When the shit hit the fan about three weeks ago, this image came up in my Facebook feed, along with the caption ‘Transfield is everywhere’:
Image and quote thanks to Catherine Ryan
The lead-up to the 19th Biennale of Sydney has been riddled with controversy. Just three weeks before opening, the Biennale’s only private sponsor, Transfield Holdings, has ended its forty-one year relationship with one of the country’s longest-running international arts events. This happened after Transfield copped heavy criticism from artists, the public and international government agencies for its commercial involvement in Australia’s system of mandatory detention of asylum seekers.
In 1975, Australian painter Ivan Durrant dumped a dead cow on the steps of the National Gallery. The media went wild and the public was outraged. Back then, at the end of the Vietnam War, this reaction threw the public’s ability to overlook far worse horrors into stark relief. For Australia possesses a sort of covert public hangover derived from two-and-a-bit centuries of enjoying a wealth built on colonial exploitation and xenophobic border politics. At certain moments the silence is shattered and we are forced to address the elephant (or dead cow) in the room using more than the usual token gestures. The scandal surrounding Transfield’s involvement in the Sydney Biennale presents us with one such instance.
Perhaps there is some information to be shared here for artists and curators elsewhere wondering about how to negotiate the murky territory of compromised funding sources.
Here are the ‘knowns’ of the situation:
The current Australian government ‘outsources’ asylum seekers to its former territory Nauru, an island in the South Pacific, and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island. These two island detention facilities are located on the edges of the Australian territorial imaginary, but they sit at the dark heart of the controversy over the sponsorship of the Sydney Biennale. Transfield Services has run the detention centre on Nauru since February 2013. At the end of January, it secured a governmental contract to take over ‘garrison and welfare services’ on Manus Island, previously run respectively by Transfield’s rival service provider GS4 and the Salvation Army.
Where? Both islands are so tiny that they don’t show up in a zoomed out map.
Australia has been detaining immigrants without papers since 1992. Today, both Australia’s ruling coalition and its political opposition support a mandatory detention system where asylum seekers can be detained for an indefinite time period. Moreover, mid-last year, the previous Labor government designed a ‘solution’ in which confirmed refugees were to be resettled not in Australia, but in Papua New Guinea. This meant that when the Liberal-National coalition was elected late last year, the new Immigration Minister Scott Morrison could freeze all asylum seeker applications for Australian visas, even though the terms of the ‘PNG Solution’ have not yet been accepted by the PNG government.
The situation’s ‘unknowns’ are best expressed by the asylum seekers of Manus Island themselves, who on the 17th of February issued the following questions to the detention centre management:
Is there a process? What is it?
How long are we going to be here?
When will we have our freedom?
Will transferees who have been deemed refugees in other countries be given priority in processing?
Why is there no PNG Partnership?
Some of the transferees have been interviewed some time ago, what is happening with our process? What is the hold-up?
Who is responsible for us here on Manus – PNG or Australia?
Why wonâ€™t Immigration (department) allow media to come here and interview us?
Will the Australian Government take responsibility for our mental health problems?
The Playfair lawyer said there was a third country option, why can’t we be sent to this other country?
Why are our human rights not respected?
The asylum seekers received only one answer to their questions: that they have definitively no chance of resettlement in Australia whatsoever.
On the night of the 17th of February, clashes on Manus Island took place between asylum seekers, security guards, PNG police, and island locals. No less than 62 asylum seekers were injured. Iranian Reza Berati was killed, allegedly by multiple blows to the head with a plank of wood, according to a leaked PNG police report which also details the use of rocks and weights as weapons, and points out that blood could be seen on the boots of detention centre security staff as they patrolled the centre on the following day.
The results of the autopsy of Reza Berati, the exact details of the situation, and likely the final investigations of the Manus Island incident remain unknown, as media access to detention centres is strictly controlled by the Australian and PNG governments.
And what of Transfield? As a result of its new contract to take over Manus Island, worth $AUD 1.2 billion, Transfield Service’s previously shaky share prices shot up by 21%. Transfield Holdings, which holds a 12% majority stake in Transfield Services, reaped the rewards accordingly. Transfield Holdings is the sole private sponsor of the Sydney Biennale.
