Friday, January 30, 2009

Stupidit. Derrida on Deleuze and animals

My chapter from On the Surface about Marcus Coates explores the issue of stupidity and a way of thinking outside the discourse and tyranny of reason. Since then, I've happened upon some other works on stupidity worth considering. Stay tuned for updates.
  • Avital Ronell Stupidity
  • Derrida on Deleuze and becoming animal and stupidity: "The Transcendental 'Stupidity' ('Betise') of Man and the Becoming-Animal According to Deleuze" in Derrida, Deleuze, Psychoanalysis. The Derrida essay is a print version from a conference. A video clip of his paper is online.
The animal revolution is stupid, bete. It cannot appeal to reason--all too human reason--since it is reason that has kept the animal at bay, has kept the animal at arms length (denying an animal call to arms). Reason keeps the animal at the margins. The blunt instrument of stupidity is a hammer against the walled hermenutic circle of reason and sensibility. The animal revolution is unsensible.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Signs of the Animal Revolution

Thanks to Bryndis Sneabjornsdottir who pointed me to this:
There is a Dutch political party for animals! "Animal interests should no longer continually be subordinated to economic interests." Indeed, there is, as Derrida points out, a "General Economy" beyond the limited economy and circulation of all too human interests.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Amy Stein & lines of domestication and wildness

Chris Pair just introduced me to this interesting work by Amy Stein. She photographs the blurry line of biotopes--between human and non-human worlds. The friction here is palpable. World bump against each other and mark and re/mark upon each other.

See her 2008 book Domesticated.
And recent work on taxidermy and skins called Skin Trade.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Haunted and the turn from domesticated to demon

From Susan Stewart's On Longing:
Its otherness speaks to the possessor's capacity for otherness: it is the possessor, not the souvenir, which is ultimately the curiosity. The danger of the souvenir lies in its unfamiliarity, in our difficulty in subjecting it to interpretation. There is always the possibility that the reverie's signification will go out of control here, that the object itself will take charge, awakening some dormant capacity for destruction. This appropriation of reverie by the object forms the basis for certain horror stories: "The Monkey's Paw" ...(148)

It awakes the "dormant capacity" not in the object or animal alone but in the "possessor" who is possessed. Eugene Thacker's work with zombies is an example of human animality possessed.

How could I forget this Nietzche from "Truth and Lies in the Non-Moral [extra-moral] Sense":
In some remote corner of the universe, poured out and glittering in innumerable solar systems, there once was a star on which clever animals invented knowledge. That was the highest and most mendacious minute of "world history"—yet only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths the star grew cold, and the clever animals had to die.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Can artists work with animals as equals? Interspecies uses artistic strategies to stimulate dialogue about the way we view the relationship between human and non-human animals, in the year of celebrations of Darwin's birth 200 years ago.

Private view 6pm, Friday 23 January 2009
at Cornerhouse, Manchester, UK
70 Oxford Street, M1 5NH
Exhibition open
24 January - 29 March 2009, Tue - Sun

comprises new works by four artists - Nicolas Primat, Kira O'Reilly, Antony Hall and Ruth Maclennan, and existing pieces by Rachel Mayeri, Beatriz Da Costa and Kathy High. All the artists in Interspecies question the one-sided manipulation of non-human life forms for art. They instead try to absorb the animal's point of view as a fundamental part of their work and practice.

Kira O'Reilly presents an action/installed performance featuring herself and a sleeping female pig, Delilah, Falling Asleep With A Pig, taking place at the private view on Friday 23 January, and on Saturday 24 January. The work addresses the ethics of human and non-human animal interaction, acknowledging the implicit ambivalence in the appropriation of animals as a resource. The artist will inhabit a gallery redesigned for the comfort and welfare of a pig. At some point the pig and/or the artist will sleep. Documentation of the event will be shown in the exhibition.

Nicolas Primat is the only artist in the world that specialises in working with monkeys and apes in collaboration with primatologists. He will show video works resulting from his residencies at the Primatology station, CNRS, Marseille, working with baboons, at the Pasteur Institute, Cayenne, Guyana, working with Saimiris (squirrel monkeys) and at the Animal Park of Apenheul, Holland, working with Bonobo apes.

