A hunger artist

(dir. Daria Martin; HD film, 16 minutes, 2017)

Screenplay based on Franz Kafka’s 1922 short story of the same name; directed by Daria Martin, winner of 2018 Derek Jarman Award.

from www.contemporaryartsociety.org (Caroline Douglas)

For fifteen years, Daria Martin’s work has concerned itself with the relationships between performers and their audiences.  She has explored early 20th century fascinations with the relationship between man and machine, and worked with AI scientists in 2004 to make Soft Materials, in which robots were programmed to learn through the experience of their own bodies, rather than a more cerebral, external programming.  More recently Martin has explored the phenomenon of mirror-touch synaesthesia – the ability of some individuals to feel the physical sensations experienced by others.  This question of the possibility of human empathy is also key to A Hunger Artist.

The body of the artist is experienced by the audience, and by the artist himself as object as well as subject – as an object of display and measurement, as a site of suffering, as a visual index of endurance as day by day the length of the feat of fasting becomes more extreme.  The artist’s only attribute in his cage is the large clock that counts down the minutes, hours and days.  The awe he inspires in the audience is more akin to fascinated revulsion than sympathy – encouraged by the impresario who refers to the artist as ‘super-human’.  When public appetite for spectacle inevitably moves on and touring their act is no longer financially viable, the impresario leaves and the wilfully unworldly hunger artist is left to negotiate with the venal circus proprietor.

His lack of commercial currency sees him excluded from the Big Top and relegated to a spot near to the menagerie.  There he begins his last fast, unconstrained by the impresario who insisted that there was no public demand for a fast beyond the biblical 40 days and 40 nights.  Entirely forgotten in his cage, the days of his fast no longer counted by anyone, the hunger artist’s last, and only words in the film are “I always wanted you to admire my fasting”.  He follows this with the revelation that, in his view, there is nothing to admire in it since he could do nothing else: he had never found any food that he liked.  What sustained him, finally, was that his feats of abstinence were acknowledged.