After a series of public meetings twenty-eight Biennale artists penned a carefully worded open letter to the Board of Directors of the Biennale of Sydney petitioning it ‘to act in the interests of asylum seekers. As part of this we request the Biennale withdraw from the current sponsorship arrangements with Transfield and seek to develop new ones.’ This letter, dated the 19th of February and widely circulated in the Australian press, was subsequently signed by 41 of the 94 participating Biennale artists.
The Board issued a response to what it reasoned were ‘claims over which there is ambiguity’, and ‘assertions and allegations that are open to debate’, stating that ‘the only certainty is that without our Founding Partner, the Biennale will no longer exist.‘
In light of this statement, the ensuing events have landed the Biennale of Sydney with a decent amount of egg on face. On the 24th of February, the first five artists withdrew their work from the Biennale, stating that ‘We do not accept the platform that Transfield provides via the Biennale for critique. We see our participation in the Biennale as an active link in a chain of associations that leads to the abuse of human rights. For us, this is undeniable and indefensible’. On the 5th of March, an additional four artists withdrew their work.
What precipitated the final break between Transfield and the Biennale of Sydney was not a response from its staff members, nor was it a reaction from curator Juliana Engberg, who has remained more or less publicly silent on the topic. The break between the two entities originated from the very curious reaction of Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, Chair of the Biennale and Director of Transfield Holdings. On the 7th of March, Belgiorno-Nettis resigned as Chair of the Biennale Board taking with him Transfieldâ€™s money: this, despite previous claims that the Biennale could not exist without Transfieldâ€™s support.
Reading between the lines, it seems that Belgiorno-Nettis is both indignant and insulted. To put this in context, the Sydney Biennale and Transfield have been in tight collaboration since the eventâ€™s inception â€“ so much so, that in its early days it could just as well have been called the Transfield Biennale. Transfield’s executive director was then Luca’s father Franco Belgiorno-Nettis, a well-moneyed Australian Italian who established the first Biennale in 1973 guided by ‘civic-minded boosterism, nostalgia and philanthropy’, and inspired, apparently, by the mother of all Biennales in Venice. The exhibition, a conservative selection of mainly local artists presented in the brand-new foyer of the Sydney Opera House, was funded largely with Transfield money and staffed largely by Transfield workers.
1973 also saw the establishment of Australia’s current arts funding body, the Australia Council. When Transfield secured significant Council funding for its second Biennale, Transfield’s involvement in philanthropy extended slowly to the Australian Chamber Orchestra, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art, and numerous other community and art-based ventures. Thus, when Transfield Holdings cut its ties with the Sydney Biennale, one of Australia’s longest-standing private/public funding relationships came to an end, leading to fears that, under the current conservative political climate in Australia, other public-private funding relationships could be jeopardised. These fears have been confirmed by Australian Arts Minister George Brandis’s less than constructive response to the situation: a letter urging the Australia Council to punish arts funding recipients who reject private funding on political principle.
But where does the rest of Transfield’s money come from? Over the decades, the company has acquired significant contracts from the Australian Department of Defence worth over AUD 400 million, not to mention a series of businesses providing services to the oil, gas and coal sectors in Australia, India, the Gulf Region, Chile and North Dakota. Undisclosed proportions of Australians’ retirement funds are invested in the company. Tony Shepherd, the former chairperson of Transfield Services, now heads Australia’s new Commission of Audit, which is mandated with recommending spending cuts in the public sector. Transfield is, indeed, everywhere, but its omnipresence seemingly does not equal omnipotence. Instead, it has become a slave to the bottom line.
For Belgiorno-Nettis’ decision to end Transfield Holding’s relationship with the Biennale sits in direct contradiction with his own principles. Belgiorno-Nettis has heavily criticised the ‘spectacle’ of contemporary politics as a process caught between ‘two candidates on different sides of an issue, each attacking the idiotic ideas of the adversary.’His own NewDemocracy Foundation agitates for forms of citizen involvement that draw on the model of juried collective decision-making as an alternative to bi-partisan representative democracy, a process not dissimilar to the community consultation artists undertook in the lead-up to their withdrawal from the Biennale. In a recent interview, however, when asked what he thought of Transfield Service’s involvement in the mandatory detention industry, Belgiorno-Nettis proclaimed that Transfield Services are ‘doing nothing wrong anyway, in our view’, arguing that the company’s role is simply part and parcel of a government policy voted in by the people of Australia. Putting aside the dubious ethics behind this statement, this position sits in total contradiction with Belgiorno-Nettis’ own doubts of the efficacy of the democratic system.
