I have been reading your report – such as the Proustian Croquis you announced - about the epic journey to pick up your adopted Lady Lovelace Lealaps alias Ada in the Schwarzwald, to get her acquainted with Lord Byron, and finally with the first swallowed drops of your childless mother’s milk after all this efforts of horny-depressive breast pumping (congrats!), both with deep emotional and co-corpo-real interest, and at the same time with a desire to keep a distant abstract view on your process, not unlike a biosemiotically motivated entomologist. I can’t wait going soon beyond the level of our epistolary exchange and visit you and the hybrid family when you open up your Bülowstrasse space by the end of the month, since the format of exchange we imposed on ourselves turns out to be, by the force of medium, rhythm and (each one’s) style, more that of a somehow ‘autistic’ and parallel essays than that of a frequent exchange of (sorry for the pun) fluidity. But it is probably also the richness of such an exercise flattened by digitally transmitted words to actually share apparently unrelated references, quotes, anecdotes and associations to fill up the imaginary with complementary elements not foreseen in the protocol.
You had indeed warned me in the very first of your blog posts about your process of becoming m/OTHER: “I am submitting myself into the very narcissistic ego-formation (…) very much connected with the narcissistic part of myself.” You suggested, indeed, that the aim of making this me-myself-I into a vector would be intended to explore “the complex contemporary dynamics of the external as well”, but always seen and felt “out of the very molecular depth of my-self” and – seemingly much in the tradition of feminist (post-) structuralist strategy – “to emancipate from a primal patriarchal horde, in Freudian terms, by symbolic murder of the primal father (as the position of power).” At the same time, you, self-diagnosed alpha-female, alleged top of the fresh hybrid’s pyramid and breastfeeder/needer, seem to (ironically?) long for the next K-9 project to inoculate your egg cells with dog sperm as a selfish “blasphemous neoliberal wish” while blaming consumerism, religion, colonialism and imperialism around as the ultimate evil. How much irony can an I carry? And, genuinely, how much other?
While counting many performance artists, whose own bodies and biographies are their media, among my appreciated friends, I always wondered about the fragile balance between narcissism, altruistic engagement, subjectivity, universal claims and self-righteousness. There is a trans-historical reason for the ever-lasting form if the artistic self-portrait and its subsequent contemporary developments, and it may well be that the personal union of the artist and the work frees creative energy different from that when stepping back to a third person perspective. Here, I suppose there are at least three different aspects that come to – my – mind when corresponding on your Hybrid Family with you this week:
1) One might be intrigued by the way you describe the process of communal parenting, (auto-) domestication and (self-)education are entangled. How much self-effacement is then indeed needed to make trans-species communication material, as a form of attunement? And then:
2) How can this multi-sensory and multi-modal process be made culturally apprehensible – as an image, since we humans are visual animals?
3) In how far is such a singular narcissistic experience indeed acting as a synthesizer that creates a collage of all these numerous artistic projects that have been investigating the human-dog-wolf trope before, and of which you are very much aware?
First, while image-ning (again, no escape…) your hybrid domestic interaction since you are nurturing Ada under the watchful eyes of Byron, and describing the fusional process as auto-domestication and mutual pet training, I came across the fascinating concept of ‘anthropo-zoo-genetic practices’, a practice that is supposed to construct both animal and human. In her paper The Body We Care For: Figures of Anthropo-zoo-genesis ethologist Vinciane Despret speaks of the interesting phenomenon she calls the miracle of attunement and that does not put supposed mutual empathy central, but instead the readiness for mutual bodily learning – “what the body makes (us) (others) do.” Despret is mostly interested in the intriguing and famous story of Hans the clever Horse from the beginning of the 20th century – a horse that could calculate and gesturally respond, but whose accurate responses in fact depended on the body’s position of the specific human asking the questions: “Who influences and who is influenced, in this story, are questions that can no longer receive a clear answer. Both, human and horse, are cause and effect of each other’s movements. Both induce and are induced, affect and are affected. Both embody each other’s mind.” According to Despret, this practice of mutual domestication depend on “emotional relations, made of expectations, faith, belief, trust,” a real becoming-with, performing a body that the animal can read through its micro-movements and micro- performative patterns. “Both are active and both are transformed by the availability of the other. Both are articulated by what the other ‘makes him/her make’.” Your description of smells, fluids, non-human language, licking, sucking and other modalities of intimacy more internal than any closeness seems much to correspond with such a process of attunement. And all the more I am then, consequently, wondering how to aesthetically and socially transmit these experiences if it is not the kinaesthetic way. What, then, can images do?
