I was wondering how i should end the year. Should i publish a review of Carsten Nicolai’s exhibition at K21 in Düsseldorf? Or write about a book about art and biotechnology? I couldn’t decide so i went for the butt plug instead:
Thomas Hämén, Asstral Traveler, 2016
Not only is it an object that doesn’t tend to appear often here, it is also made of coprolite, fossilized faeces from animals that lived millions of years ago (coprolite is not to be confused with palaeofaeces, a term applied for human poo.) The material has scientific value, providing key information about an animal’s diet, the way they ate and indications about the shape of its digestive system but also the types of plants growing into the animal habitat. In the 19th century, coprolite were valued, not so much for their paleontological interest but for their potential as a source of available phosphate once they had been treated with sulphuric acid. They were then mined on an industrial scale in the UK for use as fertiliser.
Thomas Hämén sculpted coprolite from a dinosaur that lived about 140 million years ago to create a device for anal stimulation, in an attempt to make us connect with geological or “deep time”.
It is naturally difficult for humans to have a sense of time frames that extend so widely beyond homo sapiens existence on Earth. We’ve been around for a mere 300,000 years while dinosaurs were “roaming the Earth” in the Mesozoic Era, between 245 and 66 million years ago. So how do you connect to that ultra distant period at a time when everything around us seems to be accelerating?
As for the title of the work, Asstral Travel, it is a direct reference to astral travel (also called astral projection), an ancient belief that we can separate our physical body from our spiritual one to travel throughout the universe.
Connecting a sex toy with the faeces of an extinct animal humorously links the human interfaces for excrement and pleasure, with the vestigial experience – known but felt by no one – that dinosaurs once existed on earth.
I discovered the work in early November during the Artissima in Turin and i never found a moment to sit down and blog about it. Hopefully, 2020 will give me more opportunities to write about Hämén’s work. He had some amazing artworks at his gallery booth during the art fair.