Anthony Hall's work ENKI allows electric fish and humans to commune on the same level, avoiding the use of language as such; instead stimulating a shared empathy through physical connection. The project explores the possibilities of cross species communication and human to fish relationships, in particular the electric fish. Is it possible that a symbiotic relationship between human and electronic fish can be effected through passive and active electronic media?

Ruth Maclennan’s work for Interspecies explores the relationship between a bird of prey and the human being who trains it. Like eagles and falcons, the symbolic life of the hawk exceeds its ‘natural’ life, which is itself encouraged by human intervention—in breeding, nesting and the habitat. This is the latest stage in a project that looks at people, architecture, the city, and landscape, from the perspective of a cyborg ‘hawk-camera’.

Two existing works will also be shown in the touring exhibition: Rachel Mayeri's Primate Cinema, which casts human actors in the role of non-human primates seeking mates, and Beatriz Da Costa's PigeonBlog which provides an alternative way to participate environmental air pollution data gathering, equipping urban homing pigeons with GPS-enabled electronic air pollution sensing devices.

INTERSPECIES Events at Cornerhouse

Sat 24 January, 2 – 4pm
Artists’ Open Forum
Nicolas Primat, Antony Hall, Ruth Maclennan, Rachel Mayeri and Beatriz da Costa
Join us for this open forum, a unique opportunity to meet the artists and discover more about the ideas behind Interspecies.

Sun 25 January, 4pm
Kira O’Reilly in Conversation
Join performance artist Kira O’Reilly and curator Rob La Frenais, as they discuss Kira’s exhibition piece in relation to her work on sleep and dream research with humans and pigs.

Mon 26 January, 6 - 8pm
Wed 28 January, 2 - 4pm
Workshop: Primate Cinema – How to act like an animal
Participate in a performance workshops led by Interspecies artist Rachel Mayeri, exploring how primates communicate. Through discussion and video clips, learn about animal behaviour in the wild and in cinema and find out about primatology. You will get the chance to engage in physical theatre techniques and learn how to improvise movement and social interactions as non-human primates.

Cornerhouse, 70 Oxford Street, Manchester, M1 5HN
Box office: 0161 200 1500
Opening hours: Tues – Sat: 11.00 – 18.00 Thurs until 20.00
Sun 14.00-18.00


The Arts Catalyst
Toynbee Studios
28 Commercial Street
London E1 6LS

The Arts Catalyst commissions art that experimentally and critically engages with science. We bring together people across the art/science divide and beyond to explore science in its wider social, political and cultural contexts. We produce provocative, playful, risk-taking projects to spark dynamic conversations about our changing world.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Quotes for the Revolution

Thanks to Erica Fudge's "Left-handed Blow" essay in Representing Animals:
  • [A]ll rulers are heirs of those who conquered before them . . . There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.
    Walter Benjamin, 'Theses on the Philosophy of History,' Illuminations (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1968), 256
  • All decisive blows are struck left-handed.
    Walter Benjamin, 'One Way Street,' Reflections (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978), 65.
Revolution to be revolutionary comes from outside of history, without proper documentary papers, and without invitation. To anyone reading this blog: please contribute quotations you find useful for the revolution.

Too many possible quotations from Nietzsche perhaps, but for now here is one that comes to mind:
  • One skill is needed -- lost today, unfortunately -- for the practice of reading as an art: the skill to ruminate, which cows posses but modern man lacks. This is why my writings will, for some time yet, remain difficult to digest.
    Fredrick Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy and The Genealogy of Morals, Francis Golffing (trans.), Garden City, New York, Doubleday Anchor Books, 1956, p157.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

When good animals go bad (an ongoing story)

I should like to contrast three modes of engagement with animals: appropriation, contact zone, and animal revolution:

1. We know appropriation well and see it often in the state of domesticated animals. We see it too in the way in which we "weigh" upon the earth and cause the extinction of other species or a change in habit and habitat of these species (see Michel Serres Natural Contract regarding "weighing" on the earth and Ursala Heise Sense of Place and Sense of Planet). Looking at Susan Stewart's On Longing and the souvenir she writes: "Such objects allow one to be a tourist of one's own life, or allow the tourist to appropriate, consume, and thereby 'tame' the cultural other" (146). The same could be said of relation to animals by which we appropriate them or become tourists of their worlds.

