Conceptual Statement

As part of its long-term project The New Alphabet, until 2021 HKW is investigating the knowledge systems that are crucial for navigating today’s world. Cultural Education is focusing its interest on body alphabets. Important educational policy aspects such as intersectional teaching or anti-racism work in schools can be discussed well in this context. What position do we in educational work wish to take? This fundamental question arose in the conception of Reading Bodies! in conversations with the educational team at the Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst in Leipzig. On the one hand, a position can mean a conscious stance concerning content or politics; on the other hand, it can be a physical condition. So our interest in the semiotics and epistemology of the body grew.

The word corpoliteracy was coined by the Berlin art space SAVVY Contemporary. In aneducation, the book about documenta 14, Bonaventure Sog Bejeng Ndikung, founder and artistic director of SAVVY, writes, “with the concept of corpoliteracy I mean to contextualise the body as a platform and medium of learning, a structure or organ that acquires, stores and disseminates knowledge. This concept would imply that the body, in sync, but also independent of the brain, has the potential of memorizing and passing on/down acquired knowledge through performativity.” We are very grateful to our colleagues at the SAVVY for providing this stimulus, which was a point of departure for this program.

The body’s inherent knowledge is culturally shaped, bodies are culturally coded; power and dominance relations are manifested in them. The philosopher Michel Foucault describes the body as an archive in which various historically conditioned body images and body concepts have materialized. The borderline between “normal” and “non-normal” bodies, between old and young, disabled and abled, healthy and ill is the result of constant negotiations by social collectives and political conditions. The body defies our many attempts to understand it, to make it predictable, to optimize it and ultimately to contain it within the bounds of a norm by becoming ill, by aging, by refusing binary categories and even, in the end, by dying. This is exactly where various industries attempt to overcome the adversities of the body, ranging as far as the idea of transhumanism.

Today, through media pressure, many people feel that their bodies must strive for beauty, singularity and performance in order to persist in societies geared at efficiency and growth. If the body doesn’t live up to these imperatives, in addition to sports, medicine and nutrition, the digital filters of the “social media” help to technically enhance our charisma. Feelings of belonging, normality and acceptance are quantified here in clicks and likes; their lack further fuels the need for optimization.

Unrealistic body ideals not only lead to stress, but above all to attributions and exclusions. Racism, gender discrimination, exclusion of old, disabled and sick bodies are the consequences. How can Cultural Education empower people to recognize or even break through these mechanisms? Can corpoliteracy help us develop new forms of education in day-care centers, schools, universities and cultural institutions that address the realities of many people’s lives? Can trained skills in reading bodies help us break down prejudice and resentment? These and other questions are addressed by the program through contributions of artistic, academic and pedagogical debate.

It aims to offer and discuss approaches for dealing in a self-empowered and differentiated way with one’s own and others’ bodies, both in analog and digital spaces. The contributions consist of detailed analyses as well as enjoyable exercises and experiments designed for a broad audience about 16 years of age and up.

Experts from various educational disciplines will evaluate the two days of the event and will then develop recommendations for corpoliterate educational practices. In this way, we hope to generate stimuli for the work of Cultural Education at HKW and our partner institutions.

Daniel Neugebauer
Eva Stein