Clear thinking is here undermined by complicity: in this case, a financial complicity. There are, however, other forms of complicity that are perhaps more universal. The complicity of being an Australian citizen who voted for the current government. The complicity of being an Australian citizen despite having voted differently. The complicity of enjoying the wealth of a country that has put a barbaric system of mandatory detention to use since 1992. The complicity, more generally, of being a person who uses a passport when there are people who cannot. The complicity of being human when other people are treated as if they are not.
The following is addressed to the many media commentators, politicians, and individuals who, over the last two week, have criticised the artists of the Sydney Biennale who took a stance against this unbearable complicity, attempting to steer the narrative away from the inhumane mandatory detention of asylum seekers. To those who would accuse these artists of ‘sheer vicious ingratitude‘. To those who would argue that the artists’ actions will make no difference to government policy. To those who will say that artists who have a problem with governmental policies should also now reject all forms of public funding (should senior citizens or those on disability pensions then also reject government funding?). And especially to those who say there is no alternative to this muddle of policies designed to satisfy some cruel regime of border control we should have left behind in the nineteenth century:
1) Complicity is an unbearable part of being human. Its very unbearability makes us turn away. When someone faces their complicity in all its complexity, when someone faces their imbrication in a system of horror, when someone acts in a situation where action makes no sense, the rest of us have a responsibility to listen very carefully.
2) Where we are not complicit is where commercial bodies have the run of power. A policy of mandatory detention upheld by governmental institutions is subject to the democratic reckoning of voters and governmental transparency, ideals that â€“ as Belgiorno-Nettis himself argues â€“ are troubled enough as it is. A detention process executed by private contracters and subcontracters, on the other hand, acquires an unbridled trajectoy and opacity of its own, filching away from the right of the people to determine the conditions of their own political existence.
3) Artists exercise the right to unbridled and uncensored freedom of speech. Those who seek to draw a division between art and politics are also those who are afraid to listen.
It may well be that, when voting in the current conservative government, the Australian people indeed ‘imagined what they desired’, and, in a perverse reversal of Engberg’s own slogan for the Sydney Biennale, they also got it. But now, pardon the bad joke, the proverbial dead cow is on the steps of the gallery. It’s a indictment on the Australian political system that some people have to get hurt for other people to take action, and a twisted irony that, in the very moment when we realise that our day-to-day life is built on such horrors, our right to have a voice in shaping our political reality is being eroded at the edges by incremental processes of privatisation. In this context, the dissenting Biennale artists have confronted our complicity, acting in defiance of a situation where, if you ask Transfield, the Australian government (including its Arts minister), the Biennale Board, and the mainstream journalists, action makes no rational sense whatsoever.
It is worth noting that Durrant’s cow-dumping occurred neither inside the gallery, nor on the steps of Parliament House. The carcass was left on the steps of the art institution, at that troublesome threshold between art and the street. In his case, as in the case of the nine artists who refuse to take part in the Sydney Biennale, the power of art lies in its withdrawal from the institution and its reappearance elsewhere, in a space where it might be confused for madness or activism, for an attempt at dialogue or a rash act of love, where it might disturb a public order we can no longer bear.
The Biennale of Sydney will open on the 21st of March.
The names of the artists who have withdrawn their work are: Libia Castro, Ã“lafur Ã“lafsson, Charlie Sofo, Gabrielle de Vietri, Ahmet Ã–ÄŸÃ¼t, Agnieszka Polska, Sara van der Heide, Nicoline van Harskamp and Nathan Gray
Sonja Hornung is a Melbourne-born artist and writer currently living inÂ Berlin. She is undertaking her Masters in Spatial Strategies at Weissensee School of Art.
Your guide to partying for a good cause this Spring.
Nothing says Spring like “Gala,” WTT? couldn’t be more excited to see the ice finally THAW. Speaking of, have you bought tickets for the Links Halls annual spring fling? It’s on April 4th, and really more like a three-storey drunk performance art odyssey than a party. Last year I got an sickening sparkly free mani from Aiden Simon at the Girl Don’t be Dumb salon, went inside of a space photo booth, saw Hope Esser ice skate on soap and watched more burlesque than I’d like to admit. For performance art, it’s not too weird, it’s really fun and it’s not that expensive for how open the bar is, what more could you ask from a Thursday night? And the inclusion of DJ CQQCHIFruit and La Spacer this year? Too much.
