Sacha Kagan


Lecture interventions & Lecture (Sacha):

Play Space Symposium






Sacha-bookSacha Kagan (PhD) is a transdisciplinary researcher of 'cultures of sustainability', and art sociologist, based at Leuphana University (Lüneburg, Germany), Coordinator of the Research Network Sociology of the Arts at the ESA (European Sociological Association), and active member of several other networks in scientific and artistic fields.
He is the author of the internationally received book Art and Sustainability (transcript Verlag, 2011). In his search for cultures of sustainability, Sacha came to the understanding that aesthetics of complexity provides a rich cultural-creative key to the search process of sustainability-transformation.
His current research interests include the roles of artists in urban “anthropo-scenes” as spaces of possibilities, and the contributions of queer- and BDSM-oriented practice and theory to aesthetics of complexity.




Series of Play Space Lectures: Shifting Backstages and Frontlines of Embodiment

Play Space Lectures curated by Dr. Sacha Kagan

Backstages are spaces where crucial things happen, which we however tend to leave out of public focus, away from scrutiny. They are not socially presentable. They often reveal some interesting aspects of the issues we are grappling with, difficulties we have, and mechanisms behind our public, on-stage, highlighted actions and interactions. They point at some strings and tricks that we may not want to stress, but that play an important role in the background of our personal and social lives.

Frontlines are the spaces where burning issues and contested topics are fought over or forging lines of discussions. They crystallize oppositions, at risk of simplifying complex relations. Sometimes, backstages move to frontlines, or vice versa. Some spaces might even be both frontlines and backstages at once, and the relative positions of frontlines and backstages may shift more or less quickly.

Embodiment is a common denominator across most of the bodywork, ‘sex-positive’, BDSM and queer practices hosted at the Xplore festival. However, it is often discussed exclusively under a positive light and without enough attention to its backstages and to the ambivalences and ambiguities at play on some of its frontlines. This year, the ‘Lecture Play Space’ of Xplore (a merger of the ‘Silent Space’ and the reflection space formerly called ‘Xplore Symposium’) will point our attention to “Backstages and Frontlines of Embodiment”, inviting participants to ponder over embodiment without sticking to the easiest tracks and most agreeable thoughts.

At the personal level, the insides of our bodies are at once backstages and frontlines of embodiment. Xplore lecturers will explore the relations between inner organs and the inner self (Marius Presterud) and the violent dialogue between auto-immune diseases and one’s body (Nathalie Blanc).

At the social level, the practices and communities forged by the sex-positive and associated movements, also have a more shadowy and often less reflected relation to the current socio-economic order and mechanisms of global capitalism in its ‘neo-liberal’ form (Peter Banki).

In the meanwhile, the specific ensemble of corporeal, personal and social practices of BDSM operates at a threshold that increases the shifting and blurring of backstages and frontlines, interlocking the real and the fictional, allowing a richly ambivalent access to our imaginaries (Regine Herbrik). BDSM may even eventually shift from backstages to frontlines of society by training a sagacity that allows to break through the dominant fear of complexity that produced too manichaean ethics and a dialectic illusion of resolution of complex dilemmas (Sacha Kagan).




BDSM Sagacity: embodying complexitySacha-WS

Play Space Lecture by Dr. Sacha Kagan

Contradictions, paradox and taboo-breaking lie at the core of the intense fascination of BDSM for its practitioners. As argued by Volker Woltersdorff: “Unlike in many other discourses that rely on dialectics, in BDSM, the tension between contradictions is not resolved at a higher stage of consciousness – or the thrill is lost. Therefore, BDSM pushes us to conceive of another kind of complementarity that differs from the kind of ‘synthesis’ offered by classical dialectics.” This other way of dealing with dualities comes closest to the “dia-logics” of Edgar Morin (even more than to the “dialogic” of Mikhail Bakhtin).

Beyond stereotypical role-play, BDSM practice can maintain ambivalences and revels in ambiguities, mediating between several realities without flattening them. In this, BDSM play and lifestyles can foster a sensibility to qualitative complexity (after Edgar Morin) through a heightened corporeal, sensual, emotional and aesthetic experience.

In his lecture-intervention at Xplore, reflecting on one’s own and others’ practice, Sacha Kagan will map out together with the participants different ways in which BDSM constitutes a potential playing field allowing us to explore and experiment with constructions, boundaries and the (de/re)formations of diverse dualities beyond a dichotomic form (which are relevant across our existence in terms of sexuality, gender, communities, religion, politics, nature, identity, etc.): self vs. other, active vs. passive, dominant vs. submissive, control vs. surrender, pain vs. pleasure, selfish vs. selfless, transcendent vs. immanent, profane vs. spiritual, emancipatory vs. alienating, independent vs. dependent vs. inter-dependent, etc.

For example: Power relations and their complex tensions acquire a rich, complex substance when experienced, explored and. BDSM practitioners speak about a “flow” of power that passes among the submissive and dominant partners, and discourses of BDSM evoke a “power exchange”. This allows to experience and think of power beyond simplistic dichotomies of domination/submission and oppression/servitude, while gaining a heightened awareness of the various degrees and forms of effective domination and oppression, as well as the conditions and complicities that allow them.

It may well be that our civilization, in an age marked by growing conflicts and planetary ecological, political and economic threats, will not survive as long as we continue to live mostly by simplistically dichotomic schematas and metaphors. When reflected carefully, the (aesth)et(h)ics of complexity that is exercised in BDSM (and elsewhere), trains a potent sagacity that may be further put at use in social learning processes eventually helping us navigate beyond today’s unsustainable times.

The lecture-intervention will alternate periods of talk by the lecturer, silent periods accompanied by music, and some interaction with the participants.



Photos: © Detlev Hoffmann