Flusser and Bec’s exploration of otherness in Vampyroteuthis Infernalis owes a not inconsiderable debt to the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl. Having established in his Cartesian Meditations the primacy of the ego’s ‘sphere of ownness’, Husserl includes within it the other as merely intended. For Husserl, despite recognising that the otherness of the other should not by rights originate in the subject, the appearance of the other as other depends on this sense constituted by the ego, just as the vampyroteuthic other is said to exist ‘only in relation to me’ (Flusser & Bec 2012, 38). On the other hand, Husserl also posits my flesh, my lived body, as coextensive with the proper sphere of my ego. However, although only I experience my body immediately as my flesh, it is inherently reversible: what is flesh for me at one moment can become mere body at another. In other words, the flesh and hence the ego’s proper sphere cannot ultimately be closed off, as Husserl wished, but is rather continuous with the field of what is apparently outside and other. Where Flusser and Bec transcend the limitations of the Husserlian foundation is by going on to dwell in their text on the ramifications of this flesh/body pivot, which challenges any such seclusion of the ego from the world and the other.
This paper will return to the Husserlian account of the other and explore it in relation to Roni Horn’s sculpture ‘Things That Happen Again: For Two Rooms’ (1986). What could be identified as more or less explicit posthuman and materialist themes thread through the exploration of animal and physical forms in Horn’s work. Beyond these themes, however, Horn also often explores identity and difference in an almost phenomenological manner. ‘Things That Happen Again’ is a case in point. The sculpture consists of two truncated cones of milled metal to be located in different rooms within an exhibition. In making us aware that we see the one cone in relation to our memory or anticipation of the other, the work focuses us on the fact that that every ‘here’ implies a ‘there’ or an ‘elsewhere’, and that implicit within the perception of any present object is a sense itself not present. So, Horn’s sculpture, I will argue, returns us to the theme of the flesh and its reversibility, which communicates with the more explicit imagery and tropes within the larger ambit of her practice.
Andrew Chesher is Year 1 Leader, BA Fine Art at Chelsea College of Arts, UAL