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Secession, Vienna, part of the exhibition „Unrest of Form - Imagining the Political Subject“.

An exhibition parcours by Wiener Festwochen

Opening: May 10th, 2013, 19h
May 11th – June 16th, 2013,
Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m





The Milieu of the Dead
Exercise, study, interview
Installation by Hannah Hurtzig

the interview, still photograph

“It is namely an error to assume that the dead are dead.” 
Alexander Kluge

The first portrait was that of a corpse. A look in the face of someone dead was the earliest image that humans made of humans. A puzzling image, for the corpse is a doppelganger, it shows the deceased, it is his/her face, and yet at the same time the corpse exposes its absence, the face of the dead. The corpse is itself already a double – we perceive simultaneously the sign of presence and absence on/from the corpse. Someone is there and gone: an actress who plays a corpse must be able to represent/embody this paradox. The film team observes attentively how perfectly she performs lifelessness, whether she succeeds in becoming the inert, lifeless image of herself.
In contrast, when we look at someone deceased we search for signs of life, sings which enable recognition and trigger remembrance: while we are alive the dead are not dead.

Photos: Armin Bardel

A stable link, a form of behavior, the attempt to find a common language for this relationship is problematic. In this regard, the Milieu of the Dead examines a geographical problem: where is the place for those who are no longer there but continue to have needs and make demands of those alive?
Popular culture is obviously a good abode for the dead, for they are currently romping around there in films, TV series, literature and comics. In contrast, philosophy and psychoanalysis is a poor milieu, science and scholarship in general denies the presence of the dead, here they are declared into allegories, phantoms, ghost, fictions of our imagination, and shunted off to the realm of symbolical signs.
But it’s not really that simple.
The dead are independent and present, and they have long nestled in with us in their utter ambivalence. It remains unclear who actually acts first here, who sees whom first, and if not the dead approach me, speak through me, or I translate my own inner voice. Our relationship with the dead is based on error and doubt. The paradox of the corpse remains as well. What is needed is systematic research into kindred relationships. The Milieu of the Dead offers three experimental setups for this purpose: a dynamic mediation exercise which visualizes the passage from a living person to the image-creation of the deceased; secondly, an interview on the acting technique for portraying a corpse; and thirdly, an encounter between three scientists/scholars, who over several days meet at the Vienna Secession to conduct public interviews and talks. On this basis they formulate a research proposal which shall explain the prerequisites and conditions for creating a good, plausible common milieu between the living and the dead.

The Milieu of the Dead

Actress: Susanne Sachsse

Scientists: Dr. Philipp Ekardt, Prof. Dr. Petra Gehring, Prof. Dr. Karin Harrasser

Voice: Klaus-Dieter Klebsch

Video: Philipp Hochleichter

Sound: Tito Knapp

Architectural drawing: Florian Stirnemann

Maske: Tan Binh Nguyen

Advice: Alice Chauchat, Florian Stirnemann

Assistance Video: Anne Kathrin Lewerenz

Thanks to: Elisabeth Bronfen, Vinciane Despret, Gertrud Koch, Thomas Macho

Co-production: Wiener Festwochen, Theater Oberhausen und Mobile Akademie Berlin.

screen test


Fashion expert Philipp Ekardt is a Research Associate and Junior Faculty member at the Peter Szondi-Institute at the Freie Universität Berlin. He has published scholarly articles on Walter Benjamin’s philosophy of fashion and Georg Simmel’s fashion sociology. He has lectured on fashion-related topics at Harvard University, the Warburg Institute (London) and Oxford University. In his work, Ekardt has investigated the interrelation between la mode and la mort, in the sense of fashion’s structural implication with processes of transience and non-permanence, but also concretely in the sense of fashion’s appropriation of the color black (“nous célébrons tous quelque enterrement” – Baudelaire). He is the author of numerous pieces of fashion criticism. Among his interview partners have been fashion theorist Barbara Vinken and designer Helmut Lang.

Petra Gehring is professor of philosophy at the TU Darmstadt. The focal points of her work include the history of the concepts of “life” and “death”, theories of demarcating the boundaries between states of being awake, sleep and dreams, as well as political issues concerning dying in modern biomedicine. In 2011 she published an introduction to theories of death (Theorien des Todes: Zur Einführung, Hamburg 2011), which was preceded by a work on the concept of biopower (Was ist Biomacht? Vom zweifelhaften Mehrwert des Lebens, Frankfurt/New York 2006) as well as co-editorship of a volume on the ambivalences of death with Marc Rölli and Maxine Saborowski (Ambivalenzen des Todes. Wirklichkeit des Sterbens und Todestheorien heute, Darmstadt 2007).

Prof. Dr. Karin Harrasser teaches and researches at the University of Art and Design Linz. Her research on the the cultural and epistemological history of prosthetics founded her interest in the relation of living and dead entities. She thinks that death as an intangible threshold can hardly be the object of science but it can be assessed through cinematic images. She is currently working on a small book with the title "Body 2.0. On the technological extension of the human" and is convinced, that symbolical and social extensions are more interesting then technological ones. She also tries to think along the lines of Alexander Kluge, Gilles Deleuze and Siegfried Kracauer when it comes to time, mortality, and history.