Izdihar Afyouni, Raymond Jennings
Izdihar Afyouni - interventionistgod.com
If we are to follow Ranciere in the belief that art is emancipating when it stops wanting to emancipate us, then does it become monstrous or cathartic when it seeks to scapegoat and sacrifice us? The audience are too used to being held in high esteem, as though they are needed for the art to exist. I have deliberately chosen to destroy this expectation. This work employs the framework of an art event to and the relationship of the audience to exhibited and performed art to question assumed privileges such as access to art. This work may provoke feelings of anger, concern and indignation, but it does not provide an end game nor does it offer the participants any form of reconciliation. Rather than offer a means of catharsis or sublimation, the work promises that there will be habituation. There will be debilitating trauma. There will be recurrence. Thicker Than Blood is an ongoing research project and series of participatory concept exhibitions that immerses the audience in an experience of the ethical and psychological implications of racial and genetic profiling policies. The potential consequences of the production of race-differentiated data are explored via a reinterpretation of accumulating such data, and the weight ascribed to it. Descartes writes that the body is an agent for information gathering and this event seeks to explore the body as a site upon which the state carries out its expression of power. Furthermore, the art event itself is treated as a body to be rigorously examined, detained and questioned and questions the position of the witness.
The Procedure The exhibitions THICKER THAN BLOOD and THICKER THAN BLOOD II were free to attend, with a mandatory donation policy: a small sample of blood was taken from each guest upon their arrival. The sample was then tested immediately on-site. A medical professional was present to carry out this procedure. Access to the various performances was dependant on an individual’s test result which throughout the course of the event emerged as experiences within a constructed social system and hierarchy; these experiences were guided by each group’s privileges of access to the dynamics and functions of the exhibition and performances within the space. Unlimited access was granted only to the Kindred. No data was stored after the procedures were carried out, and all samples and materials were secured until the end of the event. Following the event, all samples and materials were incinerated at a local hospital.
Curator's Note All the works exhibited at Thicker Than Blood II: Consequence employ corporeality as a visual language and use the notion of the corporeal and the fleshy body to explore different themes. The work exhibited in the main room and medical room (the rooms which can be accessed by the general audience) explore the flesh undergoing different levels of permeation. Ellie English’s work (a series of 12 untitled photographs) present the skin as a texture on her photographic landscape of desire and regards the flesh as flesh and the body as a catalyst for pleasure.
Victoria Suvoroff uses a corporeal language to explore the ways in which the body can be transformed and manipulated, and contests the notion that the body is a fixed thing. In biopolitics and bioethics the body is predicated on the notion of fixed genetics, and the outcome of bioethics is concerned with the body’s relation to fixed biological conditions. One of the more pervasive contemporary concerns of bioethics is selective reproduction, which is built on the notion that certain genetic conditions are undesirable and affirms the nature of fixed pluralities and notions of desirability.
My reading of ‘Phantasms’ was that the act of using staples to attach silicone breasts/’penis’ (dildo) to the body transforms the body in a way that is not in concordance with typical medical procedures. Most medical procedures, even those of an aesthetic nature (e.g. non-reconstructive plastic surgery) have a particular use-value that guarantees a positive practical outcome. Artists such as ORLAN or Lolo Ferrari (actress) choose to exceed this outcome by undergoing extreme plastic surgery- which calls into question the ethics of unnecessary medical procedures- but ultimately can be read as a highly feminist act of agency. ORLAN transforms her body in whatever way she deems fit.
My sculpture, titled ‘this twisted tortured mess this bed of sinfulness that’s longing for some rest’ (2016) marks both the presence and absence of a body. The palette and texture of the piece is evocative of a body without skin, and Bataille’s text The Flayed Man was a point of reference for myself when I created the piece. The slick and glossy nature of the paint used is an oblique and disturbing nod to what the body could produce if it experienced a death by a thousand cuts. X marks the site where the body might have been, where the body no longer is, and precisely because the work resembles a St. Andrew’s Cross there is already a body projected onto it. The sculpture constantly references the body that is no longer visible, that is no longer present.
This visual foray into the absence of the body is taken a step further with the absence of skin; the photographic triptych ‘Transmission’ (2017), created by myself, is a series of photographs of used quivets (blood sample slides) which have oxidised. The work is a representation of the interior body through a sterile, non-corporeal lens, isolated from the body as it is no longer part of the body. This work was hung in the interrogation unit, an isolated unit where the body is typically examined and categorised.
