Adapting the Umwelt: Art Orienté objet

March 17, 2014 · Print This Article

Art Orienté objet, Que le cheval vive en moi, 2011

Art Orienté objet, Que le cheval vive en moi, 2011.

In a 2007, Art Orienté objet, a French collaborative group comprised of Marion Laval-Jeantet and Benoît Mangin, began a series of body modification experiments intended to communicate with animals outside of language.  “Basically the project was to artistically adapt Jacob von Uexküll’s Umwelt theory, which argues that the meaning of an environment differs from one animal to another in relation to its sensorial system” (Marion Laval-Jeantet, “Self-Animality,” Plastik: Art and Science, June 2011). The project began with an investigation of cats — what eventually culminated in a single piece, Felinanthropy, where Laval-Jeantet put on a pair of cat-like prosthetic hindquarters; by transforming her status as a bi-ped, she was able to change the hierarchical relation between herself and the cat. A subsequent experimental work led Mangin to put on a prosthetic giraffe head and engage giraffes in a zoo — exploring the giraffe’s ability to recognize Mangin not as a human, but as something almost giraffe. More recently, AOo embodied an equine perspective; Leval-Jeantet built up a tolerance to horse blood by injecting a small bit of the animal’s plasma into her system over the course of a year. She subsequently staged a horse blood transfusion performance with her partner Benoît Mangin.  What remains of Que le cheval vie en moi!, is the  “relic,” a small, innocuous petri dish, with human/horse blood. In the following interview, originally conducted for Paper Monument where an affiliated essay, “Humanimals” was published, I asked Laval-Jeantet a few questions about this work. All answers have been translated into English by Basia Kapolka.

Art Orienté objet, Felinanthropy, 2007.

Art Orienté objet, Felinanthropy, 2007.

Caroline Picard: What were you anticipating the affect of injecting horse plasma into your blood steam would be? How did you expectations measure up with the reality of your experience?

Marion Laval-Jeantet: In a certain way, I knew what to expect from the injection of the horse plasma since I had received injections of the horse antibodies one at a time during the preceding months.  But it was still difficult to imagine what the effect of receiving all the antibodies at once would be. In actuality, my body’s reaction was much more unruly than predicted.  I think the families of antibodies increased each other’s effects, so that the final reaction was very complex, affecting even my metabolism, my endocrine glands, my nervous system, as well as my sleep and appetite.

CP: Also, did you use the blood of one specific horse? Did your relationship with that horse change at all?

MLJ: I used the blood of three specific horses that belong to the laboratory I worked with.  You couldn’t say I established genuine contact with the horses.  On the other hand, I wasn’t specifically familiar with the horses before the experiment. The experiment changed my psyche so that I saw the horses differently after it, with a different appreciation. A familiarity.

CP: Can you talk a little bit about your horse-stilts? How did your experience of your own body change?

MJL: The stilts were mostly there to allow me a different way of communicating with the horse who was present during the performance. I was a little afraid of horses, actually. And it seems like horses attitudes change completely when your eyes are at the same height as theirs. With the stilts, my eyes were the same height as his, and I could see that the horse was calmer. It was also a way for me to be aware of the reversal of roles between me and the animal. And naturally, it was a way to distract myself from the possible anxiety that might arise because of the infusion. Because I was on stilts, I could only think of the goal: to join with the animal, and not of the psychological problems that might come out during the performance.  Experiments with prosthetics always affect your fears about your body, and in the performance it was necessary that I have a strong sense of a double transformation,  mental and biological.

CP: Do you feel like your “self” has been forever altered? In other words, there is an idea I believe I, at least, take for granted: that is that my self is continuous and sustaining throughout a linear experience of time. This assumption is challenged by ideas of drastic plastic surgery, transplants and cloning, for instance–the self as it was defined before is fundamentally no longer the same self it was before. It seems to me your work poses similar a question: how can a distinctly human self sustain its identity when it has become, also, part horse?

