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Standing Outside the Centre: Ecstasy as a Political Act

The 2018 UQ History of Emotions Lecture in Art History by Mieke Bal at The University of Queensland Art Museum.

Date: Thursday 15 February 2018
Time: 6.00–7.15pm, with refreshments to follow
The University of Queensland Art Museum, University Drive, St Lucia QLD

Taking my starting point from the dialogue between Louise Bourgeois’ bronze Arch of Hysteria and Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, I will argue that ecstasy, especially in response to artworks, is a political act in the sense in which I propose that term. In line with Chantal Mouffe, I consider the political the social domain in which culture – cultural events, tensions and disagreements – happens, with the result being a denser, more communicative social interaction, and a tighter social fabric; one that is alive. Eccentricity is, thus, related to ecstasy; the latter meaning, literally, standing outside the centre and the former being or behaving unlike most others, so that the outside limit of that social fabric can extend and expand. Revisiting my earlier essay on ‘Ecstatic Aesthetics’ as republished in the catalogue for the exhibition 'Ecstasy: Baroque and Beyond', I will foreground the bond between, not only baroque aesthetics, historical as well as contemporary, but also between the conceptions of the body and gender of a devout catholic from the seventeenth century and an active, activist artist of the twentieth.

Mieke Bal is a cultural theorist, critic, video artist and occasional curator. She works on gender, migratory culture, psychoanalysis and the critique of capitalism. Her 38 books include a trilogy on political art: Endless Andness (Bloomsbury, 2013), on abstraction; Thinking in Film (Bloomsbury, 2013), on video installation; and Of What One Cannot Speak (The University of Chicago Press, 2010), on sculpture. Her work comes together in A Mieke Bal Reader (The University of Chicago Press, 2006). Her video project Madame B (2014), with Michelle Williams Gamaker, is widely exhibited, including in 2017 in Museum Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova in Turku, and combined with paintings by Munch in the Munch Museum in Oslo. Her most recent film Reasonable Doubt (2016), on René Descartes and Queen Kristina, has been shown in Kraków, Amsterdam and Warsaw. She is the founder of the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis and was its director for five years; and was Professor at Universiteit van Amsterdam and then the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (1991–2011).

Presented by the UQ Node of the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (Europe 1100–1800), in partnership with the University of Queensland Art Museum.

Image: Nigel Milsom, Judo House Part 6 (the white bird) 2014–2015, oil on linen, Collection of Art Gallery of New South Wales. Contemporary Collection Benefactors 2015, with the generous assistance of Alenka Tindale, Peter Braithwaite, Anon, Chrissie & Richard Banks, Susan Hipgrave & Edward Waring, Abbey & Andrew McKinnon. Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Yuill|Crowley, Sydney.