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Orgasms and Oppositions: Dani Ploeger’s ELECTRODE
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In performance installations displayed in Europe, China, and the United States, UK-based Dutch artist Dani Ploeger reflexively marries gleeful self-exhibition with raw yet constrained self-exposure. In biotope, first performed at ]performance space[ in London (2012), the gas-masked Ploeger exhibits himself in a wooden enclosure, dangerously close to self-asphyxiation from smoke produced by a petrol generator. In You Turn Me On (Ideal Houseman) at the Hlubina Mine in Ostrava, Czech Republic (2012) the nude Ploeger stares narcissistically at his flaccid penis, which he has inserted in the nozzle of a vacuum cleaner. Complex and humorous somatic exhibition and exposure are also crucial to Ploeger’s performance installation ELECTRODE, first shown at Virtual Futures, University of Warwick (2011), in which Ploeger “fakes” orgasms by replicating the sphincter muscle contraction pattern registered by an anonymous male subject during a 1980 experiment concerning male masturbation. Ploeger’s recent positioning of ELECTRODE as an exotic curio within a series of performance installations entitled Cabinets of Post-Digital Curiosities, displayed at London’s Brunel University on 31 March 2012, further highlighted the artist’s somatic exposure but also his psychophysical presence within the piece.

In ELECTRODE, a spotlight from above clinically illuminates the nude Ploeger, who stands alone in the center of a black-box space, facing a large image of a line graph projected on the wall. This graph shows the sphincter contraction pattern of an anonymous male subject during masturbation and orgasm. Medical researchers Joseph G. Bohlen, James P. Held, and Margaret Olwen Sanderson conducted this experiment in 1980 at the University of Minnesota in order to measure male sphincter muscle activity during sexual response. With the aid of an Anuform® anal electrode and a modified Peritone electromyography (EMG) biofeedback sensor that registers muscle activity, Ploeger methodically and repeatedly replicates this sphincter contraction pattern over a two-hour period. The activity very clearly does not stimulate or provide pleasure.

The data from Ploeger’s real-time replications is projected onto the wall as a second line graph situated directly beneath the graph of the earlier, anonymous subject. At the same time, the data is also deployed for digital sound synthesis, controlling different parameters of the GENDY (GENeration DYnamique) sound synthesis algorithm developed by French-Greek electronic music pioneer Iannis Xenakis (1992). The different sound textures Ploeger’s data produces vary widely in terms of volume, pitch, and strength. However, Ploeger highlights that “in its computational implementation and sonic outcomes, it [all] conforms to

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Figure 1. 

Facing the line graph and backed by packaging from the medical devices, Dani Ploeger is just about to begin a new repetition of sphincter muscle contractions in ELECTRODE at Dul Michal, Ostrava, Czech Republic, August 2011. (Photo by Martin Popelár; courtesy of OCNM Archive)

the abstract, formalist approach [...] closely associated with masculine computer programming paradigms” (Ploeger 2012:61). Through all of these visual, sonic, and somatic means, Ploeger (re)produces and sensorially exhibits — through reenactment — a “faked” male orgasm.

During Ploeger’s rigorous and careful process of fakery, one wire tendril reaches up from the Peritone sensor, positioned on the floor just behind him, to wrap itself around his left hip. The wires connecting the anal electrode to the Peritone sensor dangle between Ploeger’s legs, like white artificial entrails that are slowly sucked into and ejected from the body in rhythm with the sphincter contractions. This “very conspicuous” wiring demonstrates Ploeger’s “[interest] in a further heightening of the presence of [his] body and its interaction with the technology connected to it” (2011). Indeed, alongside the careful dissection of the visceral, intensified process of the orgasm, the embodied performance techniques deployed by Ploeger make manifest his heightened body presence. In using these processes and techniques to replicate and fake the impulses of another body, and so create an effect of corporeal doubling, Ploeger displays “a state of heightened awareness of and sensitivity to [the] bodymind [...] in action” (Zarrilli 2009:24). Informed by Phillip Zarrilli, Jerzy Grotowski, and Eugenio Barba’s depictions of psychophysical engagement, I argue that ELECTRODE highlights the dialogic oppositions displayed within Ploeger’s performance (or even reenactment) of the documented male orgasms and his own...

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