n Image & Text : a Journal for Design - Steven Cohen's as a cultural critique of capitalism

Volume 27, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1020-1491



South African performance artist Steven Cohen's film (2007-2009) is investigated with reference to twentieth-century French theorist Georges Bataille's philosophical enquiry into the notion of expenditure as a critique of capitalism. This article examines the representation of excess in relation to the body, and makes specific reference to Cohen's use of real human skulls as shoes as a cultural critique of capitalism. Bataille's notion of expenditure, as it is developed in the first volume of (1949), centres on the concept of excess: A society, he argues, reveals its structure most clearly in its treatment of its surplus energy. Bataille's analysis of the necessity for luxury, on the one hand, and expenditure and sacrifice, on the other, is of particular relevance. With his performance in , Cohen uses his art practice to deliver a critique of capitalist culture. Cohen's visceral performance with real human skulls in the capitalist setting of New York's Wall Street and Times Square combines references to death with references to materialistic excess. This article draws parallels between Bataille's notion of expenditure and Cohen's staging of his critique of capitalist excess.

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