Caput Capitis I
Caput Capitis I
aA29 Project Room is pleased to present Tiziana Pers’ solo exhibition CAPUT CAPITIS. The project was conceived as a single exhibition in two parts that will be inaugurated first at the gallery in Milan, and later in Caserta.
Tiziana Pers’s artistic research focuses on biocentrism, and works through the analysis and deconstruction of colonialism, racism, sexism, capitalism, speciesism and domination over nature. Precisely, the title of the exhibition alludes to the fact that the word “capitalism” derives from the Latin caput capitis, i.e. head of cattle. The objectification of the other that produces surplus value from work, or as in this case, from the forced reproduction of animals, forms the basis of the capitalist system.
More specifically, the common thread that binds all her practice, and the exhibition CAPUT CAPITIS in particular, is her project ART_HISTORY, always in-progress.
In the artist’s words, ART_ HISTORY “consists in exchanging one of my paintings with an animal that was destined to be slaughtered: a horse, donkey, rabbit, lamb, chicken, pig, duck, goat, cow, goose…depending on project. The painting has the same height and dimensions as the animal to be saved. And I do not decide who will come with me: the butcher, or breeder makes the choice. A contract certifies the exchange.” In this way the project opens several questions on the attribution of an economic value to a sentient being as well as to a work of art, and at the same time on the possibility of art to interact with the actual situation and save a life.
On show in Milan a selection of works related to the Art History practice and to the liberated animals will be presented, starting from the exchange contracts. These include ART_HISTORY / Vucciria (2018), an action carried out in Palermo for Manifesta 12 (*).
ART_HISTORY is also closely linked to the other fundamental project of Pers’ practice: the residence for artists and animal sanctuary RAVE East Village Artist Residency, founded together with his sister Isabella, in which every year an international artist is invited to live with the saved animals and to develop an artistic project that is somehow the result of this interaction.
The exhibition, although not exhaustive, aims to present the complexity of an artistic research that is largely grounded on concrete action.
Combining theory and practice, art and life: is this not the purpose (virtually unreachable?) of any artistic practice – and theory – precisely from the avant-gardes of the beginning of the twentieth century to today? By observing and analysing the work of Tiziana Pers as a whole, this goal begins to seem possible or perhaps closer. And it is not only the continuity between his biocentrist activism – which includes a constant deconstruction of colonialism, racism, sexism, capitalism, speciesism and the domination of nature – and his artistic practice, but also the development of “internal” strategies to the system that we try to deconstruct: strategies that make violence evident by using methods of representation that convey it implicitly.
In fact, Cary Wolfe writes extensively in this text What is Posthumanism? analyzing the work of an artist who has objectives very similar to those of Pers – like denouncing among other things the violence and mass killing of animals in slaughterhouses – but which the author considers as “humanist- posthumanist “, explaining that although the themes and ethical values that the artist wants to convey with his work evidently contemplate the value of non-human life as animals at the same level as humans. Strategies employed are still linked to a humanist subjectivity which unconsciously perpetuates the logic of the human animal as sovereign over non-human ones.
Wolfe’s criticism argues that a first problem has to do with a work that shows everything and leaves nothing to be seen by the viewer, as Michael Fried calls it “melodrama”. The second problem has instead to do with “the exteriority” of the common strategies above mentioned. In this sense we can consider the practice of Tiziana Pers as what Wolfe would call “posthumanist-posthumanist”: an artistic practice of which we can consider both the purpose and values and the strategies and practices applied as completely posthuman.
ART_HISTORY is an art project always in progress completed by the residence for artists and the animal sanctuary RAVE East Village Artist Residency, founded by Tiziana together with her sister Isabella, as the common threads of the whole artistic practice.
ART_HISTORY consists in the exchange of a painting made by Pers with an animal destined for slaughter. The artist signs a contract with the breeder, the butcher, or in any case the owner of the animal, delivers the painting, which is always the same size as the animal, be it a cow, a rabbit, a horse or a donkey, and holds for himself one of two contracts. In this way the project opens several questions on the attribution of an economic value to a sentient being as well as to a work of art and, at the same time, on the possibility of the art to interact with the real data and save a life. First of all there is an artistic operation that leads to a concrete result: the life of a non-human animal is saved without an exchange of money, but through the exchange of a work of art. Secondly, what remains as artist’s work, is a sign: the contract. The contract, a device that Pierre Lévy implies a “virtualization of violence”, becomes a work of art to highlight the violence avoided, at least partially, through the artist’s operation. Subsequently, Pers often develops pictorial projects, or series of drawings, on these animals focusing on different aspects of the animality theme: the gaze of the animal as the Other and with its own point of view on me and on the world, the relationship, and the relevance between the presence and absence of a life (animal), or the simple daily life of every being.
ART_HISTORY is also closely linked to the other fundamental project of the artist’s practice, cited above, RAVE East Village Artist Residency in which every year an internationally renowned artist is invited to live with the saved animals and to develop an artistic project as a result of this interaction. Often the saved animals are hosted or still live at RAVE; other times the artist herself finds other structures in which these animals can be adopted.
The case of the action carried out in Palermo, ART_HISTORY / Vucciria (2018) is different because this was the first time that animals were returned to their natural habitat, completely free after being rescued. The performance was carried out as part of Collective Memory. Casa Spazio hosts Casa Sponge by Lorenzo Calamia and Serena Ribaudo / Border Crossing, a side event of MANIFESTA 12. In it, Pers interacted for a week with the fishermen and merchants of Vucciria, in particular with one of them, who have accepted to exchange several fish still alive with paintings by the artist. After the interaction the artist ran towards the sea with buckets containing the fishes still alive and released them in areas as far as possible away from the harbour and fishermen. Later, during the evening, the artist realised the paintings to be exchanged in the Casa Spazio.
