Some notes from an exhibition i saw a month ago in Paris:

Bêtes et Hommes is a 3500m2 exhibition which explores the relationships between humans and animals.

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"Frog and a Praying Mantis," from the Food Chain series. Photo © Catherine Chambers, 1994-96

The exhibition takes place at the Grande Halle of La Villette which used to "welcome" animals in the past: the space had been initially built in 1867 as a slaughterhouse for the cows which would then feed the Paris markets.

The exhibition takes individual situations involving a human being and an animal as its starting point and suggests an alternative way to think about living creatures, questioning their place in our society and proffering ideas about cohabitation that might inspire the world of the future.

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Bêtes et hommes, photo © Christophe Raynaud de Lage

Patrick Bouchain based the design of this exhibition on structures that brings man and animal together: the shelter, the refuge, and the den. Visitors navigate from one tent to the next one, the way to move from the beginning to the end of the exhibition is not always clear which makes the experience all the more interesting, it felt sometimes like being lost in a cozy jungle.

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Map of the exhibition parcours

Once again congratulations to the press office people for their poor job: i was not allowed to take pictures and could only use the few images they provided us with. Their photos show the exhibition without visitors (which makes it hard to judge the scale of the tents designed by Bouchain) and most of my favourite works were not featured in the image press kit.

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Bêtes et hommes, photo © Christophe Raynaud de Lage

Still, Bêtes et Hommes is a very good exhibition. La Villette is an exhibition centre dedicated to science and technology and it was exciting to see how well this exhibition makes use of artistic works to highlights some key concepts (full list of art works).

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Grizzly little fucker, by David Mach, 2003. Photo © David Mach - Courtesy Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont, Paris

The exhibition proposes new ways to think about animals, challenging preconceived ideas you might have, giving different points of views, asking questions but never coming with answers for you to swallow passively.

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Fuck'd Tony Matelli, 2004. Photo © www.frigesh.at - Coutesy : Fondation culturelle Ekaterina, Moscou, Galerie Gary Tatintsian, Moscou et Studio Tony Matelli

Four themes are presented:

Animals affect humankind
Human beings have tried to learn from animals and to acquire some of their characteristics. Example: Inspired by the way bats are able to navigate in darkness, the Batcane uses ultrasonic echoes, signals which bounce off objects present in the environment, and feedback information to the cane.

Animals are strangers to men
Animals live in a world apart from our own. For us to gain access to it, we have to understand what interests them, what affects them, what motivates them. An attempt at this understanding has led to some of the most astonishing discoveries about them.

Ethologists' recent discoveries reveal that animals have abilities which have traditionally been attributed to men only (for example Wattana, an orangutan living in a Paris Zoo is able to make true knots using her hands, feet and mouth) while the experience of people who actually live with animals (breeders, shephers, care givers or pet owners) show further unexpected skills.

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Orang-Outang, Carsten Höller, 2000-2001. Photo © Carsten Eisfeld - Courtesy Esther Schipper, Berlin

When devoid of his or her hair, isn't Höller's Orang-Outang more human-like?

Animals have a job to do
One of the best-known forms of connection between man and beast involves working together, forming a team with an animal - the blind and their guide dogs or circus trainers and their animals are just some examples. But what function do today's pets and livestock have? Why do we feel sad and angry to see images of a baby seal killed for its fur but have next to no qualms at the idea that thousands of pigs are slaughtered every day to feed us.

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Zoopsie, Philippe Loparelli, 2003

Animals force us to choose
Some people want bears to keep on living in the forest, others would rather see them safely locked in a zoo. Crows are ok, but not in your own backyard. In the Pyrennes, vultures used to be allies but when there are too many of them, they are not welcome anymore.
Who do we want to live with? That's the question at hand. The current debate is unique in that it concerns so many different characters: ecologists, scientists, breeders, animal lovers, tourists, inhabitants, and animals.