2. Contact zone. I've written on this in On the Surface using Mary Louise Pratt. Haraway mentions this as well in When Species Meet. The idea here is creating a pidgen language for negotiating umwelts.

3. We see evidence of the animal revolution when "good animals go bad," when the domestic bites the (Heideggarian) hand that feeds it and when the friction of the animal world does not allow for appropriation. The revolution creates noise such that the pidgen language is jammed and translation fails.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

UK Animal Art + Symposium

The Animal Gaze exhibition graciously put together by Rosemarie McGoldrick is now touring. The next round of art (and art workshops) and symposium will be in 2010.

Animals and Art events

Some contemporary Animal Art events:

Why Look at Animals?
Monday, 19 January / 7 PM / The Power Plant

"Artists and scholars discuss the figure of the animal in contemporary art, culture and politics, with an eye towards forging a creaturely community that crosses species. Syracuse-based Canadian artist duo Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby’s new video Beauty Plus Pity, currently showing at The Power Plant, explores perverse emotional, ethical and existential relationships among adults, children and animals. Matthew Brower is the curator of the University of Toronto Art Centre and an art historian focusing on animals in visual culture. Bill Burns is an acclaimed Toronto-based artist responsible for the Safety Gear for Small Animals project. Moderator Jon Davies is Assistant Curator of Public Programs at The Power Plant and a critic interested in the cultural representation of animals."

[Looks to be a really fine show! On a side note: I've an aversion to the primacy of the visual and the gaze and the 'why look' which keeps animals at a (visual) distance and does not risk our own personhood... or if it 'risks' it does so only by bringing the animal within the social/cultural/psychological discourse of The Gaze with all the language ramifications (Lacan, Freud, and even Merleau-Ponty) associated with this visual/conceptual configuration.]

Also the wonderfully titled posthuman: "Trying to Cope with Things that Aren't Human"

Specters for the animals

Quentin Meillassoux's essay "Spectral Dilemma" in Collapse Volume IV: Concept Horror provides the following insightful summary of the problem of the specter:
What is a spectre? A dead person who has not been properly mourned, who haunts us, bothers us, refusing to pass over to the 'other side,' where the dearly-departed can accompany us at a distance sufficient for us to live our own lives without forgetting them, but also without dying their death--without being the prisoner of the repetition of their final moments. Then what is a spectre become the essesne of the spectre, the spectre par excellence? A dead person whose death is such that we cannot mourn them. That is to say: a dead person for whom the work of mourning, the passage of time, proves inadequeate for a tranquil bond between them and the living to be envisaged. A dead person the horror of whose death lays heavy not only upon the nearest and dearest, but upon all those who cross the path of their history." (261-62)
Meillassoux is talking about human persons (with all the social resonances of the construction of personhood, Agamben and bare life, Levinas and face). But what if such haunting could be extended to animals? What is the specter of the animal?

Here an inquiry through Derrida's Specters of Marx (particularly ch. 1) should be taken up (in a later post). The issue of 'to come' arises. The horror of the animal death through human enframing... a horror that haunts not only the animals but also the animality of humans, calls out for a revolution which already exists as a 'to come' and perhaps in a messianic without a messiah will manifest in the 'future's future'. All these terms--to come, messianic without a messiah, and future's future to be worked through in future posts.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

commando sheep

Sheep the Pennines UK have learned how to roll over the cattle grid barrier to get to greener pastures.
"sheep have perfected their version of the commando roll"
Guardian Fri. 30 July 2004
Jul 27 2004 The Huddersfield Daily Examiner

incidents in the animal revolution

I am interested in collecting curious incidents in which the animality of animals creates a friction with human worlding. Also, I am interested in collecting incidents (like the one below) where the animality of the animal is co-opted by humans to serve not human cultural ends but to serve human animality (as, for example in animal experimentation where the animal is a stand-in for the human).

Animal Parachute:
"In 1785 Blanchard carried out the first successful parachute experiment. He placed a small animal in a small basket attached to a parachute. This was then dropped from a air balloon and the descent was so slow that the animal survived the fall." (source)

Might the animals use this techne for their own revolution?