Yearly Archives: 2009

Interspecies @ Cornerhouse, Manchester

Artists exploring gray areas: Interspecies at Manchester Cornerhouse until March 22. Four new pieces that attempt to work with animals, not as subjects of their art, but “as equals”. The artists involved include performance artist Kira O’Reilly, whose piece involved 36 hours living, sleeping and eating, with a pig called Delilah. You can read  O’Reilly’s blog about the experience on her site here.

It’s not the first time O’Reilly has worked with pigs, though last time it was with a dead one, and the Daily Mail was incensed. “IT’S ART SAYS THE NAKED WOMAN WHO’LL HUG A DEAD PIG ON STAGE” ran the headline to a piece that accompanied her 2006 performance in Newlyn.

Interspecies has been curated by Arts Catalyst, an organisation that works in that strange but sometimes extremely productive space of the Venn diagram between arts and science. They partnered with us to run the Nuclear Forum at the end of last year with Gustav Metzger and James Acord – exploring the depths of another subject that often goes undiscussed.

The power of the subject of Interspecies is the way in which it encounters our increasingly uncomfortable relationship with animals. As any anthropologist will tell you, animals have always been the subject of taboos – which ones you should eat, and which ones you should stroke.

Post-industrial society assumes it’s past such primitive notions as taboos. OK, sex is everywhere in these days, but try asking people when they last saw a dead body? In our society death, as natural a process as sex or birth,  has become invisible. Victorians used to hold dinner parties in graveyards; you’d get arrested if you tried that now.

I was talking to the designer Julia Lohmann recently; she is the creator of the cow bench – a single cow’s hide stretched over a wooden skeleton that ends up looking uncomfortably like the animal that surrendered its skin for us. It’s physically uncomfortable to sit on too, but that’s the point. Lohmann is in fact a passionate animal lover. When she returned from a spell working on a farm to London she saw an advertisement for dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets that so disturbed her that she set out on a process that ended with making a sofa that looked like what it really was.

And, as O’Reilly’s work suggests, our relationship with meat has never been stranger.

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Superflex: rising levels of discomfort

My Arts & Ecology colleague William Shaw, editor of our site, interviewed Superflex on the eve of their work opening at the South London Gallery.

I went to see their film on Sunday afternoon. It took us, me and my
16-year-old son, well over an hour to get there so we were muttering
“it better be worth it” under our breaths as the rain drizzled down…

Please update your links and feeds.

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Benefit for Friends of the LA River

Billboards, Gelatin silver composite print, 74″ x 25 by Matthew Betcher.
C4Gallery in Hollywood is hosting a benefit for Friends of the Los Angeles River this Saturday, 2/21 from 5 pm to midnight. Work featured includes photos by Matthew Betcher and Oramah Bagheri.

Unfortunately, the FOLAR page doesn’t have links to individual posts so you’ll have to click here and scroll down for more info.

And here’s the info about the event that I received in an email:

Join us on February 21st for a special closing party, celebrating art inspired by the LA River. C4 Gallery has generously offered to give Friends of the LA River a portion of the proceeds from the event – so please come and show your support for the River and FoLAR.FoLAR was founded as an art project, based on the idea that art and the attention it can bring to the LA River could serve as a catalyst for action and change along the River. As we’ve seen over our 23 years, art has a particular power to attract attention, sometimes for good, sometimes in less productive ways. Either way, the more people we can introduce to the River, the more people will be inspired or involved in the River revitalization effort.

> More at and
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Public art & the horse’s arse

If art is dependent on context, what kind of context does the new industrial landscape of Ebbsfleet make? In the art world, the thumbs nay be up for Mark Wallinger’s Ebbsfleet horse. Ian Jack has a column in Saturday’s Guardian which looks at this from a different persective; what the people who live in the economically uncertain landscape of Ebbsfleet think of Wallinger’s horse:

According to Sandra Soder, the secretary of the Gravesend Historical Society, Wallinger’s horse has aroused diverse local opinion, with the loudest voice coming from those most opposed, but the general feeling is that the promoters had deemed the people of north Kent “too culturally inept” to have a deciding view on the form Britain’s biggest work of art should take. In the words of one Northfleet man, nobody had asked whether or not “they wanted to wake up every morning looking into a giant horse’s arse”.

