Strangeness is everywhere, but strangers are only where we define them. In 1970 Robert Filliou proposed that two war monuments in Belgium and the Netherlands be swapped and transplanted onto each other’s territory. Confronting the public with the heroism of the other underscores the vanity of warfare. Symbolical transplants have become a popular artistic strategy, its often utopian scope notwithstanding. In 2012 Yael Bartana organized the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland (JRMiP), calling for the relocation of 3,300,000 Jews to Poland in order to re-establish the once annihilated community. In 2015 Christoph Büchel transplanted a mosque into a defunct Catholic church during the Venice Biennial. In 2017 Manaf Halbouni installed three busses vertically in the center of Dresden, symbolically transplanting barricades from Syrian battlefields. Other artistic concepts use transplants literally (not to mention body extensions from Stellarc to Orlan). Take, for example, Łukasz Surowiec, who in 2012 transplanted trees growing near Ausschwitz-Birkenau to the Berlin Biennial exhibition site.
Symbolic transplants reach beyond political art, probably going back to prehistoric swapping rituals. They also can be found in bizarre 1950s sexual therapy, including bourgeois wife-swapping and swinging practices. These themes are frequently played out in today’s popular culture. Reality-TV shows invite two families to swap family members for a week—the idea being that the chosen families are from different social strata or ethnic backgrounds. The point of drumming the confrontation machine is to deal with the particular other, not with the general other. It’s no surprise that many popular films also play with social transplants, many originating in the post-oedipal 1980s: Dad turns into son via magic serum or magic skull (Like father, Like Son, 1987; Vice Versa, 1988); meditating old man turns into punk kid (Dream a Little Dream, 1989); crippled rich lady wants to switch bodies with a young woman but ends up in Steve Martin (All of Me, 1984); mom swaps body with teenage daughter after eating fortune cookies (Freaky Friday, 2003); grandpa swaps body with grandson (18 Again, 1984). The Hot Chick (2002) and Switch (1991) introduce gender swaps to the transplant genre. Then we have ego-centered transplants: teenager swaps bodies with an older self (13 Going on 30, 2004; Big, 1988) or vice versa (17 Again, 2009). Science-fiction movies play out the transplanting of minds and bodies by technological means. Consciousness is often transferred to another medium; the person’s mind is downloaded, re-programmed with...
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