The Ghosted Presence of the Mediated Body


“For there to be ghosts there must be a return to the body, but to a body that is more abstract than ever.” – Jacques Derrida

In Robert Whitman’s Prune Flat from 1965, pictured above, we are no longer concerned with the age-old theatrical trick of the suspension of disbelief, that revered technique which brings to the audience an imaginary believability in the spectacular illusion of the stage. For Whitman, there is no illusion, but there is paradoxically, a confusion between what is real and what is not. No longer concerned with concocting the magic of the illusion of believability, he is concerned with the magic of the confusion of believability, the interplay between the physical presence of the performer and their image. Whitman is a magician of effect, rather than practicing the sleight of hand of illusion.

“In Prune Flat we are in a space, a media space, where the type of dialectical oppositions defended by the interior no longer seem to hold.” – Joseph Branden

Whitman is giving us the haunting experience of ghosts, the ones produced in the media-generated image. The ones that move across our screens every day. The floating, disembodied ghosts of mediated bodies that populate our everyday experience. In the age of the Internet, when we in fact live half-embodied in our connected lives, Whitman’s ghosted images are a powerful reminder, again, of the effect, or as McLuhan would say, the effects of media on our psychic condition – of which only the artist can possibly produce.