Enough gushing. Clearly, this benefit season is going to be huge, but don’t worry, WTT?s got you. Here are some notes on the best auctions and charity bashes around, in my not-so humble opinion. Can not wait to see what everyone looks like without a coat on!
Spotted: Todd King getting his feet did at THAW in 2013. Andrew Mausert-Mooney does his best Jesus in the front.
LVL3’s annual benefit auction is known to bring great names at reasonable prices with all works starting at $30. Past years auctions have featured Jon Rafman and Israel Lund amongst others. This years is no exception. We also love the LVL3 auction because the raffle prizes are copious and always awesome and it doesn’t hurt that each year the event benefits local non-profit, Arts of Life. Learn more about the auction and the organization here on the LVL3 website. Full disclosure: I take no prisoners on the auction floor. The event takes place on March 29th from 6 to 10PM at 1542 N. Milwaukee Ave. Last bid is accepted at 9:30PM so be on time!
Summer Forum : Hosted by TUSK
Sandwiched comfortably in-between the LVL3 and R&C auction is the Summer Forum fundraiser and art auction at everyones favorite bite-sized boutique, TUSK. There are quite a few repeats from both LVL3 and the R&C auction, though it doesn’t look like anyone got the hat trick. E-Dogz will be on hand, serving some serious benefit crossover and unlimited food with the purchase of a ticket ($25 presale or $35 ATD). Advance online bidding begins March 31, and the IRL event starts at 7pm on Saturday, April 5th at TUSK, 3205 W. Armitage Ave.
Roots & Culture 8th Annual Spring Gala
You don’t have to be Hamza Walker to know that Roots & Culture’s Eric May throws some of the best events in Chicago. Did someone say sangria and tapas? The lineup for the auction is pretty impressive too. Britton Bertran wasn’t kidding when he called the night’s auction list an Who’s Who. The List features some of my favorite Chicago art luminaries and at least one Whitney Biennial-er.
oh shit! – @RootsandCulture announced their auction fundraiser for May 3 (always a Chicago's Artist Who's Who aka The List)
Iâ€™d tell you who I’m excited about seeing at the auction, but I want the art all for myself! Find out yourself, the auction takes place May 3, from 7-11PM at 1034 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Spring benefit season is bookended by major heavy hitters with Threewalls rounding out the season. Another reliably good time, this year’s gala is being held in the spacious digs down south at Mana Contemporary. The full lineup hasnâ€™t been revealed but, I’m jazzed on the news that DJ Earl (who you might have read about in the last edition of the T) will be there. The details might still be a little fuzzy but you can already buy tickets on their site. Looking forward to finding out what a Gunnatowski â€œwearableâ€ looks like.
FLASHBACK! Trending artist Jesse Malmed (right) with Trunk Show co-director, Raven Munsell (left) and artist Jason Lazarus (center) at Salvage One last year for Threewalls Spring Gala.
The Weatherman Report
For Chicago IL
Charles Ephraim Burchfield, Early Spring, 1917, Watercolor and graphite on paper, 21 Ã— 28 1/4 inches. James Goodman Gallery.
Bad at Sports finally trending.
What’s the TRENDING?
The Equinox is Totes Normcore
Pillows: After being relegated to cameos in the backgrounds of painting and photographic portraits for centuries, pillows are finally stepping out on their own. Last week during the Whitney Biennial/ New Yawk City hullabaloo the internet was plastered with images of the biennial and various fairs, but nothing stood out more than the freaky pillows of Bjarne Melgaard at the #WhiBi. With the help of NY based artist and collaborator Amanda Browder, Bad at Spots finally reached the cutting edge with their Volta bed-in installation and recording booth. As if the original Richard and Duncan aren’t creepy enough on their own, Browder created life-size pillow versions for the Volta booth. Good work, team!
Detail of Norwegian American artist Bjarne Melgaard’s cracked out living room installation. Image by Hyperallergic.
Browder with pillows only a mother could love.