MJL: Your question about fundamental change is completely fair. At the moment, I have a very strong sense that my body, and also my identity were deeply changed by the experience.  In a physical sense, it’s true.  I will always have within me biological markers that bear witness to my meeting with the horse. The problem is that the external physiological effects seem to have only lasted a few months, and were strongest in the first four weeks. So today, even if there are some delayed reactions or long-term consequences, I can say that the transformation remains more in the mental structure than in the physical one.  I have the sense of not having been completely human for some time. The experience changed my inner self forever. But this is also the case with previous strong experiences I’ve had, like my introduction to the pygmies of Gabon. Who made me see death.  Each of these experiences makes my thoughts and my existence more complex, the more they change them. I believe deeply in the adaptation of the human body. More than in homeostasis. Existence itself is a permanent transformation, a constantly-evolving system. You speak of changes made to the body, but I think grief, for example, shakes up identity much more. My aim is not so much a transformation of my essence, as the wish to respond to an eternal frustration: to finally feel the animal otherness in myself, but also to stop thinking from a purely anthropocentric point of view. Already, the pygmies succeeding in making me feel the spirits in the forest, during a trance. I think that I am less and less purely human, which is to say that I am fundamentally more and more human, in the utopian sense of philosophical humanism.

Paper Monument was recently interview on the Bad at Sports podcast.

Top 5 Weekend Picks! (3/14-3/16)

March 13, 2014 · Print This Article

1. Beneath the Paving Stones, the Beach at Gallery 400

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Work by Matt Brett, Houston Cofield, Colleen Kiehm, Melissa Myser.

Gallery 400 is located at 400 S. Peoria St. Reception Friday, 5-8pm.

2. From Utopia at SideCar

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Work by Clare Britt.

SideCar is located at 411 Huehn St., Hammond, IN. Reception Saturday, 5-10pm.

3. Spring Undergraduate Exhibition at Sullivan Galleries

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Work by 300 SAIC undergraduate students.

Sullivan Galleries is located at 33 S. State St. 7th Fl. Reception Saturday, 12-6pm.

4. Mary’s Room at Aspect/Ratio

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Work by Martin Murphy.

Aspect/Ratio is located at 119 N. Peoria St. Reception Friday, 6-8pm.

5. Personhood at Paris London Hong Kong

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Work by Kyla Mallett.

Paris London Hong Kong is located at 845 W. Washington Ave. 3rd Fl. Reception Friday, 5-8pm.

Object Revelations: One View of Twin Cities

March 13, 2014 · Print This Article

Winter is not yet over, but I have already felt the urge to start spring cleaning. I want to air out the bedroom and beat the rugs, to scrub the floors and clear the clutter hidden behind the heaviest winter clothes in the back of the closet and the last summery jars of canned vegetables in the far reaches of the pantry. My house is heavy with things, and I am ready to clear them out. I am ready for objects that play multiple roles, that open the doors to new thoughts, new worlds, new seasons.

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Brian Thomas Daly, via White Page Gallery

EVEN IF IT KILLS YOU by Bryan Thomas Daly at White Page Gallery is an attempt to move away from the “library of Alexandria” he had amassed around himself, a purposely object-full attempt to transcend the physicality of the collections that maintain our place in consumer society while reinforcing the belief in our individuality. The modified vinyl and record covers revel in their identity as objects that contain the depths of content we know exist in their grooves. Daly levels their value, eliminating their use through his playful, spirited modifications. The work was made as part of a residency in the gallery, and it is in conversation with the objects that fill the corners, hallways, and studio spaces in the other half of White Page Gallery. The finished and in progress pieces, the raw materials, the tools, the giant, decades-old, fire hazard of a boiler all bear witness to the diverse studio practices, the collective experience of working and making decisions together. They are a testament to exploration and the opening of horizons.

