Superfluous Bodies in Globalization Flows: Observations on the Politics of the Oceans and Their Reverberations in Contemporary Art
This text argues that while already at the time young nation-states of the 19th Century functioned under conditions of a world-economy, a large number of people have always been excluded from the promised connectivity of globalization, as their flux is governed by the premises of citizenship and class. Art works like the large-scale tableau “The Raft of the Medusa” (1819) by Théodore Géricault, depicting the disastrous wreckage on its way from France to Senegal, as well as contemporary examples, testify to these inequalities and expose key antinomies that always go along with the ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity that - produced during the French Revolution - still stand as unrealized cornerstones of a vision of Modernity.
Much of the literature thematizing the sea emphasizes the mutual cultural influence that it enables, that for example in the Caribbean context builds an idealistic framework for a common identity. Nevertheless the sea has also always been a metaphor for voyage, turbulence and liminal experiences. However, in the contemporary world the paradigms of global capitalism and the nation-state are simultaneously at play while at once deteriorating the conditions for actual migrant bodies in their travels. The anthropologist Arjun Appadurai describes the cultural implications of transnational capital as a world that has undergone "deterritorialization" and distinguishes a set of scapes: ethnoscapes, mediascapes, technoscapes, financescapes and ideoscapes. Although in his eyes ethnoscapes which include tourists, immigrants, refugees, exiles, guest-workers and other groups and persons are the most crucial ones, they seem to be the ones most at danger when traversing the oceans. Here the sea becomes the site for the fear of physical drowning, while its imaginaries become pivotal for gestures of rooting and routing, in the efforts either to root one’s identity to a particular origin or in the desire for an “elsewhere”.
Keywords: “The Raft of the Medusa”, Modernity, Multiplicity, Solid Sea, Ghost Ship: The Figure of Drowning in the Mediterranean, El Flexible: Yensions in the Caribbean Sea, Allan Sekula, Fish Story: Globalization and Labor on Water
Anna Fenia Schneider
MA Candidate, Exhibition & Museum Studies, San Francisco Art Institute