Session 8 - Representations of safety in word and image

Representations of safety in word and image

Dr. Lizet Duyvendak (Open University) 
Art works performing unsafety: Tumbling into someone else’s life?
The Dutch poet Ester Naomi Perquin (Utrecht, 1980) worked as a prison guard for four years to help fund her studies. 2012 saw the appearance of her collection Celinspecties (Cell Inspections), poems about prisoners and their criminal deeds and about the work in prison. As Poet Laureate between 2017-2019 she followed by invitation several policemen and –women and published the collection Lange armen (Long arms), 10 poems on police work.

The Dutch poet Menno Wigman (1984-2018) wrote poetry in response to old police pictures of assasinations. He puts himself in the position of murderers in 5 poems in the collection Dit is mijn dag (This is my day) (2004). In the poetry of Perquin and Wigman different perspectives and roles are presented: of prisoners and prison guards, of victims and policemen- and women, and of murderers (men and women); in sum of perpetrators and the legal world.

The subjects of these poems: murder, rape, pedophilia, or car accidents are not immediately associated with poetry, nor is police work a common poetic theme. What is the function of this kind of poetry? Rita Felski (2008 and 2015) states that there are four modes of textual engagement between readers and literature: recognition, enchantment, knowledge and shock. 
In my lecture I would like to discuss the following topics: how and why do these poems perform (un)safety? Whose stories are told in these poems? How can readers engage with perpetrators in this kind of poetry?

Dr. Frauke Laarmann-Westdijk (Open University) 
The Image of the Hangman
The general safety system in modern societies is guaranteed by a system consisting of the trias of police force, justice and the panel system. The ultimate punishment is the death penalty, stil executed in more than twenty countries on earth. Except from punishment death penalties are considered as protection of citizens against convicted offenders. Therefore it should be expected that people who carry out this punishment would be highly regarded. However today they remain mostly anonymous and/or the structure of the execution prevents the performers from knowing who is actually responsible for killing the convict.

The image of the hangman in the first period of professionalisation during the seventeenth century seems not to be positive either. Different prejudices can be found: they seemed to be some kind of untouchables not allowed to mix with normal citizens, even not allowed to touch them literally. Only Lutherans were asked to perform death sentences because they could justify themselfs for not keeping the sixth commandment. Hangmen stayed anonimous, etc. 
In my paper I will focus on the (visual) representations of hangmen in the Netherlands during the seventeenth century, examine some of these prejudices and consider whether the hangman was part of the perception of safety of the public. 

Dr. Erik Swart (Justus-Liebig-University, Gießen)  
The massacre of the innocents. The imagination of unsafety during wartime in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century European painting
For sixteenth- and seventeenth century Europeans war was an unavoidable element of daily life. As the notion of the ‘non-combatant’ was ill-defined and collided with old, established customs of war, targeting ‘civilians’ was often an integral part of warfare. They were captured for ransom, and their possessions were taken as booty. The alternative was paying the soldiers to prevent all this. But even if they paid, ‘civilians’ might still suffer horrendous physical violence, including rape and torture. This structural unsafety found an expression in painting, for instance in the portrayal of the Biblical story of the Massacre of the Innocents. The goal of my contribution is to analyse the development of relevant paintings during the sixteenth and seventeenth century in relation to changing attitudes towards the ‘non-combatant’. I will explain this development and discuss what it meant for the unsafety of the relevant social groups. In other words, I intend to analyse an example of how art works perform (un)safety and how this is linked to affectivity. Also related is the question of how feelings of safety are influenced by processes of in- and exclusion of specific social groups. In my conclusion I will include a statement on how safety representations and the related discourses functioned in society.

Dr. Karen Westphal Eriksen (The National Gallery of Denmark ) 
Portraying the feeling of being unsafe in art by Svend Wiig Hansen and Dan Sterup Hansen
“Think about how precariously we live, we are in danger - it just takes some crazy idiot to push the button, and then it will all blow up.”1 In 1956, 1958 and 1959 a group of Danish artists exhibited their art under the title “Man.” They wanted to address the status of the human being in its cultural context. Form and content met in images of human beings, many in internal and external peril from nuclear threats, dawning cold war anxiety and the humanistic hangover from the atrocities of the Second World War.

Among these exhibiting artists were Svend Wiig Hansen and Dan Sterup Hansen. The human beings they rendered in their art carried connotations of both hope and safety as well as connotations of threat. I will discuss how the body became a site of anxiety as well as a site of hope in works by these two artists and how this material and emotional site intersected with political history and the political views of the artists. Whereas feeling unsafe was the effect of the art on the viewers; the viewers were in response charged with the job of creating a safe society.