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23-string banjo, via Paul Metzger

Objects were also at the forefront of the first Sound.Art.MIA event at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Paul Metzger‘s sublime performance was mesmerizing. His 23-string banjo was inescapable as the visual locus of his plucking, strumming, bowing. Similarly, the Body/Head performance was centered around their guitars as objects, as unfamiliar extensions of their body to be explored by pushing, pulling, swinging, and hefting them through waves of feedback and mountains of sound. The video projected behind them distracted from their performance, pulling attention away from the objects they lovingly cradled, stroked, and manhandled. The night culminated in minutes of Kim Gordon exploring the crackling, scratching soundscape of the length of her output jack, flooding the room with the slightest adjustments of the very place her body flowed out into the rest of the room.

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The recent few days of thaw have transformed the monochrome snowscape into the grey rainbows of exhaust-filled slush and ice. The receding snow reveals more than the objects hidden beneath it. It reveals the forgotten body of the city that surrounds us. It unleashes the vast symphony of drips and rushing torrents that arise from the barely visible stormdrains, and it opens windows onto the vast water system that has silently been working beneath our feet throughout the winter. It embues the objects that surround us, that care for us, with a new life, an unfolding wonder that will continue to expand as the weather warms and as I make more room for it in my less cluttered house.

By Invitation: notes on midwestern conceptualism

March 12, 2014 · Print This Article

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Photograph of the artists who participated in the January Show
Photograph by Seth Siegelaub, 1969. Taken from Moma.org
From left: Robert Barry, Douglas Huebler, Joseph Kosuth, and Lawrence Weiner.

“In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art. This kind of  art is not theoretical or illustrative of theories; it is intuitive, it is involved with all types of mental processes and it is purposeless.”  -  Sol Lewitt, “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art”

Sol Lewitt goes on to write that conceptual art frees the artist of trade, skill, and any semblance of feeling. Instead, the responsibility of the conceptual artists is to leave the viewer with a kind of mental entertainment or novelty, some bit of cognitive candy, like solving a sudoku, or discovering that the vase you are looking it is in fact two human faces peering into each other.

It should be noted here that Lewitt would likely take me to task for confusing the perceptual and conceptual with that last example. In any case Lewitt is not my main concern and while parts of his text propel me occasionally they can do no more here than to haunt a certain regional tendency, what I am calling midwest conceptualism.

“When an artists uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair.”

What I have observed in the midwest is a kind of social conceptualism. Artists here do not arrive at an idea so much as invite each other into an elaborate system of responses that reveal the idea to everyone involved slowly and deliberately. Midwestern conceptualism enacts a human, read also as intuitive, structure that disperses authorship and catalyzes collaborative relationships best described as hospitable in that there is evident an element of hospitality.

An anecdote: the practice is always encountering interruption.

The studio is interrupted by the invitation. The invitation is interrupted by the curatorial frame. The frame is interrupted by the space. The space is interrupted by the viewer.  And so on and so on.

Hospitality too is a kind of interruption, the knock at the door, the footsteps of the guest as they cross the threshold, echoes breaching the silence of the home. What follows is the clamor of hospitality as one sets oneself aside in service of a guest.

Hospitality is implicit in the service industry of art. An artists is invited by a host to make work for or take part in an exhibition or program. The artist in-turn invites a host of collaborators to occupy, program, or inhabit the space that has been allocated to them. Thereby creating a platform that extends the opportunity and the resources provided to their social network and various communities. Whether home or abroad artists from across the region are fond of making social spaces, forming temporary collectives, and opening up the individualistic terrain of the exhibition.

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Material Exchange, InCUBATE, and Adam Bobbette

“I still insist on the social roots of the problem. “The group” forced to compete in an individualistic antagonistic self-interested (Adam Smith you Scottish Bastard) world. For example: “having a show” is a one or two man endeavor. You need impact and gestalt. The whole thing is epistemologically individualistic. That’s that. One reason for the collapse of A&L [Art & Language] was that it moved from the journal (which was a “group effort”) to gallery shows which suddenly meant 15 or 14 out of the 16 people were standing around pretending they knew what was going on. There’s nothing wrong with leaders, it’s just when others see them leading and you following that we get screwed up. Again, these problems are social, not “merely psychological.” - Mel Ramsden in a letter to Joseph Kosuth, extracted from “1975” by Joseph Kosuth.

