Heavenly Beings: Neither Human nor Animal
Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova, +MSUM
Opening: 10 July 2018, at 8 p.m.
Duration: 10 July — 4 November 2018
Artists: Jure Detela, Igor Grubić, Janez Janša, Alexi Kukuljevic, Oleg Kulik, Siniša Labrović, Tanja Lažetić, Vladimir Leben & Ercigoj Art, Marko Pogačnik, Franc Purg, Tamara Al-Samerraei, Maja Smrekar, Sven Stilinović, Jože Tisnikar, Zoran Todorović, Jalal Toufic, Anton Vidokle
Curated by Zdenka Badovinac and Bojana Piškur
The exhibition opposes any form of essentialism, any reference to the pure nature of humans or animals, and it reminds us that both people and animals are the product of a long history of various kinds of resistance and attempts to escape the given circumstances.
With ever greater advances in technology and science, and an ever greedier capitalism, we are more and more often seeing changes, mutations in identities, and migrations from one existential condition to another. The disaccord between a being and their essence becomes ever more obvious. So more and more frequently, faster and faster, we must make decisions about accepting foreigners, transgender people, and mutants from the human, animal, and plant worlds, all under the dictate of administrative, cultural, and economic orders in which bare life has no place of its own and therefore no rights. What unites us more and more in a common fate with all of nature, organic and inorganic, is a capitalism out of control, which destroys nature even as it hypocritically preserves it as a symbol of purity and harmony. But as the poet Jure Detela notes, we do not achieve harmony by returning to the fictitious concept of the unity of all beings, but only through a critique of the existing concept of nature. All of us – humans, plants, and animals – are suffering because of climate change, because we are merely raw material for further production and not beings who desire freedom and harmony. This produces the desire to escape our intolerable conditions, to resist – and if we listen to the indirect message our artists are conveying, it is possible to imagine a common resistance shared by all living beings. But are humans able to resist together with plants and animals?
In her book The History of Animals, Oxana Timofeeva shows that animals, too, are creatures of historical materialism, whose identity changes in accord with escapes from unsustainable conditions. Reflecting on the connection between animals and revolution, she writes: “One might object, ‘Fish cannot make a revolution,’ but do we really know whether proletarians can? The very topic of revolution is all about impossibility, which itself is never absolute, but which recognises itself as a possibility only retrospectively, through acquiring a sense, meaning and a necessity to a certain contingency of ‘what was before’.”
The idea of people and animals joining together in a common revolution may seem unnatural, just as for many people, capitalism seems perfectly natural in that it is based on the principle “might makes right”, while communism seems unnatural and overly idealistic. Today all the big ideas are equated with empty idealism, but this is precisely why they must always be revived and have their meaning tested and verified in the new circumstances.
In her book, Timofeeva, unlike Agamben, does not pretend to stop the anthropological machine but rather to investigate whether the same machine can work differently.
Art itself, as we present it in our exhibition, and the literary works to which we refer, prove that the metaphysical machine can indeed operate differently. Contemporary artists undoubtedly contribute to this through ideas about immortality, through their interest in technologies that enable new and unusual alliances between humans and animals, by reading poetry to a flock of sheep, by exhibiting slaughterhouses in the consecrated halls of art, by making us more aware of our bestial nature, and also by opening cages in zoos. Today’s metaphysics reflects the fear and anxiety that unite people and animals in the common desire to escape the situation as it is today. Paradoxically, when art accepts our animality as our otherness, and when it recognizes that animals know something we don’t know, it ensures that the anthropological machine keeps on working, but working differently.