Since I know that you are spending the week in company not only of Ada and Byron but also of performance photographer Manuel Vason, who has been collaborating with more than 200 performance artists already and favours a strongly collaborative approach, I am extremely curious which of these kinaesthetic and intimate vectors of interaction have been proven successful to be transferred to the status of a ‘signifying surface’ (Flusser) that an image is. We know how carefully Manuel has recreated visual correspondences to such intimate and internal experiences such as Franko B.’s, Yann Marussich’s or Kira O’Reilly’s. But how can such an act of en-visioning not only comprise the human phenomenological drama but also that of the dog-ish other, including fluid biopolitics?
Valie Export, Peter Weibel: Aus der Mappe der Hundigkeit, 1968
My skepticism may stem from very bad experiences when performance art is reduced to gestural codes out of isolated snapshots, becomes a stereotyped Warburg’ian Bilderatlas, or; even worse, unfolds even in the very act of performing as actions just staged for the very purpose of being filmed. German theoretician Christian Janecke has resumed this probLematic tension field under the title Performance und Bild / Performance als Bild, addressing the issue of performances from which visual traces involuntarily survive against those that are in fact conceived as an image product. In this context, I admit to have been probably much traumatized by a 2004 performance by Marina Abramovic and Jan Fabre at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, Virgin Warrior, in which both performer act in armours inside a giant glass box in the middle of an audience – all theatrical gestures were choreographed for the multi-camera shooting only, the relation to the audience did not matter at all, and in precise moments Marina’s tears ran down her cheeks; just horribly bad cinema and theatre.
As a third observation it may then matter as well to ask which modality of references your Hybrid Family is based upon, when you consciously quote and re-enact the numerous previous human-dog-wolf art and physiology-centered works that have inspired you to go this step further. Again, most of these references are image and text based, transporting narratives that are rarely focusing on other than audio-visual and symbolic signs. But it seems to me that your aim is to create a kind of multi-sensory super-collider of these references, to harvest, culture and incubate them, and to cross-fertilize and graft them in a quest for hybrid vigor!
We talked about this beforehand, and there is no attempt to hide away the precursors, rather to benefit from thus cultural humus as orientation points
How not to think of Eduardo Kac’s project of a hybrid biotechnical fluorescent dog GFP K-9, and Kac himself quoting Nam June Paik’s collapsing K-456 robot; and France Cadet then quoting both in her strangely programmed, and green-ish, robotic dogs? In your previous performance I Hunt Nature, and Culture Hunts Me you refer to Oleg Kulik, as social, politic and artistic man-animal featuring a zoo-centrist approach and embodied perception beyond the classical sense of aesthetics – have you exchanged with him about m/OTHERNESS? Then of course Beuys’ inter action with the coyote as an animal supposed to have preserved his instinct and its being of symbolic proximity with ‘nature’; not only including the human semantic scope, but overall impulsions and primary non-semantic information as well. We also think of the recurrent trope of anthropomorphization of dogs – in Wim Delvoye’s sketch for a surgical operation to give a dog a human face, including midface lengthening and open rhinoplasty; or, on the other end of the scale, William Wegman’s staging of his Preservers, rowing dogs in life-vests in a boat, or his human camouflage with dogs masks entitled Becoming. With respect of feminist critique of role models we think of Aus der Mappe der Hundigkeit where Valie Export is walking her dog – Peter Weibel in this instance – an intervention fixed in this famous image showing both in front of the Humanic shoe shop. In regards to the similarity of genetic sequences that have been evolving in parallel in humans and dogs, which you take up in your Ecce Canis, there is an interesting parallel with Klaus Spiess’ and Lucie Strecker’s Hour Of The Analyst Dog in which they re-enact the NC_006592.3 sequence extracted from Sigmund Freud’s Chow Chow who is reported to having been the time keeper of Freud’s analytic sessions. And you say to acknowledge Nicola Canavan’s public breast milking actions, while Amela Frankl diffused oxytocine in the museum to increase the visitor’s empathy, and Chrissy Conant sold her Chrissy Caviar®, her egg cells after month’s of hormone injection treatments.
So, what encounter will we face when we meet at Bülowstrasse? I anticipate: not that of metaphor, neither that of image, nor that of pets.