Lucas’s discussion of David Wojnarowicz’s “Fire in My Belly” brings our attention to a key term: vulnerability. What does this term mean? It derives from the Latin word vulnus, wound. I’ve been thinking lately about how wounds are a type of media—they are a spectacle on the body, they mark a site of violence (they are a memorial site?), they present a surface or image of uncertain depth and mark both a site of entry and of exit. They shed issues of blood, pus, water (if you’re Jesus). Sacred wounds represent the mediumicity of the wound par excellence– the fluid that flows from Jesus wounds can make its own images (as when Veronica wiped his face and his image was transferred to her cloth) and the stigmata itself is constantly remarking itself on the skin surface of saints, showing them to have been pierced by the Holy Spirit, showing them to have a surfeit of grace which leaks from the wounds; transferred to cloth, this fluid from saint’s wounds creates holy icons. Moreover, the vulnerability of wound-media has both a micro and macrocosmic effect; that is, a hyperbolic, excessive effect; when a stigmata appears there is a piercing of the membrane separating earth and heaven.
We can track the vulnerability in “Fire in My Belly” by the way the medium itself functions, with a choppy montage which makes the viewer aware of the cuts. The palpable cuts make us aware of the violence inherent in the video-making process itself. The violence is what allows the Art to flow from image to image, piercing and rupturing each one in turn, turning each image into the wound which then pours Art forth into the next image. This flow of Art through the wound of the image is made material through the motifs of violence/fire/blood/spilling/gesture/motion/showers of money which engulf or flow out of the various images. By the end where the man smashes the plaster statue (is that what it is?) the shattering of this inanimate object makes visual the blow of violence and force. In fact, the presence of so many non-animated figures (corpses, dolls, statues, paintings, puppet) nevertheless seemingly animated by a flow of violence creates an uncanny tidal accumulative force to the piece, which in turn makes the actual moving bodies seem hyperanimated, antic as ants.
Everything is vulnerable to the violence, that is, to the Art, to the force of the flow. Everything is animated by it, to the point of overflow, combustion or frenzy. The montage of the piece could easily be seen as a succession of stigmatas. The repeated piercing word “unclean” both pierces the membrane of ambient sound and image with a kind of pointed aural violence and underscores that the word stigmata comes from stigma, a mark or stain, and that everything is vulnerable to being marked or stained by Art. In fact, perhaps it is this vulnerability that marks an entity as sacred. Moreover, the coming-into-Art of the Artist’s own body is a kind of incarnation. Jesus comes into a human body; Heaven comes into earthly affairs; Wojnarawicz comes into the film, and is cut and sutured by the flow of Art (literally, when the lips are sown and formally, as part of the montage-function.) He becomes another site through which Art’s violence can flow. He becomes an icon of vulnerability.
It’s this expenditure, this total flow, this vulnerability, which makes this a work worthy of suppression. Its continuous violence can harm other images and systems. It’s the lavishness of this expenditure, this violence that the politicians unwittingly highlight when they call this work an affront to Christmas (Eric Cantor), to the American family (John Boehner). Boehner’s spokesperson said,” American families have a right to expect better from recipients of taxpayer funds in a tough economy”. But what he means, is that they deserve less– to be less affected, less motivated, less vulnerable to Art’s renovating, corruscating flow. However, as always happens, efforts to suppress this video have only ensured its replication, duplication, viral movement through virtual media, far beyond those happy families who could have visited it in ant-like ‘person’ in the Smithsonian.