If the main space is the exterior of the body, and represents the body being penetrated, transformed or annihilated, The Kindred room (MEDULLA) is the physical interior of the space, and the work exhibited there is of two radically different representations of the interior body made exterior. Katy Connor’s alien, abstract sculptural interpretations of the body’s physical substance is contrasted with Hela Ammar’s photographic triptych ‘Purification’, a deconstruction of the physical boundaries of the body that is saturated in ritual and religious symbolism (the act of wad’aa, purification preceding Islamic prayer). The performances that took place in this room (JESSICA WORDEN, ‘Seen’, MOTHER DISORDER, ‘Crystalline’) are all personal narratives, my reason for choosing those particular performances for this room was to create a saturated environment where the select few who are able to enter the room are forced to engage with these raw narratives of trauma and disillusionment in a very intimate space.
By not labelling the artworks and indicating the artmakers (outside of the booklet), I have chosen to eschew the white cube format and the traditional relationship between the audience, the artwork and the artmaker. This blurs the lines between the work that was being viewed and the work that was generated by the audience participation which draws into question the entire process of making art and who the artmaker is. By not distinguishing the particular artworks exhibited my intention is to present the work as part of a collective body that generates an immersive experience for the artists, facilitators and the audience coming in. Furthermore, the opening statement in the program (below) was a provocation to the audience with the intention of creating a different relationship/fusion of the artwork to the audience.
I would like to speak briefly about my choice to include Venus Raven on the bill, her piece ‘Great Again’ was conceptualized specifically for Thicker Than Blood and was certainly the most brutal performance on the bill; I chose to have her end the night on a note of violently undermining contemporary Western imagery. Additionally, there was clear downward trajectory (high art to ‘shock’ art) from the first performance of the evening (Jessica Worden’s piece, arguably the most cerebral performance on the bill) to Venus’ performance, a long shot of unmediated cruelty. Ironically, what I found the most interesting about the performance was not the performance itself, but the audience’s fixation and photo-snapping of the pool of blood that was left behind after the performers had retired upstairs and the show was over. This fixation called to mind Ana Mandieta’s 1973 work People Looking at Blood, where she spilled a bucketful of a material that resembled blood on a sidewalk and surveilled passers-by as they reacted to the scene. However, in the case of the aftermath of Great Again, the audience did not happen upon an unexplained pool of blood on the street but the result of a consensual performance, and therefore were ‘allowed’ to gawk in horror, disgust or morbid desire without concern or compassion.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge that Thicker Than Blood II: Consequence is a linear progression that expanded on the base formula of Thicker Than Blood, a conceptual project that I developed alongside artist and academic Raymond Jennings. The event takes places in the same venue (The Flying Dutchman, Camberwell) and uses the same format of taking blood in order to construct hierarchies which then go on to dictate the participants’ different sets of access of the space. However, the first instalment used deception to build the audience’s expectation to something that did not exist. The art exhibition and performances at the event that I curated were feminist explorations of the erotic realm, libidinal/capitalist desire and the notion of expectation and disappointment (which was an ideological thread that ran through the participatory element of the event) as well as a painting exhibition featuring work by Sam Creasey, Kate Kelly, Victoria Suvoroff and myself. The event was marketed to the fetish and hipster communities, as well as medical anthropology students without any mention of the procedures that would take place, and explored the production and accumulation of systemic hierarchy through the lens of the fetish. Thicker Than Blood II was transparent in its intention, participants were informed via the Facebook page (image attached) of the sampling of blood, the Hume cell WBC Machine, which played a key, almost character role (in its absence and the mystique surrounding it) at the first instalment was on clear display and was used solely as a prop in the second instalment. The participatory element of Thicker Than Blood II: Consequence utilised the venue/format of the first event to explore the ethical and policy implications of racial and genetic profiling, the interrogation unit, curated performances/exhibition and soundtrack as well as the approach were entirely unique to this project. I regard the first instalment of Thicker Than Blood as an inquiry into seeing what was possible to achieve with such a contentious application of a concept, and the second instalment as a fuller realization of the biopolitical concept. I am currently conceptualising and hope to crowdfund the third and most likely final instalment of the event which will have more of an emphasis on biosurveillance and technology.
- Izdehar Afyouni (2017)