The following interview was originally published on Bad at Sports in March, 2014. It has been reposted here as part of the August in the Anthropocene series.
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 Uexkull’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, and 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 partnerBenoît 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.
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.
This week: CAA continues with our interview withÂ Dushko Petrovich and Roger White, founders of Paper Monument on the wild and wooly world of foundations!Â Paper MonumentÂ is a print journal of contemporary art published byÂ n+1Â and designed byÂ Project Projects.
Paper MonumentÂ relies on the support of our readers. We also receive financial support from the New York State Council on the Arts.
This week: Amanda and Tom go to the Rachel Uffner Gallery to talk with Roger White about his self titled show at the gallery which ran October 29th-December 13th. Roger talks about the show and painting as well as being an artist/journalist as the Vermont based artist is also a frequent contributor to the Brooklyn Rail as well as one of the founders of Paper Monument.
A few noteworthy links and stories for your midweek perusal…plus a freebie at the bottom.
****College Art Association (CAA) has made eighty-one audio recordings from the panels at last month’s conference in Chicago available for download. They’re kind of expensive ($149.95 for the complete Set of CAA 2010 Conference Recordings on Interactive MP3 Audio CD-ROM or MP3 download; $24.95 for an individual panel MP3 download), but if you couldn’t come up with the cash to attend the conference in full, like moi, this could be a great way to access the panels you missed in person. I’ll be choosy, but will most likely buy at least one.
****“Palestinian Avatars”: This is fascinating; apparently, the movie Avatar and its indigenous aliens the Na’vi have been appropriated by Palestinian rights activists, who painted themselves blue and wore costumes inspired by the Na’vi during a recent protest in Bil’in, a Palestinian town divided in half by the wall. This post on Provisions Library provides further background along with some pretty brilliant analysis: “The most striking aspect of this re-appropriation of a distinctly American, Avatar meme, is the irony. And right across the barbed-wire fence opposite from Bil’in are Israeli soldiers whose weapons supplied by American taxpayers. So, as Joseph Nye would explain, that’s an example of U.S. “hard power.” Then, on the other side, the Palestinians to score by appropriating imagery siphoned with sophistication from the mighty currents of American “soft power.” Wow. Elsewhere, you can find additional photographs of what’s been dubbed the “Palestinian Avatar” protests here, along with a video of the demonstration.
****Artnet’s Charlie Finch asks “Who is Dakis Joannou?” Finch speculates that Joannou’s future as the Chairman of J&P (Overseas) and J&P-AVAX, both publicly traded Greek companies, “could yield two divergent prospects for a complex, interlocking business, dependent on amortization and wide debt-to-capital ratios. The first is that Dakis is smart enough and aggressive enough to take advantage of buying opportunities during a worldwide recession and increase his bottom line significantly. The second is that J&P is so overleveraged and so dependent on the luxury market that it is at serious risk of default, should its capital pipeline dry up. J&P’s low stock price would indicate a potential problem in this area.” If it’s the latter, it’s probably safe to assume that Joannou may indeed peel off some of that Skin Fruit in the not-so-distant future.
****Ikea plans to commission major works by contemporary artists Piotr Uklanski, Jeppe Hein and Jim Lambie for its “airport-sized,” Moscow-based development slated for 2012.
****Auction sales for work by African-American artists surged at recent Swann sale, and the market for art by African Americans continues to grow.
****The Grand Rapids Art Museum will present GRAM and Ox-Bow: Joint Centennial Celebration Exhibition and Artist Series this summer. 30+ artists from throughout Ox-Bow’s history will be featured at the Grand Rapids Art Museum in a special exhibition. (via Curated).
****I Like Your Work: Art and Etiquette: a pamphlet published by the contemporary art journal Paper Monument, addresses the topic of “manners in the art world” via interviews with 38 artists, critics, curators and dealers. Read this excerpt, a series of questions about art-world politesse posed to artists Michelle Grabner and Ryan Steadman, online here.
****Ohhhhh. So. Incredibly. Beautiful: An Elizabethan Bestiary: Retold. Go click on this one right away, you won’t be disappointed.
****I am not one of those women who is “into shoes”, but Dezeen’s top ten list of past shoe features makes me wish I were a bit more of a fetishist when it comes to this particular area of my body. Though no way in hell would I ever wear these french bread loafers.
****Jokes: Philosophical Thoughts on Joking Matters, by Ted Cohen, is now available for free download at The University of Chicago Press website – for the month of March only. (The Chicago Blog). The U of C Press offers a free downloadable book each month, so check back to see what else they’ll have available for you in the future!
****An exhibition of Grateful Dead paraphernalia opens at the New York Historical Society…and no, its not that kind of paraphernalia.
****And finally….all you need to know about Professional Female Stoners. This is not, unfortunately, a description of an up-and-coming growth sector in the jobs market.