Consequently, the work of Pers operates both of a profound theoretical and artistic level, but also of praxis: a concrete action that brings a different and important change.
Palermo. It dawns on Vucciria. A young dark-haired woman takes a long run. She is Tiziana Pers. In each hand she has a bucket, in each bucket a fish swims. Reaches the pier of the bay of Sant’ Erasmo and the fishes are released into the sea.
The images have the flavor of an allegory. Instead it is reality. The action is repeated for few days. Returning to the sea from time to time, are a small octopus and a octopus fraiello, two sea ciccali, an eel, a triggerfish, a shrimp and a real escape.
Each time the race is preceded by a negotiation to get the fish from a market vendor. He decides which animal to give and in return, receives an oil painting of the same height. A contract certifies the details of the agreement and is intended to be exhibited together with the painting.
The risk of failure in these interventions is high. Among the variants in the field there is the fact that one could not reach an agreement. Speed is also a determining factor: the animal may not survive the three-kilometer journey.
The intervention flows into the Art_History project that Tiziana Pers has always pursued, and which includes other rescues, also based on animal exchange – work.
The video related to the barter and the long journey of Pers towards the sea is one of the central elements of the Caput Capitis exhibition. The other part is a series of paintings depicting saved animals. Each of them is a real portrait, the result of a participatory observation, of a communicative flow; of a connection that takes place in the name of a new intimacy, of a mutual glance. It is an intimacy, a rare exchange because, except for cases of “elective affinity” or the relationship that can bind the person to a single “pet” it is rare a reciprocal relationship between man and another animal. Is unusual for an animal to maintain individuality in the eyes of man. Even more rare is that the man wants to enter in a such intimate communication, which implies a profound questioning about what man is and what the animal is; on what are the deep limits of humanity.
On the other hand, animals are mostly anonymous: dispossessed of every singularity and reduced to species, to categories such as domestic, wild, exotic, pet, experiment or income; possibly ordered between “high” and “low” forms depending on their usefulness, non-human animals are instead subjected and considered as exploitable entities; objects to “treat”; profit instruments in an industrialised regime.
Immersing herself in the eyes of his subjects, Pers therefore takes a radical step, from which the relationship between man and animal is profoundly modified. It returns to give them uniqueness and therefore breaks the dominant habit that prevents any communication.
Doing this, the artist, has been able to recover the senses, which are strengthened, and the meaning: the meaning of life; which cannot be so simply delegitimised and destined for consumption.
In this project Pers fits into a path traced over time by different personalities, from Tolstoy to John Berger; personalities that over time have investigated the relationship between the treatment that man inflicts on animals and the capitalist system. Just thinking, for example, of the insistence with which Tolstoy, in his writings, elaborates the theme of a voraciousness that blinds and leads to an unconscious consumption.
Referring to this consumption, which turned into a system which see animals as a mere instrument of economic power, there is the third constitutive element of the exhibition: a metal cube on whose on the outer surface are screen-printed some pages of a text from the Twenties. It deals with the care necessary to avoid the waste of cattle, and therefore to preserve their own possessions and the zootechnic capital of the nation. Inside the cube, hidden for the majority but visible to those who want to bend down to look inside, there are some slaughter hooks: objects whose brutality undermines, with their mere presence, the obviousness of the familiarity. And it summarises the way of understanding the life that is the basis of the system in which man lives; a way of which deaf but pervasive violence, everyone is aware; but that tends to silence and to keep quiet so as not to be confronted with one’s own unpleasant responsibilities.
This is precisely the meaning of the title of the exhibition, Caput Capitis; which refers to the idea of head of cattle as a unit of measurement of economic well-being, and therefore to the concept of capitalism; because, as the artist herself points out, the word “capitalism” comes from the Latin caput capitis, or head of cattle; and today animals are conceived essentially as an integral element of macroeconomics.
It is clear that the role that man attributes to animals induces far-reaching theoretical reflections on a series of social and cultural themes: from aesthetics to ethics, from anthropology to social studies.
There are many artists who see in the human-animal relationship a privileged filter through which to investigate society and its transformations.
In some of them a critical position of dissent is also alive. Some, with their works, wish to influence man’s looking on the animals of the earth, up to questioning the mechanisms of power that are the basis of the relationship between man and animal.
But for Tiziana Pers the race in Palermo – like his other interventions, including the Rave metaproject realised with his sister Isabella – are not only positive models, demonstrative actions, willing acts of dissent; whether it is a cow or a horse about to be slaughtered, or a fish already landed on the fishmonger’s counter, the artist is driven by a high and imperious commitment; and her lucid determination does not allow for failures; because there is a real life at stake: thanks to each of his interventions, the fate of an animal is actually overthrown; its biography changes course.
Not only; the conviction of the artist is such, so infectious is her impulse, that Pers manages to involve people who are otherwise not so well-versed on the subject. This is what happened in Palermo, where those who day after day witnessed her efforts could perceive the rightness of her actions, and believe, were only for a brief moment, in the possibility of a different way of life.
Pers’s interpretation of the man-animal relationship is wide; it encapsulates the themes of control, abuse of power, violation of dignity and freedom and of the other, understood also in terms of exploitation and nationalism. But above all it encapsulates a reflection on the role and value of art; from which it is legitimate to expect much; even the possibility of saving a life.