Anastasia Klose: Emotions and the Economy of Power
originally published in Das Super, Issue 29
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When discussing the practice of Anastasia Klose, the term “aesthetic of the pathetic” often appears. Throughout her practice, Klose has undergone moment after moment of self-inflicted humiliation. She is pathetic, and deliberately so. From her infamous In the Toilets with Ben, 2005, in which Klose focuses a camera on her own face as she has sex on a toilet floor, and the even more uncomfortable Mum and I Watching In the Toilets with Ben, 2005, to the more recent Top Ten Google Searches After a Break-up, 2013, she is a master of creating situations in which she is her own victim, highlighting her suffering for her own gain.
Personal suffering is further explored in The Red Carpet, 2010, a 10-metre roll of paper scrawled with Klose’s desperate descriptions of an unrequited love. The work tracks the artist’s obsession, the result of months of thought and process, a form of post-break-up therapy. As Klose explains, “I liked the idea of him walking all over my drawing, walking all over my words, as if he were walking all over my feelings. I also liked the idea of making money out of my suffering.” The work is embedded in her emotional need, but expands beyond it. It is a deeply personal process created for an audience, and possibly a buyer. It is a work embedded in an economy, but not just the monetary. As an emotionally charged work, The Red Carpet relies on further emotions produced by its being read.
Much of Klose’s practice demands a level of emotional investment. Pity, empathy and sympathy are called forth, depending on the context of viewing. In drawing forth the emotional response, the artist can then make use of it – a manipulation of power and affect. Klose is at once in a position of power and weakness, embodying a balance between the two. Similarly, viewers are given an active choice to view, but risk becoming subservient to the work’s desired responses. In actively choosing to present her own weakness, Klose affectively creates a power play between artist, artwork and viewer.
To be clear, this is not an understanding of powerful vs. powerless as polar opposites; power becomes a malleable and interchangeable tool, a fluid notion in constant flux. This is not power as an abstract force in its own right, but as a result of the interplay created.
Using the emotional responses of the viewer, Klose creates an economic system of power relations. All elements (artist filming, artist being filmed, viewer) are engaged in a transference of power throughout the relationship enacted. I refer to ‘economy’ here not as monetary value, but as a network of relationships based on exchange that is both practical and theoretical. Practical, in that what is being investigated is an actual exchange between parties; theoretical, in that there is an overriding principle that governs the systems in place.
As a relational force, all elements have the ability to be both dominant and submissive simultaneously. This is not a simple economy of give and take, act and receive. Rather, what is presented is a symbiotic relationship of positive and negative feedback.
As the viewer, you are actively engaging with the work; you have the ability to commit to an empathetic response, responding to the emotional draw of the pathos represented. You may also be drawn to your own position of humiliation through memory, or even discomfort with the personal representation within the work.
The Red Carpet, whilst depicting Klose’s own break-up scenario, is a reminder of the similar situation common to most of us, drawn out (literally) to its creative conclusion. Similarly, Top Ten Google Searches After a Break-up., at times absurd in the searches selected, brings to mind the ridiculous and revealing Googling we’ve all done in our moments of rejection or need.
When Klose shows herself in a position of humiliation, she is drawing on your own humiliating past to create the empathy response, drawing further upon the comfort and discomfort of the emotionally familiar. Whilst the moment of creation may have been truly embarrassing, it is only through our understanding of such vulnerability (from our own experiences) that Klose’s embarrassment may be understood. Klose comes to control the humiliation through her transference of power. In trading her humiliation for yours, Klose embraces and highlights the duality of the power economy – the ability to both produce and consume simultaneously, to control and be controlled all in the one moment.
It is within this duality that the strength of Klose’s practice stands; in her active choices as well as her weakened position within the work. Similarly, the viewer’s power (and loss of ) lies as much in their empathetic viewing of the work as in Klose’s ability to enforce this empathy. Weakness, passivity and an aggressive emotional stance are combined, highlighting the malleable nature of all.
Submitting to her own emotional need, Klose deconstructs the notion of power. The work becomes a response to the force of submission, submission seen as active choice and viable artistic tool.