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Série Lucky Family Yang Zhenzhong, 1995. Photo © Yang Zhenzhong - Courtesy Shanghart Gallery, Shanghaï

The exhibition space is also hosting living animals in residency (a bit as if they were artists) such as Mynah birds, iguanas, buzzards, crows, vultures, and otters. Each of them is a witness of the conflict and cooperation relationship with humans. These animals were either hurt or healed by humans, seized at customs or at private homes, etc.

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Evolution, 1971 - Série Jours de cirque. Photo © Jill Freedman

Henry Horenstein's Aquatic photo series with an amazing close-up of a squid and other marine portraits

M6info has a great slideshow of images from the exhibition, and i have a small selection online (please respect the credits if you ever want to use these images).

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Photo © Christophe Raynaud de Lage

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Last week i visited the Paul McCarthy exhibition at the S.M.A.K. in Ghent (Belgium.) I knew little of his work, all i had seen before was his Santa merrily carrying a buttplug outside the Boijmans Van Beuningen museum in Rotterdam. Then i heard about the Ghent exhibition, saw the images in the press kit, learnt that it featured a mechanical pig, a rabbit with a 12-metre long rubber penis, some fierce-looking pirates, image of Osama bin Laden wearing a Guggenheim turban, etc so i thought; "Yesss, this is going to be a nice & easy & fun little exhibition".

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Spaghetti Man, 1993 (collection FRAC)

It's nothing of the kind. At all! The Head Shop / Shop Head exhibition is rough, abject, violent, it grabs you by the guts, hovers between bad Hollywood slapstick and the restroom, it's a carnival of the vile and filthy but it is fascinating and mind-blowing. In fact, it must be one of the best exhibitions i've seen this year (together with History Will Repeat Itself (Part 1 and 2) which is currently running at the KW in Berlin.)

McCarthy's work throws at our face the dark side of The American Dream and western consumer society. S.M.A.K. presents a selection of the works he produced between 1966 and 2006, plus a series of new works which premiered in Ghent.

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Caribbean Pirates, 2001-05. Both Courtesy Hauser & Wirth Zürich London

The Pirate Project was by far the most appealing/repulsive body of works for me. The artist's studios are in Los Angeles and one can feel the references to Hollywood. It's not so much a critique of the "dream factory" as a parody of it. Caribbean Pirates for example is inspired by the Disneyland attraction and movie Pirates of the Caribbean, only that there's nothing glamour and entertaining, it heads straight to the gore and soft porn.

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The Frigate, 2001-05. Collection of the Artist, Courtesy Hauser & Wirth Zürich London

The center piece is an imposing 5 meter high pirate ship made of fiberglass. The deck of this brownish-red hull is strewn with objects and smeared with chocolate sauce, ketchup and fake blood. The Pirate Party videos projected on the walls surrounding the ship reveal the obscene and brutal scenes which took place on board. In the movies, thirty actors, some of them wearing oversize carnival heads, simulate the invasion of a village, complete with rape, mutilation, violence and the public sale of the village women.

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Caribbean Pirates, 2001-05. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth

There's so much fake blood/ketchup in his work that some critics have compared it to Viennese Actionism. However, McCarthy said: “The use of ketchup and masks grew out of my work and not out of being conscious of their work. I was pretty aware that certain artists were doing stuff like that. I think I found out about the Viennese in the early 1970s. Vienna is not Los Angeles. My work came out of kids’ television in Los Angeles. I didn’t go through Catholicism and World War II as a teenager, I didn’t live in a European environment. People make references to Viennese art without really questioning the fact that there is a big difference between ketchup and blood. I never thought of my work as shamanistic. My work is more about being a clown than a shaman.?

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Caribbean Pirates, 2001-05. Collection of the Artist, Courtesy Hauser & Wirth Zürich London

Beyond the farce, the masks and the grotesque spoof horror movie scenes, McCarthy's Pirate work makes also some references to the US invasion of Iraq, some scenes have been said to allude clearly to Abu Ghraib and the abuse of prisoners.

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In 1991, McCarthy outfitted himself in a chef's costume and Alfred E. Newman mask and performed a cooking-show parody on a set --a hamburger stand-- once used for the TV sitcom The Hogan Family. But now the set is exhibited as an installation smeared, damaged and sullied with the remains of the artist' Bossy Burger performance: dried splotches of ketchup, a feeling of squalor and furniture in disorder are clues that a bloody gastro-massacre has been going on there. Outside the production set, a monitor screens the performance.

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Mechanical Pig, 2003. Collection of the Artist, Courtesy Hauser & Wirth Zürich London

The Garden features sets from Bonanza, a cowboy TV series from the 1960s. Seen from a distance, the artificial forest glade looks quite innocent, but walk closer and you'll spot two life-size mechanical male figures – an upright and pathetic “father? fucking a tree and a “son? giving the same kind of attention to a hole in the ground.

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The Garden, 1992. Courtesy Jeffrey Deitch, Deitch Projects

Trailer of the exhibition:

I now realize that this might be a very unsuitable post for xmas days but i loathe carols and i had no moose in store for you. Besides, 4 days after having seen the exhibition i'm still filled with the same feeling of bewilderment and wonder. The McCarthy retrospective made me happy like only art can make me happy when it is rare, challenging and good. What else could i ask for come the end of the year?

I took quite a few images.
The exhibition runs at the S.M.A.K. in Ghent, Belgium until February 17, 2008.

Lidy Jacobs's fluffy "sex rabbits" are often presented in groups and are interactive. They are attached to the ceiling with straps of fabric and are left to hang loose in space.

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Virginis Sanctae

Via bezembinder's illustrated links and Ileana Tounta art centre.

In tune with the back to nature theme of the day:

For the Demoniac Babble series Estelle Hanania met 12 wild and demoniac creatures, gathering in the mountains of Switzerland and followed them through their ritual walk from farm to farm (via).

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Demoniac Babble, Switzerland, 2007

0aaferiu78.jpgOn the left, an aerial shot of the dam (image The Times)

The Three Gorges Dam is the largest project in China since the Great Wall and the Grand Canal. The hydroelectric river dam, probably the biggest concrete construction in the world, spans the Yangtze River. The total electric generating capacity of the dam will reach 22,500 MW, at which point it will also claim the title of the largest hydro-electric power station in the world by capacity. The dam is not expected to become fully operational until about 2011.

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A billboard in the port of Wushan shows the height that the water will reach, ultimately submerging all of its wharf facilities (image BBC)

Unfortunately and despite the economic benefits such as flood control and hydroelectric power, the project also sets records for number of people displaced (at least 1.3 million), number of cities and towns flooded (13 cities, 140 towns, 1,350 villages). The 600 kilometre long reservoir will flood some 1,300 archaeological sites and the effects on the environment is quite frightening (the quality of water in the higher banks of Yangtze is falling rapidly, biodiversity is in danger, etc.)

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Hua Building Shot and Reverse, 2007, image courtesy of Franco Soffiantino gallery

Flotsam Jetsam, is an art project produced by Patty Chang and David Kelley in the Three Gorges area and currently on view at the Franco Soffiantino gallery in Turin.

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Chang & Kelley, Captain, 2007, image courtesy of the Franco Soffiantino gallery

Upstairs is a screening of the Flotsam Jetsam video along with photographic material. Downstairs, there's a wooden model of the submarine and Embankment, an experimental documentary created during a research trip in the Three Gorges area and which you're invited to watch lying on water beds.

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Submarine Head and Tail (Italian version)

Very quietly and elegantly, the work engages with landscape's relationship to identity, in the midst of the deep infrastructural changes at the Three Gorges site. The first video details the process of fabricating a submarine, launching it below the Three Gorges Dam, following the submarine's progress along the river and through the dam's boat locks to the reservoir. Along this journey various performances are enacted. These vernacular tales compose a third narrative regarding landscapes link to imagination. Inspired from a collection of sources including: Chairman Mao's many swims in the Yangtze, Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and contemporary news' exposés on economic development and imaginaries of the Asia 's modernization.

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Chang & Kelley, Hua Building Shot and Reverse, 2007, image courtesy of the Franco Soffiantino gallery

More images from the exhibition.
At the Franco Soffiantino gallery, Turin, until January 19.

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