Jesse Malmed: Usually it’s difficult for individual artists to be in enough places at once to qualify as a trend, by that’s no problem for trending artist, Malmed. The co-director of Trunk Show and UIC grad student must not sleep. This past weekend Malmed did double duty at the MCA, as one of The Nightingale programmers on Friday night and then again on Saturday for his own presentation of selections from The Body Electronic: What Television Taught Me about Art, a live televisual lecture performance. Trunk Show also hosted an opening/ 5-act play by artist Brandon Alvendia outside the Multiples fair on Sunday and whatever HALLWALLS2 is had an opening on Monday afternoon. And that’s just over four consecutive days. If you’re interested in getting in on the Malmed Madness, and you clearly should be, the artists’ MFA show at UIC is opening on April 18th. If you feel like waking with the sun tomorrow, he’s also hosting a dawn equinox performance, more info here.
Butter Projects Announcement image for From Here to There: Ear to Ear
The Whitney Biennial screams. The Armory Show screams. SXSW screams. Most music festivals and art exhibitions in March will scream, elated that winter is finally over, the snow is mostly gone and we can return outdoors, see other humans before we try to escape from them again on summer vacations. To be screamed at by art and be awoken by the grandiose, and the faux political, the happy accident, the cronyism, the speculation, the over-hyped and the up-and-coming, the truly amazing and the market saturated garbage that is always in those blockbuster screamo shows seems to be an annual rite. We tend not to whisper â€œspring is hereâ€, especially after this past winter, but isnâ€™t that a better way to get bears out of hibernation? Butter Projectsâ€™ Spring exhibition, Here to There: Ear to EarÂ aimed to do just that: a colorful and elated return to Spring, but provoking joy rather than record breaking auction sales or trying to define contemporary art through a show. I was being whispered to and they were sweet nothings, dreamy musings by artists who were ushering in Spring by reveling in the ecstatic moment of creation, and not the art world slime that oozes out of the dealers and sharks that are trying to find the next big thing to exploit and bleed dry at the ripe age of 36. If there was a slime umbrella, if somehow an artist could show in an established gallery, free of slime, free of ooze, of political and classist vitriol, of fur coat envy and ever tightening faces, diamonds, couture, of speculative assumptions and net worth, my guess is it would be here. Art can still exist in the white cube and maintain purity, at least it better, or we should just stop and chase a career in investment banking.
Jill Galarneau The Wind Has Its Reasons, paper acrylic, gouache, pencil, ink, pins, 2014
Jill Galarneauâ€™s The Wind Has its ReasonsÂ and SwimsuitÂ explore color and pattern within abstract and geometric shapes, evoking a combination of purpose and play. The former exists as small patterned paper pinned to the wall, in strips and shapes, woven together by steady pencil lines arcing gracefully like a kite tail in the wind. A 1950â€™s esque explosion of martini tinged advertising referencing the innocence (or ignorance) of the atomic age and the power of the bomb are held captive by tiny steel pins. The frenzy is contrasted by Swimsuit, which is positioned within the confines of a frame, and as such, in a much tighter condensed field. Here the possible explosion is contained as the particles build pressure in the frame, overlapping to create new shapes and waiting for a flash point. They collide together and flow over each other as tectonic plates might, segments of animated snakes in Sega games. Both invite the viewer to enjoy the materials and process in the works. While the artist retains the flatness of the paper, she also retains its lightness and delicacy, allowing the viewer to linger with the works, our eyes fluttering around the compositions, caffeinating us.
Katy Lloyd, Untitled (Marge), polymer clay, acrylic, wool, glitter and air dry clay, 2014
Katy Lloydâ€™s art sits in a delicate state between image and object: in direct relation to the wall, either hanging from it on leaning against it, occupying the space in a non assertive way, as they prefer the corners, walls and floor, denying viewing in the round. Their bright colors are sometimes more apparent than their forms, the latter being thin, amorphous, flattened or deflated, yet the colors pop and swell, bleed and vibrate. They take control and often define the form of the objects. Contours in Untitled (spaghetti legs) are achieved by minimal shaping of the paper, so that the creases are quite noticeable as points of being in the object as opposed to material stress. With Untitled (Marge), wool â€œhairâ€ is wrapped around a few acrylic rods to evoke the cartoon namesakeâ€™s iconic doo, a body is exchanged for tripod legs covered in both pastel polymer and air dry clay smooshed on, clenching the legs, the whole thing straddling a pile of glitter poop on the ground. Leaning against the wall with her red clay tip of her head, she is aloof, yet radiating positivity and sympathy. Being the light of the party all the time can be draining, like there is strength in weakness. Across from her is Untitled (hey buddy)(string guy)), a jumble of acrylic sheeting the artist painted and cut into strips, hangs out from a plastic loop in the wall evoking the impossible to solve tangle of Easter basket grass, in a sexy wet ramen noodle heap pouring forth, lingering on the floor in a fashionable plaid of pinks and yellows and orange that points to a stump of clay coyly hiding under and holding up the edge of the wall the work is on. Across from each other, they appear as figures in conversation, or looking for a way out of one.
