledge exchange. The workshop challenges assumed relationships between sender and receiver, considering the pre-eminence of speech as a system of exclusion. Entanglement #2: Show me your Skin, is a focus group with students and researchers from different backgrounds coming together in a process of negotiation. Reflecting on the surplus value generated through the juxtaposition of diverse expertise, participants will tackle notions of opacity in analog and digital media. Entanglement #3: Artificial Skin Poetics utilises the dynamic regenerative processes of skin and cells to discuss smart textile applications and machine learning. The workshop will aim at producing new experiential knowledge through the audience active participation.

The theoretical underpinning at the core of Brockmann’s inclination to activate the viewer through her work refers to Nicolas Bourriaud Esthétique Relationnel (1997) and Umberto Eco The Open Work (1962). The collaborative ethos looking at coalition through affinity suggests links to Donna Haraway Cyborg Manifesto (1985); and the notion of embodied knowledge points to the work of French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, particularly the writings on The Phenomenology of Perception (1962) and the Structure of Behavior (1963).

#LIMITS is a public laboratory facilitating unusual conversations amongst experts and amateurs, proactively assembled to reflect on the manifold analogies of skin, cells, and digital behaviours. The unpredictability of the events considers the inherent limitations of language and embraces moments of doubts and misunderstanding as inevitable features for the constructed encounters.

September 2021