This essay published in the art journal Periphery in 1997 a year after my contribution to Volt, "Degrees of Freedom: Friction". It puts that work into the context of my contemporary performances at that time. Images from works quoted in the text (such as "Peace Car through Europe") can be viewed in the Machines and Performances wings of the gallery. Other essays relating to my work "Degrees of Freedom: Friction" 1997 by Beth Jackson, Linda Carroli and Ceallaigh Norman published in Eyeline 1996 can be read from the library.
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The castration complex raised to an art form


Ceallaigh Norman


Two Division, Boggo Road, the old Brisbane Gaol, Queensland. Now a site for social, tourist and art voyeurism. A complicated site - haunted as it is with the pain inherent in a history of incarceration and corruption. Arthur Wicks navigates the historic tensions and legacy of misery in one of his infernal machines. In this performance entitled Friction: Moments Of Inertia, Wicks puts blood into the machine in an era of two way prosthesis; the machine as prosthetic to the human, the human as prosthetic to the ma­chine. Wicks' work operates within the blurred boundaries of this binary, the arena where self and other collide, pulling and tearing at each other, thwarted attempts at transcendence while being incarcerated by the functioning dysfunction of the human's relationship to the machine, the machine's relationship to the human.

This internal/external conflict is played out as the vehicle spits stasis and motion, never fluid and as ineffi­cient to speed as the gaol is to reform; here the Flintstonian meets the draco­nian. The vehicle creaks and groans, tenuous in its function, precarious in its solidity. A radio-microphone amplifies its straining, crunching movement and the sounds resonate through gaol cells into molecular cells, bouncing against walls and through bodies. The wheels are removed and the machine meta‑morphoses into a somnambulistic chair. Wicks autistically rocks in the corner. Finally the internal provides the only line of flight.

There is movement but the notion of movement is exposed as a problematic of perception. Deleuze and Guattari argue that 'movement ... is by nature imperceptible. Perception can grasp movement only as the displacement of a moving body or the development of a form. Movements, becomings in other words, pure relations of speed and slowness, pure affects, are below and above the threshold of perception.' The imperceptible becomes perceived through the process of 'jumping from one plane to the other or from the relative thresholds to the absolute which co-exists with them.'2

Wicks' facial features are con­cealed and distorted by a mask of latex, anonymous yet familiar, the subject is transformed into the generic. Arthur Wicks is not Arthur Wicks, he is 'The Rider.' His suited and caged body labours to power the vehicle in a fraught merging of body and machine, scrutinising the everyday by the creation of an imaginary space that is real, counteracting alienation through the creation of that alienating space.

Unrelentingly, The Rider of the infernal machine searches out lines of flight in a pre-defined territory: infinite tangents within this space of confinement. Neither subjective nor objective but, as Virilio might say, `trajective'. Wicks performs that dilemma identified by Virilio who states: 'despite various recent studies and debates concerning internment, and the carceral deprivations affecting this or that society denied its freedom of move­ment ... it seems we are still incapable of grasping seriously the question of trajectory, except in mechanical, ballistic or astronomical terms. Objec­tivity and subjectivity, certainly; but never trajectivity ... it seems there is no place between the objective and the subjective for the `trajective'.3 Strait­jacketed by the psychoanalytic curse of `the other'.

In 1990 Arthur Wicks took the Peace Car for a 'European' Tour. This Armoured Car is part of the same vehicular series. In the press release for this tour Wicks states: 'As we ap­proach the end of this millennium I become very conscious of the role of the machine - its apparent strength and scale, but more importantly, its increas­ing irrelevance and uselessness at this point in our history. Each of my machines (and this is the third in a series) work in an ironic and "out of sync" way. Their appearance and function are at odds with one another. The "armoured car" for instance, appears ready to "attack" and "defend" — but against what? It has survived an action that we can only guess at. Its functions have been programmed by the forces that are no longer relevant. Only a ritualistic and meaningless pattern of behaviour remains.'4

As part of this tour, Wicks as The Rider marked one of his vehicles with the physical divide symbolic of twentieth century politics; from the Potsdamer Platz in West Berlin to the Brandenburg Tor in East Berlin.