The nature of any given network and the quality of the relationships therein is a matter for critical faculties and human insight alike. How else is one to understand a practice that is both experiential and contextual if not with the mind and heart, that is with cool headed analytics running alongside lived experience (intuition again). Given that this kind of conceptual practice is social, invitational, and hospitable, the way towards understanding such a practice must come from a committed audience member. It is not enough to pass off some quick judgement after having poked one’s head into the room. One has to set oneself aside, to give time to the work, it is as if the work is a knock on the door interrupting a busy host.

The relationship between host and guest, organizer to artist, artist to viewer, is one of reciprocity and generosity. Each becoming, at times, more or less the host or guest of the other, never fully inhabiting the other’s place within the network but instead moving between hubs. This elaborate courtship proposes a way of being together and a context to occupy.

“There’s nothing wrong with leaders, it’s just when others see them leading and you following that we get screwed up.”

It’s an Oklahoma Day, Part 2: Tulsa

March 11, 2014 · Print This Article

Tulsa Skyline looking North. Image by Bob Smith.

Tulsa Skyline looking North. Image by Bob Smith.

Over the coming months, the Bad at Sports blog is featuring quick glimpses of the art world as it exists in smaller cities across the country and around the world. Each glimpse is byway of some of the said city’s local characters, which include but are not limited to artists, curators, creative writers, and critics. In part 2 of this Oklahoma Day, curator Lauren Ross takes a spin around culturally revived Tulsa, Oklahoma. 

T-Town Transformation

Guest post by Lauren Ross

I moved to Tulsa in the summer of 2011.  As a relative newcomer (and New York City native), I may not be privy to the long view of the art scene in “T-Town,” but the visual arts in Tulsa have gone through a transformative shift so recent that, even in my short time here, I have borne witness to the sea change.   I’m referring to the revitalization of the downtown neighborhood known as the Brady Arts District.  With its assortment of arts organizations, creative industries, music and performance venues, and overall cool and energetic vibe, this small, long-neglected neighborhood has become Tulsa’s artistic nerve center.

Brady had already been dubbed with the arts district moniker due to the presence of a pioneering few organizations, but critical mass was achieved in 2012-13, primarily due to the efforts of the George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF).  Established by the eponymous local philanthropist, GKFF’s main target is combating issues of urban poverty, but it also has done wonders for the civic enhancement of Tulsa.  Rather progressively, many of its efforts to improve the city have been focused specifically on developing arts and culture.  Simply put, the foundation bought up a good deal of dead space in Brady, fixed it up, and turned it over to various arts organizations.  Former empty warehouses now house museums, nonprofit spaces, and teaching facilities, and what was once a truck depot is now a public park and performance space.

"Bean Finneran: Ceramic Landscapes" at 108Contemporary. Image by Steven Michaels Photography and courtesy of 108Contemporary.

“Bean Finneran: Ceramic Landscapes” at 108Contemporary. Image by Steven Michaels Photography and courtesy of 108Contemporary.

Philbrook Downtown Image by Jeremy Charles and courtesy of Philbrook Museum of Art

Philbrook Downtown. Image by Jeremy Charles and courtesy of Philbrook Museum of Art

Philbrook Downtown Image by Jeremy Charles and courtesy of Philbrook Museum of Art

Philbrook Downtown. Image by Jeremy Charles and courtesy of Philbrook Museum of Art

