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.
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.