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David Cotterrell: Truth in the mundane

MICHAELA CRIMMIN: I went to  a fascinating talk at the weekend by David Cotterrell, whose work is being shown for just one more week as part of the Wellcome Collections’s War + Medicine exhibition, where both complexity and the everyday are tackled through art.
Cotterrell’s video pieces in the exhibition were made in response to being a war artist in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, hosted by the Medical Corps of the British Army and supported by Wellcome. He presents an overwhelming sense of the everyday of war, the small tragedies, the waiting, that never make it to the newspapers. This is the real stuff of war, and neither devoid of beauty nor of humanity. Cotterrell’s work is also being shown at Danielle Arnaud; Aesthetic Distance features a series of visually arresting photographic and further video works. There is one more week left to catch both shows. Go if you are interested in understanding war and in a real account of the complexity and the humdrum of war.
In the information that accompanies the exhibition are a number of Cotterrell’s diary entries – here’s one:
2 T1’s and a a T4. I assume a T4 is a light injury. I am wrong – T4 means dead. I don’t know what to do. My problems of appropriate behaviour are insignificant compared to the enormity of the events taking place. I find myself feeling clumsy and self-conscious.
This personal response is largely denied to all but celebrity journalists; an intensely subjective account of the confusion of war and its paradoxes and contradictions are of no interest to the broadsheet editors. It’s simply not the stuff of news. What is different about your response as an artist?, asks someone from the audience. Cotterrell responds that as an artist you’re trusted as a sensitive observer. You look at the routine, the banal and the overlooked. This is the stuff of art. Finally it is what artists do with their material that stands them apart from the media. Artists have time to digest. He was quick to say how bewildered he felt on his return to London and that it is only now, a year later, that he has been able to marshall his responses into a work that is nevertheless equivocal.
Another part of Cotterrell’s practice as an artist is in a very different context, the world of planning and architecture. He ended his talk by musing the fact that planners necessarily ignore the reality of the chaos of the street.

We have to be reductive but how much truth is lost along the way? In thinking about the multiplicity of real and potential connections in ecology, you can’t help but grapple with the problematics that come with acknowledging the inevitable complexity of just about everything. At the same time there are so many important findings lost because they seem so boringly everyday. As an example, see a brilliant column by Slavoj Zizek in the Guardian last June:

…Bear in mind the lesson of Donald Rumsfeld’s theory of knowledge – as expounded in March 2003, when the then US defence secretary engaged in a little bit of amateur philosophising: “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.” What Rumsfeld forgot to add was the crucial fourth term: the “unknown knowns” – things we don’t know that we know, all the unconscious beliefs and prejudices that determine how we perceive reality and intervene in it.

Illustration: Gateway series by David Cotterrell, c-print, 2008, courtesy of Danielle Arnaud contemporary art

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Experimental Geography, Now On Tour

{Boiling Milk by Ilana Halperin}

Another cool-looking traveling show that might be coming to your neck of the woods : Experimental Geography is currently at the Rochester Art Center in Minnesota, and will be making stops in New Mexico and Maine throughout the next year. Not much at the show’s page, but there is an interview with curator Nato Thompson on the Art 21 Blog.

Also, the catalogue is now available at Amazon.

OK, I’m gonna stop now because I feel bad about basically ripping off this post from the always excellent blog, Eyeteeth.
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7 ways of looking at Altermodernism

WILLIAM SHAW: Taking a jaunt around some of the discussions thrown up by Nicolas Bourriaud’s Altermodern manifesto and exhibition at Tate Britain I found myself constructing a kind of Beaufort Scale of critical responses:

1/. The Thrilled. Kazys Varnelis, Director of the Network Architecture Lab at Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture is positively inspired:

I’ve been immersed in writing lately, so this next exhibit slipped
under my radar, but Nicolas Bourriaud’s latest exhibit, the 2009 Tate
Triennial, is called Altermodern. Bourriaud’s manifesto can be seen here. Bourriaud’s one of the sharpest thinkers around today and this exhibit just cements my decision to explore network culture
in my next book. Bourriaud’s show marks a break with postmodernism
based on a new stage of globalization. As he writes in his Altermodern
manifesto: “Multiculturalism and identity is being overtaken by
creolisation: Artists are now starting from a globalised state of

I suppose this is the kick in the pants I need…

2/. The Engaged: The commentators on this post at Moot Blog jump at the mere mention of something post-post-modern, jumping into a debate about Po-mo and A-mo. 

Me thinks The Tate are being somewhat provocative.
Although you’re right, there’s some wonderful critiquing and
questioning of Post-modernism at the moment. There’s a big buzz around
‘speculative realism’, check out Graham Harman

Equally, probably one
of the most interesting engagements with modernism is the notion of
‘hauntology’— this might be what the Tate is tinkering with. Have a
look at this:


But please, no more modernism.

Nicolas Bourriaud is an interesting one. Well worth going to see.

3/. The Thoughtful: Michael L. Radcliffe of Artbizness suggests Bourriaud’s heart may be in the right place, he fails to live up to his own rhetoric:

all good shows (and it IS a good show) its one that I will need to
return to many times, and I may like completely different works for
completely different reasons.

But I guess the biggest obstacle of the altermodern idea for me is
that if you’re saying that you’ve learned from the postmodernist
critique, then why would you exhibit the majority of artists from OECD
countries? It’s not exactly a record of the marginalised and at worst
smacks of imperialism.  And I suspect the “creolisation” that Bourriaud
talks of as a part of altermodernism leaves no room for the poor or

4/. The UncertainDan Cull doesn’t know what to make of it but suspects it’s a Good Thing.

I am not sure whether this is a new theoretical current or not, and as
a fan of post-modernist thinking in a way I am not sure I really care.
What I do know is that the Tate have put together a show that I really
want to go and see… and this to my mind is a good thing.

5/. The Long Suffering: Laura Cummins in The Observer practically sighs out loud:

It is a dull show in the end, with few exceptions, just as
Altermodernism itself is not a very thrilling definition, or
redefinition, of where art may be heading.

It is by no means
certain, in any case, that any theory of art that can be made to
stretch all the way from Tacita Dean to Franz Ackermann is of much
ultimate value. Altermodernism does not work as an idea so much as a
web of observations, a web with a weaver at its centre. The real
hyperlink here is not the art, but Bourriaud himself.

6/. The Arch. Stewart Home. This one doesn’t boil down to a neat quote. Agitator/self-publicist Stewart uses quite a lot of space to say he thinks Bourriaud is a fop, a phoney and a figure of fun. He considers the whole Altermodern thing is a hilarious bit of trumpery; but then long ago Stewart championed Neoism, so for both conceptual and practical reasons you are advised to take everything he says as unreliable.

As a taster for their 2009 triennial  ‘curated’ by Nicolas Bourriaud
(AKA Boring Ass), Tate Britain hosted a series of talks concluding with
one this weekend by the International Necronautical Society (INS)….
[it goes on for a fair bit…]

7/. The Very Tediously English Indulging in Ritual Sneering at Frenchmen Who Use Long Words.  Coxsoft Artnews:

If you’re a pseudo-intellectual art snob who wants to irritate your gormless friends, tell them that Postmodernism is dead and the new in-thing is Altermodern, a word coined by Nicolas Bourriaud to categorize what Coxsoft Art calls Tripe. It’s also the name given to the fourth Tate Triennial,
which Nick curated and which will be inflicted on a gullible public at
Tate Britain from 3 February to 26 April. The Tate claims
the show will offer “the best new contemporary art in Britain”. Look at
this example! Expect the usual Tripe.

Never, ever trust anyone who uses the word “pseudo-intellectual”.

(I’d been aiming for 13 ways… but fell short.)

Photo: Giantbum Nathaniel Mellors at Altermodern courtesy of Régine Debatty

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