Sus clan and Homo clan (2016 - ongoing)
How can general knowledge be nurtured in postcolonial worlds committed to taking difference seriously? Answers to this question can only be put together by emergent practices: i.e. in vulnerable, on the ground work that cobbles together non harmonious agencies. (Donna Harraway)
I started exploring the above question from a physical starting point, believing that physical interaction has potential to challenge our current objectification of non human animals. Based on the writings of neuroscientist George Lakoff I suggest physical meetings (moving together, touch, sharing space) with an other will
1) lead to empirical knowledge of an other
2) allow imaginative empathic projection and potentially communitas between individuals
3) counter fungibility and inability to properly judge a phenomena due to being overwhelmed with scattered, digital information
4) stimulate our mental capacities because we understand phenomena through our bodies
5 ) tap into our subconscious which potentially holds important memories, desires and motivators, which could upset normative judgement and culturing
Bare Bones (May 2016)
Participants were asked to sort human and pig ribs and vertebrae into which species they came from while wearing blindfolds; based on their sense of touch alone. After a while people removed their blindfolds and conversations emerged about interspecies relationships. Finding pig bones for this experiment required one phone call. Finding human bones however, required about 50 emails which I stuck to the door where people entered the space.
Toys for and by Pigs (April - September)
I had hardly ever interacted with pigs before, and knew little about their ways. Besides some contact with animal behavioural scientists I didn't have much to go on in my attempts to get to know some individuals, wanting to reverse our human colonisation of them as a species. So interacting over materials felt like a start, an accessible way in.
I wanted to record their creativity and initially brought in things on which to record their mark making. But I got to know them as highly explorative, physical creatures; the process of playful full-bodied exploration felt like their genuine expression. So I started building objects which they could do more with. I also kept looking for things which they could shape. For more details please see https://verenaenvarkens.wordpress.com/objects-for-pigs/.
Photos taken during working period (April-September)
I was looking for both what pig expression looks like as well as similarities between humans and pigs. Some of these images of explicit pig expression led to bits of writing which I published on https://www.facebook.com/verena.vuori. I would like to compile images and writing on pigness into a small booklet at some point.
Workshop for Pigs and People (September)
Looking for a way to share these explorations I organised a workshop; a space where pigs and people could meet as equals. It felt important to bring people to where pigs live because transporting them to a gallery setting is very distressing. Katie Mason, a pig language specialist had taught me some of their vocal calls. Donald Broom, another animal behavioural scientist made me aware how they use their senses very differently from us; they are first and foremost creatures of smell and taste, whereas we are creatures firstly of sight.
Attempting to ease the interspecies communication I asked the humans to close their eyes, tune into their body and explore various foods only through smell, taste and touch. I then taught them some simple pig vocal calls as an opening for interaction. We then went and met some pigs and initiated contact through touch. We also had an array of materials (i.e. canvas, wood, string, essential oils, clay, a tambourine), from which the humans created objects for the pigs to explore - and which eased the human to pig interaction by providing something to interact over. We ended the workshop by creating a space where each human participant spoke for a few minutes about their experience, the other humans listening; to stimulate honest reflection on the complexity of interspecies communication.
Touched by Pigs and People Circle (September)
Another way to share the Toys for and by Pigs, in a gallery setting, became an interactive installation. Participants entered through a hall way that had a depiction of how a pig's ability to smell compares to a human's smell ability (2000 to 1) and listed both species' order of sensory preference. There was also an audio track with an interview with Katie Mason talking about what it is like to be a pig (referencing What it is like to Be a Bat by Thomas Nagel, a quote of whom was also on the wall); i.e. how they form social bonds, what makes them happy. People entered the main room in pairs and were blindfolded. I wanted people to touch the Toys for and by Pigs, because our sense of touch is equally developed as a pig's (we have the same number of sensory nerves in our hands as they do in their snouts). So participants were asked to go on all fours and crawl along the toys/sculptures, exploring them by touch. Afterwards they were able to see them as well as a video of pigs playing with the objects they had just touched. It became significant that the human interaction left traces on both the sculptures and the space, highlighting interconnectedness. These are materials brought by humans to pigs, who left their marks, brought back to humans who added another layer of traces. People were invited to write about their experience on the wall.
Three stages (June onward)
Pig bodies are used to replace human bodies in all sorts of situations (like human pig chimeras, organ transplants, and forensic research); which of course is a big testament to our relatedness. I want to document these processes where the physical border between humans and pigs is blurred. Firstly this is purely research, but it has already begun to inspire some outcomes. In July and August I documented the research of Joakim E Lamøy, a foresenic anthropology graduate student who studied human decomposition on five pig bodies. I intended to exhibit these side by side with images of human decomposition but those images are nigh on impossible to get access to. I ended up projecting a time-lapse recording of a decaying pig taken from youtube on my naked body and mean to project images of valve transplantation and human pig chimeras on my body in a future iteration.
Human as Pig guessing game (April)
I presented this as a game where people had to guess which human belonged to their pig-i-fied other.