From the devastated space of no-man's land, to the gaol, to the art gallery, The Rider has dismounted. Stripped of the machine, The Rider mutates and multiplies at the Wagga Wagga City Art Gallery. The Rider is stripped bare — a bust, an expression, precariously grounded by a tripod made of spindly branches, all that remains of prosthesis, replacing the body from a means of production to the industrial machine, and currently rendered obsolete by computer tech­nology. The busts hang about the machine in the gallery as both specta­cle and spectator, frozen in a moment of both evolution and entropy.
Repetition can be defined not only through perception but through result. A repetition that succeeds perfectly `may be fatal because the space of distance between model and copy has been eliminated, collapsing both terms into one entity and abolishing the singularity of each separate term.'5 The organism/the machine is condemned to perform the same gestures within the same continuum of time and space. The busts defy the potential fatality of repetition through their emerging with distinctive human affects; defiance, melancholy, dejection, desolation, arrogance, masks and defence mechanisms in themselves ... festering with the inevitability of human catharsis.

On the wall of the gallery the seductive glare of digital colour images entice, in contrast to the confronting monochrome of the essence of The Rider around the machine. 'Still Life With Subcon­scious Intrusion.' The images reveal themselves - a lounge room empty of people and full of warheads, the contemporary stage for bloodless wars. A floral formation with a translucent missile shooting up ­iridescent reds and oranges, marked by dark spaces and black arterial routes creeping through the explosion of flowers. I just read an Aboriginal legend from the Western Desert. The story of the Sturt Desert Pea - spring­ing to life from the blood shed by a cowardly massacre of vengeance, a symbol historically and mythologically of death and rebirth - the death of the Dreamtime so the natural world may come into being. The floral images allude to the emotion free temporal death of an opium sleep. Burning in its coldness. The opium flower is believed to spring from the blood of slaughteredwarriors and gods, used still as a symbol of remembrance of those killed in the blood bath of Flanders during World War One.
We live in an economy of war. The major global commodities are arms and drugs, now interdependent. Drugs set the scene for molecular mutation and conflict which is then externalised and often aestheticised.

The shift to the mechanical reproduc­tion of art necessitated a perceptual change - its value shifting from ritual to political, from perceptual to apperceptual. The mutated, multiplied busts of The Rider exist in the boundary between the two - a mask of arro­gance, a covering the colour of ochre, from the earth, one with human hair associates the ochre with plasma - of the body - masks, operating as defence mechanisms and mechanisms of defence.
In the epilogue to his seminal essay 'Art In The Age Of Mechanical Reproduction', Walter Benjamin surmises that all efforts to render politics aesthetic culmi­nate in war: 'War and only war can set a goal for mass movements on the largest scale while respecting the traditional property system ... Only war makes it possible to mobilise all of today's technical resources while maintaining the property system.'6

The reason for the furiously prolific development of computer technology we are experiencing today comes from the military development of an artifi­cial intelligence system capable of operating a war. There is one consistent flaw; artificial intelligence is unable to distinguish between enemy and ally. Which is 'the other' to a binary encoded machine?

Marinetti in his manifesto on the Ethiopian Colonial War states the futurist position of rebelling against the branding of war as anti-aesthetic. 'War is beautiful because it establishes man's dominion over the subjugated machinery ... War is beautiful because it imitates the dreamt of metallisation of the human body ... war is beautiful because it combines the gunfire, the cannonades, the cease-fire, the scents and the stench of putrefication, into a symphony ... poets and artists of Futurism! ... remember these principles of an aesthetics of war so your struggle for a new literature and a new graphic art. ... may be illumined by them.'6
Walter Benjamin contends that 'the destructiveness of war furnishes proof that society has not been mature enough to incorporate technology as its organ ... mankind, which in Homer's time was an object of contemplation for the Olympian Gods, now is one for itself. Its self alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order through gas warfare the aura is abolished in a new way.'6
(Biochemical Warfare: Nerve Gases. The patient and long awaited revenge of the inorganic world against the organic world.)1


  1. J.G. Ballard, 'Project for a Glossary of the Twentieth Century', in Incorporations, Jonathan Crary and Sanford Kwinter (eds), Zone, New York, 1992.
  2. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, One Thousand Plateaus, Capitalism and Schizophrenia, University of Minnesotta Press, Minnesota, 1987.
  3. Paul Virilio, 'Perspectives of Real Time', in Metropolis, Christos M. Joachimides and Norman Rosenthal (eds), Rizzoli, New York, 1991.
  4. Arthur Wicks, Media Release from 'Peace Car Through Europe', in Arthur Wicks, Works 1989-92, The City Art Gallery, Wagga Wagga and Arthur Wicks. 1992.
  5. Elisabeth Brofen, Death and Representa­tion, Sarah Webster Goodwin and Elisabeth Brofen (eds), John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1993.
  6. Walter Benjamin, from 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction', in Illuminations, Schocken, New York, 1969.

Ceallaigh Norman is an artist and writer currently based in Melbourne.
Periphery Issue No. 32 Spring 1997


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