Environments of Control in the Films of Melanie Gilligan




Palabras clave:

governmentality, machinic capitalism, milieu, contemporary art, video/film


Since 2008, the artist Melanie Gilligan has been investigating how the techniques of machinic capitalism have intensified in the face of digital environments. This is expounded upon in three video works in particular. Crisis in the Credit System (2008) raises the question of how the market, controlled by an “invisible hand”, functions as the milieu of an economic subject. Popular Unrest (2010) shows how algorithms intervene in the reproduction of life and, in doing so, not only govern subjects, but interpret their infra- and supraindividual data traces as an environment. In The Common Sense (2014), society regulates itself through a decentralized but omnipresent affective network created by environmentally distributed technologies. In this paper I want to ask what kind of power-formation is sketched by Melanie Gilligan, especially since the focus of all three works is put on the control of environmental factors.

In order to achieve this, I will follow what Foucault developed in his lectures on The Birth of Biopolitics. The power-formation he calls governmentality does not aim at the production of subjects (as disciplinary techniques), but rather at the control over their milieus or environments. I want to show that this is a central aspect of the power formation, that is implicated in the diegetic universes of Gilligan’s films. Additionally I discuss more recent contributions to the question of machinic control: Erich Hörl’s concept of environmentalization, Antointette Rouvroy’s term algorithmic governmentality, Gerald Raunig’s latest thoughts about the dividuum and machinic capitalism, as well as Maurizio Lazzarato who has taken up Deleuze’s and Guattari’s thoughts about asignifying semiotics.

By successively working through Gilligan’s three works, I conclude that the way Gilligan conceives of different formations of control may be analyzed as allegories of historical and technological processes of governmentality, that reach from the 18th century’s milieu of the market to today’s digital milieus.

Biografía del autor/a

Holger Kuhn , Bielefeld University

Holger Kuhn works as assistant professor (Juniorprofessor) for Historical Visual Culture and Art History at Bielefeld University. From 2016 to 2021 he worked as postdoctoral researcher at the DFG research training group “Cultures of Critique” at Leuphana University Lüneburg. He is currently working on a book project entitled Liquidity: The Cultural Logic of Governmentality in Contemporary Video and Film. Together with Mathias Denecke and Milan Stürmer he has recently initiated a project on "Liquidity, Flows, Circulation: The Cultural Logic on Environmentalization" (http://liquidity-flows-circulation.org/). A collected volume on this topic will be published at Diaphanes in 2022. From 2012 to 2016 he worked at the Department of Art History at Leuphana University. Recent publications include a book on the “holy kinship” and the construction of family in early capitalism (Die Heilige Sippe und die Mediengeschichte des Triptychons, Emsdetten / Berlin: Edition Imorde, 2018) and a book on the depiction of merchants in paintings from the 16th century (Die leibhaftige Münze. Quentin Massys’ Goldwäger und die altniederländische Malerei, Paderborn: Wilhelm-Fink-Verlag, 2015).