On Conception and the Body: A Critical Examination

In "The Artist is Present: Artistic Reenactments and the Impossibility of Presence," Amelia Jones argues that performative reenactments are inauthentic and the value of presence only exists in a performances first enactment because each reenactment is influenced by audience response. She does so through an examination of various works performed by Marina Abramovic, including The Artist is Present (MoMA, 2010), and the series Seven Easy Pieces (Guggenheim , 2005).
But Jones totally misplaces the source of value in her analysis of Abramovic’s work. We are not interested in presence. The attendance of the body is just the only way we can quantify our insatiable lust for that which is impossible to contain/commodify.

The art world's fetishization of objects and their primacy stems from the Catholic Church’s necrophilic thirst for bodily relics, which retain power from their (former) owners' experience of miracles. We have constructed elaborate reliquaries for each bone of each finger of every saint for their miraculous acts. Don't forget about Jesus and his 40 foreskins, which are proof of his impossible virgin conception.

Conception glorification lives on in the art world through artist and object celebrity, where our obsession with primacy is actually an obsession with the moment of conception of the authentic idea. Paintings by Rubens' workshop were valued by his degree of involvement in their creation. In art, the body of the artist acts as the medium to best cultivate and transfer an impossible moment of genius.
We do not crave a conception that's immaculate. We crave a conception that's impossible.

Photo by  Louis Seigal

Photo by Louis Seigal

Cannot the same be said about sex work? Despite being a species that prides itself on an ability to find patterns and reason, we insatiably crave proximity to bodies that we consider unreasonably beautiful. In BDSM, we value the creatively kinky, revere the sexual innovators; submissives will pay top dollar for an hour with the dominatrix with the most radical means of torture. Shit-eating and piss-drinking is so often requested because waste is a part of Her body that the submissive gets to take home, as if nuggets and residue of Her power are nestled in Her shit like needle in a haystack.

What is tribute? It is an homage to the past, purchasing an hour of decorated time, of proximity to a body that housed at one point a unique moment of conception of an idea; how do you translate degradation physically, lyrically, or visually in a way that’s never been done before?

Because here’s the thing: we are not attracted to the person who is only technically trained. We want a uniquely conceived experience at one of two ends of a spectrum:

an opioid escape [a validation] < < > > a radical, violent liberation