Today this neighborhood features a vibrant mix of organizations.  Neighborhood pioneers include the Brady Theater, the legendary music venue Cain’s Ballroom, the alternative space Living Arts, Tulsa Glassblowing School, and the cooperative gallery Tulsa Artists’ Coalition.  More recent additions anchor Brady Street itself.  The Henry Zarrow Center for Art and Education is a three-story building housing classrooms, art studios, galleries and event spaces, jointly administered by the University of Tulsa’s School of Art and Gilcrease Museum.  108Contemporary (formerly Brady Craft Alliance) is a nonprofit space dedicated to contemporary craft that showcases local and national artists.  The archives of Oklahoma son Woody Guthrie, recently relocated from New York, are housed at the Woody Guthrie Center, a museum and research center that also sponsors live music.  Philbrook Downtown, a satellite location for Philbrook Museum of Art, presents exhibitions and programming dominated by modern and contemporary art by Native American and non-Native artists, and houses the Adkins Study Center for Native American art.  Adjacent to these institutions, the Arts and Humanities Council built the Hardesty Arts Center (better known by the acronym, AHHA), a brand new Cor-Ten steel clad, 42,000-square-foot building that features exhibition spaces, artist studios, classrooms, and more.

Exterior of the Woody Guthrie Center showing a mural by Aaron Whisner. Image by Scott Smith and courtesy of Woody Guthrie Center

Exterior of the Woody Guthrie Center showing a mural by Aaron Whisner. Image by Scott Smith and courtesy of Woody Guthrie Center

Guthrie Green. Image by Tom Fox and courtesy of Guthrie Green.

Guthrie Green. Image by Tom Fox and courtesy of Guthrie Green.

The Brady renaissance wasn’t achieved by the presence of arts organizations alone.  GKFF’s revitalization of the neighborhood also included creating subsidized housing, street-scaping and tree planting.  Perhaps most significantly, the foundation created Guthrie Green, a public park with a stage area that serves as a venue for everything from farmer’s markets and food festivals to movies and concerts, all free of charge.  GKFF’s work was matched by a variety of efforts, funded by both public and private sources, which added such amenities as a baseball stadium, television station, and new hotel.  Together, these catalysts had an almost immediate effect.  Seemingly overnight, coffee shops, restaurants, bars and boutiques followed.  An area that used to feel post-apocalyptically deserted on evenings and weekends is now buzzing and humming.  And while the gentrification has spurred a small contingent to grumble over the area getting “too fancy,” the economic benefits to the city have been palpable, and continue to accrue.

I don’t want to imply that Brady is the only area of Tulsa with rich offerings.  Important players in Tulsa’s art scene are scattered throughout the city: Philbrook Museum of Art and Gilcrease Museum, the two largest museums in town, serve as cultural anchors.  Commercial galleries and artist-run spaces are peppered across various neighborhoods, from Brookside to Cherry Street.  Fab Lab provides cutting-edge design and fabrication technologies.   Additionally, other neighborhoods are on the tipping point of Brady-like transformations, notably the Pearl District and the East Village, the latter home to the Creative Room, a collective workspace for people working in creative industries.

These recent pushes for public and private redevelopment with an eye towards culture and the creative class are healthy and productive.  But the city and state governments have far more work to do to make Tulsa a hospitable place for artists to live and work and nonprofits to thrive.  A bill currently in the state’s House of Representatives threatens to eliminate the autonomy of the Oklahoma Arts Council and jeopardize significant amounts of funding for the arts.  Such eliminations could be devastating.  If funding and community support can survive, Tulsa’s ability to enrich artists and audiences will continue to grow.

I have a personal wish for the arts in Tulsa, one that admittedly may stem from my status as a relative newcomer: to see more interaction with what is happening beyond the city’s borders.  I believe local artists could benefit from increasing their awareness of what is being made, experienced, and discussed in other places.  Organizations can serve those same artists by opening up dialogues and exchanges with their counterparts in neighboring cities and states.  I see these efforts being done successfully by the Oklahoma Visual Arts Council (OVAC), one of the few organizations working hard to bridge gaps, for example, between Tulsa and Oklahoma City, two cities geographically close but psychically distant.   Tulsa is situated midway between Kansas City and Dallas, both centers of dynamic, cutting-edge arts scenes.  Engagement with places like that would not only broaden our horizons, but promote the great things that are going on here to others, not to mention move us towards raising the city’s profile on a national stage.  Tulsa is closer than ever to being “discovered” as a hidden cultural jewel, and to showing the rest of the nation what many people here already know.

Lauren Ross is the Nancy E. Meinig Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa.