At last the wonders of the traveling Multispecies Salon is available in portable form, in both traditional physical codex and electronic book formats. Duke University Press has published The Multispecies Salon, a collection edited by Eben Kirksey and featuring works by Caitlin Berrigan, Karin Bolender, Donna J. Haraway, Lindsay Kelly, Dorian Sagan, Miriam Simun, Kim Tallbear, Anna Tsing, and others. The book features provocative ideas about present and future relations between earthly species and even a few tasty recipes for biopolitical interventions. My chapter, RAW Assmilk Soap, traces the figures and metaphors embedded in the making of a rarefied soap, which holds all the questions and hopes of more than a decade spent searching for and making homes with a family of American Spotted Asses.
Triage: three artists sort shifting emergencies of bodies, language, and spaces between, revealing places of opacity, refuge, and intimacy.
with Karin Bolender & Craig Goodworth
September 5 – 28, 2013
If not the last, this batch is certainly the culmination of all the main questions, hopes, and mammalian interconnections that Assmilk Soap is meant to contain. Made in May 2013, this batch of Assmilk Soap holds Passenger’s milk, which she made on the Big Ass Family Road Trip and in the months after our arrival in California; three generations of assfur, from Aliass, Passenger, and Nicholass Moon; and human milk, straight from the R.A.W. source, along with the usual vegetable fats and lye, of course.
This special batch of R.A.W. Assmilk Soap will be traveling to Sydney, Australia this summer to be part of Intra-action: Multispecies Becomings in the Anthropocene, an exhibition of works by artists who reckon in diverse ways with relations among earthly inhabitants.
This soap will also appear in Portland, Oregon, June 6-29, at Gallery 114. It will be part of a show called +1, in which gallery-affiliated artists each invite a non-member artist to show with them. RAW will be showing with sublime encaustic painter Christine Toth.
“Gut sounds” is a term with significant resonances in American ass husbandry. Auscultation (i.e., listening) for gut sounds, or gastrointestinal motility, is a primary diagnostic tool in equine veterinary practice, where the presence or absence of normal gurglings (or borborygmus) in quadrants of an equine’s insides can carry big epistemological, emotional, and economic implications. Indeed, the resurgence of good gut sounds in a sick equine companion can make those otherwise vaguely obscene inner gurglings seem like the sweetest melodies on earth. On a more common level of experience, gut sounds are some of the first we all hear as mammals, as our ears start to function with months to go in utero and our brains begin to mesh with the sounds of the world that throb through the porous boundaries of maternal bodies.
Yet gut sounds are something we seldom attend to, even as their presence signals life and cessation means death. Living gut sounds surprise and sometimes even embarrass us with their immediacy, burbling up bigger questions of bodies’ unknowns and permeable boundaries. As they pass through layers of living flesh, gut sounds challenge common ontologies that assume certain boundaries between inside/outside, human/animal, and self /other. “Gut Sounds Lullaby” seeks to blur these boundaries, as we listen to strange and familiar hums on the insides of other beings. We invite listeners into an intricate and intimate auditory mesh, where gut-sounds phenomena fold and twist through questions of intra-species presence and responsibility. In this newfangled lullaby, sounds of normal borborygmus are remixed with layered resonances of old human melodies and addressed to an invisible but no-less-present human fetus, who we presume is listening on the other end of the intra-species transmission wires.
For Ethnographic Terminalia’s Audible Observatories exhibition at SOMArts in SanFrancisco, the “Gut Sounds Lullaby” consisted of two parts: a video/sound installation and a live performance. The video documents specific acts of R.A.W. ontological choreography and intra-actions amidst a herd of asses, a human woman, and others known and unknown. Set in a few different landscapes, these choreographies root in a ten-year relation between Karin Bolender and Aliass and other members of a multi-species family. R.A.W. choreographies seek to dig deep into certain wild discomforts with human acts of naming and the perpetuation of animal/human dichotomies. Each scene reflects particular tensions, longings, shames, and passions that flare up in conflict-ridden negotiations between human logos/language and raw experience of immersion in intra-species being.
The live performance at SOMArts (Saturday, November 17th from 1-3 p.m.) featured experimental musician Melanie Moser and the presence of Fireball, a miniature golden-palomino party pony. Melanie Moser performed live improvisation based on the “Gut Sounds Lullaby” score, a remixed version of a gnarly old lullaby known as “All the Pretty Little Horses” mixed with live and recorded gut sounds. The mix was broadcast by various wired and wireless technologies to the audience and through the Bolender belly interface to the human prenate. The performance was also broadcast live through Radio Transmission Ark.
This project owes special gratitude to the generosity and life-saving care and dedication of equine veterinarians Dr. Alice Beretta in Northeast Georgia and Dr. Jessie Koenig in Orland, California.
“Gut Sounds Lullaby” takes place in conjunction with the American Anthropological Association’s special offsite event, “Multispecies Intra-Actions: A Roundtable with Karen Barad.” Click here for details. We also wish to thank our official sponsor, Environmental Humanities.
R.A.W. Assmilk Soap was included this spring in a show called Domaci Veci/Domestic Matter, April 2 – May 8 at Galerie Califia in Horazdovice, Czech Republic, along with works by Barbara Benish, Cristina Corso, Lenka Klodova, and a collection of ArtMill students’ artist’s books. See photos from the opening on the Galerie Califia website.
You will seldom see the nest of an oriole, or a pair of pileated woodpeckers flying low, unless you are extremely diligent and know just what to look for. Even then, such spectacles are rare gifts, phenomena mostly hidden by mazes of branches and brambles, found only by muddy paths, or by none at all.
Katie Schofield’s sculptures work like this; they light up one’s natural sense of wonder as we come upon them unexpectedly, in the woods or a field, or hidden high in the barn eaves. Silent and unassuming but undeniably present–like the uncanny awareness that something might be looking at you as you are looking–Schofield’s cocoons and nests and fungally growths make openings for the wonder that comes when we rediscover the constant colorful weavings of the world we don’t usually pay attention to. In other words, we get to see what is usually hidden, right around us always but mostly beyond our habitual attention. Such revelations of the world’s elegant complexity are as humbling as they are wondersome.
Schofield’s materials are the ordinary detritus of modern rural life: synthetic baling twine and shopping bags, cast-off feed sacks and plastic silage tarping. Into the sites where these materials are used and then disused, she imagines new forms for them, performing an imaginative integration whereby she weaves plastics and other inorganic materials into organically resonant forms. These forms remind us again of the surrounding world and its wonders that we might otherwise forget to admire.
The Picnic itself was a hybrid installation/table conversation designed to encourage rumination on questions about who and how we eat, and how and by whom we are eaten, to name a few mouth-watering topics of discussion. The core picnic chefs/servers were yours truly R.A.W., Baker and Couiffeuse of Gnarly Cupcakes; Eben Kirksey, Master of Trophallaxis; and Deanna Pindell, Coy Leopardess and Shepherd (yes, both) of Tough Questions of Interspecies Ethics and Aesthetics.
The table setting for the Multispecies Picnic featured gorgeous placemats made by Deanna, each illuminating important questions in discourses about interspecies relations. The placemats featured questions to chew on through the lunchtime gathering, such as: “What happens to an oral culture if it loses its voice?” and, in regards to the pine beetle in the boreal forest, “Pestilence, scapegoat, or necessary part of a larger-than-human cycle?”
Multispecies Picnic-goers also had the opportunity to sample Lindsay Kelley’s Plumpinon, tearing with teeth into one of the bright-colored, recycled plastic bags that contain Kelley’s latest Starvation Seeds recipe. Plumpinon is a nut paste in which the artist employs the traditional “starvation nut” of her native New Mexico as a means to interrogate Nutriset’s patented humanitarian aid food, Plumpy’nut. Many who tasted the Plumpinon were pleasantly surprised to discover that an erudite and thought-provoking microbiopolitical intervention could taste so damn good.
The Picnic buffet table also featured a display of disturbing cupcakes provided by the Rural Alchemy Workshop. These cupcakes were watched over, as if guarded or maybe heralded, by the skull of a sow bearing the remains of a strange experimental implant. We know this much: this sow in her lifetime was involved in an experimental study that measured metabolic responses of the porcine body to various chemicals injected directly into her brain tissue through the implant. The ultimate goal of this experiment (in the context of funded animal-science research at a major American university) was to figure out ways to get the pigs fatter, faster and on less feed. Cheap pork for everybody, down at the local Piggly Wiggly.
How the skull came into the possession of of the R.A.W., along with her relation to the cupcakes she accompanied, are details that will have to wait for another day. A sunnier one, when a person is less chilled, less prone to faintheartedness, better able to buck up and face the implications of being an eater, a consumer, and an animal husband in 21st-century global technocracy.