Jonathan Rajewski, Untitled Â (installation view – 5 works), mixed media on rubber, upholstery fabric, linen, sewn leather and fabric, 2013 – 2014
Jonathan Rajewskiâ€™s abstract paintings (all Untitled) are much darker than Llyodâ€™s and Galarneauâ€™s works. Using gunpowder, caulk, and concrete on surfaces such as leather and rubber, the application is often thick, crusty and textured. They seem heavier with their sometimes murky colors, yet there is still a true play and discovery in the works through line and material. They become free flowing, less attached to solid compositions, giving them a certain lightness of being. Two smaller panels on the wall exhibit the most control within a sprawling composition of washed out colors and meandering line. The rest of his paintings lean against one another in a stack that is meant to be freely flipped through by the audience. Forgetting that interactive directives like this are almost always problematic in their execution, especially since there is no written indication anywhere that this is the artistâ€™s intention (I lucked out by being told by one of the exhibiting artists) the true beauty of the works were revealed one by one as I discovered surfaces and textures both unexpected and lavish. Each painting got better and better, so the fear of dropping one didnâ€™t hold up to the desire to keep going, digging deeper into the pile.
Here to There: Ear to Ear celebrates the ephemeral by means of a lifespan; the works sitting in the complacent knowledge that they may become as out of touch as a Renoir tomorrow, and thats OK, you here now and that is all we have anyway. Often at openings, the art is seemingly in the background setting the scene, bringing people together. Sometimes its just about the scene. Always alone while together, in ones own head and space while amongst others. When art touches us on this level, it succeeds. It doesnâ€™t always have to scream to do this: it can lean its head against the wall and pretend its not listening, or hide itself in plain sight waiting for private discovery — a one on one conversation. The art seems to exist with the true joy and terror of being in the company of others, or the moment of waking up when two realities collide, one ending in death to acknowledge the otherâ€™s eventual death. Knowing this, yet taking that deep inhale, and existing permanently in the moment before the forced bodily exhale.
Here to There: Ear to Ear Opening Night, Butter Projects, March 14, 2014
Here to There: Ear to Ear opened Friday, March 14, 2014 with an opening reception from 7-10pm. The exhibition runs through April 18, 2014. Free and open to the public.
During the run of the exhibition, Butter Projects will hold open hours Friday from 1-5pm and Saturdays from 1-3pm. Additional hours can be made by appointment, to schedule, email firstname.lastname@example.org
About Butter Projects
BUTTER projects is a studio and exhibition space founded in October of 2009. Housed in a storefront built in 1915, the space was conceived to be flexible and open to a multitude of creative endeavors. Our mission is to engage with the community and participate in the promotion of the arts in the Metro-Detroit area by providing a place to make, discuss and exhibit artwork. Butter Projects is run and operated by Alison Wong and John Charnota
Butter is located at 814 West Eleven Mile Road, in Royal Oak, Michigan. Parking is available behind the building. For more information visit www.butterprojects.info or contact email@example.com
Jill Galarneau http://jillgalarneau.com/Â lives in Brooklyn and received an MFA in Painting from Cranbrook Academy of Art in 2006.
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.Â But it was still difficult to imagine what the effect of receiving all the antibodies at once would be. In actuality, my bodyâ€™s reaction was much more unruly than predicted.Â I think the families of antibodies increased each otherâ€™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.Â You couldnâ€™t say I established genuine contact with the horses.Â On the other hand, I wasnâ€™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.Â 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,Â 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.Â In a physical sense, itâ€™s true.Â 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.Â 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 Iâ€™ve had, like my introduction to the pygmies of Gabon. Who made me see death.Â 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.