Certain things which lie within the class of what is frightening
‘There was something called democracy.
men were more than physico-chemically equal.’
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
The question of postmortal dignity is directly related to that of prenatal digni.
This becomes increasingly important as the objectification of our bodies progresses and traditional philosophical and epistemological notions of self and identity are challenged.
the project kuh I mounted the
preserved skin, claws and horns of a cow, which had been slaughtered for meat
consumption, onto a
scaffold which had been carved out of styrofoam, thereby producing an image of
an individual dead cow using the mortal remains of a real dead cow frame -
in other words, a semi-real corpse/artifac t .
on experiments in public space were carried out.
ain concerns My
were questions of dealing with mortal remains and the visual representation of
Human resources and other operating consumables
According to Nietzsche it is much better to have good enemies than to have bad friends.
t I may introduce
my frame of reference
which is, on the one hand, the image- and reality-production of Natural History
Museums in general and of ‘Von Hagens Plastination Ltd in particular and, on
the other hand, the reality- (and also image-) production of a meat-consuming
society. Before going on we should
clarify the term ‘representation’; I do not agree with the notion that
representation represents a reality existing independently from the representation.
There is always a gap between reality and its representation; images are set up
as reality ,so they can convey and produce reality; representation as such is
not in contradiction with construction, it goes hand in hand, it is
construction as such — or destruction, which is a negative kind of
construction. Being engaged in image production I join the ‘politics of
Berlin in 2000-01 there took place a show that displayed preserved human
mortal remains had been subjected
to a chemical process called plastination that would stop natural rot. The skin
was removed to erase any individual reference; meanwhile the de-personalisation
was also a strategic measure. Juridically these preserved corpses were declared
objects, not to be considered corpses anymore, and would never be buried. These [space]
of the preserved corpses were presented in poses which carried art-historical
references. The conserved body of a pregnant mother was presented like a
reclining odalisque by Manet. Her belly was cut open to expose the baby inside
— a fetus in
the 8th month. Another ‘figure’ resembled a Hellenistic Hercules, with his own skin instead of a
lions’ skin over his shoulder. At the same time these poses were
to be ‘close to life’.
n some way this exhibition stands in the tradition of the image-production of Natural History Museums, applying it now to the human as its object.
like the idler,
and more than that, the
dying person is amoral; the former is a subject that doesn’t work; the latter
is an object that isn’t even available for treatment. (…) One needed nazism,
logical within its technocratic totalitarianism, to treat the dead and with the
help of rentability-considerations
to overcome the measurements border ,
was p ut up through the
we I would locate Dr. Hagens in a discourse of Menschenmaterial
(human material) and
the German tradition
of Dr. Mengele and other Nazi Doctors. To be clear: to my knowledge Von Hagens Plastination
though neither carries out
experiments with living persons, nor does not does it
any sort of killing. Nevertheless one can draw a trace regarding the attempt to
utilize human corpses materially and economically in a
very materialistic and also economic way . from a
industrialized treatment of human corpses takes them literally as material for
a product, which is explicitly de-individualized and subject to economical
considerations. What’s new here since 1939, is that these
participate in the production-cycle postmortally .
And Dr. Hagens does it bigtime. His so-called Bodyworlds show has travelled globally since 1995 and is listed in the current Guiness Book of Records as the most visited exhibition ever. It took place in lots of different cities around the world: now it is in Singapore, before it was in Japan and London, and, with an average entrance fee of US$12 and subsequent sales, it is big business.
Hagens Plastination Ltd buys the raw material, preferably in China (about $250
for the corpse of an adult there) or Kirgisia (among them people
died in prison camps and psychiatric institutions or who were otherwise
executed). It creates surplus value by means of about 170 Chinese anatomists
working in the headquarters of the corporation in Dalian — and then markets
them profitably through exhibitions and sales (a plastinated ‘full body’ goes
for about $
the meantime Von Hagens Plastination Ltd has considerable means to promote its
activities, and von Hagens is publishing, hand in hand with theorists and
scientists, to advertise their product. It is a very one-sided discourse,
Most people who disagree have tried to ignore him. Recently many negative articles have been published in the corporate media, some of them with investigative value. But negative media attention is always a two-sided sword. I am caught in the dilemma of deeply disagreeing on the one hand, and on the other hand, of not wanting to promote it, not even negatively.
Taxidermy and slaughterhouse
some point I decided to produce another conception of death. The main
difference is that I did use a cow. The other main differences in this
alternative conception are
, that the mortal remains remain
individually identifiable and that the representation does not pretend to be
Taxidermy turned out to be accesible means.
This technique has a long tradition in “those didactic institutions mandated to
collect, define and represent the ‘natural’ world: The Museums of Natural
We find stuffed animals there, usually within a habitat group or diorama, which
are presented as being lifelike, while nothing is so absent as life. “These
Museums are one of the most essential sites for any investigation into how a
dominant cultural group constructs and demonstrates its truth about nature. It
is here we find the official story.”
And of course, we don’t find cows in the Natural History Museums. They are
neither exotic enough nor part of ‘natural’ wildlife. Cows do not fit into an
“idealized vision of nature, a world without human taints or influence.” 
this I used the means which were accessible to me,
Today taxidermy is also applied in the private realm,
mostly for the preparation of pets (starting from birds, cats, dogs up to horses) or
to produce trophies of hunted animals (either
domestic, such as
foxes, deer, hogs etc., or, again, exotic animals such as sharks, leopards,
tigers, or even buffalo and rhinoceroses).
are over one billion cattle alive today, grazing on approximately 24 percent of
the landmass of the planet.
In Australia, the number of cattle exceeds the number of people by 40 percent.
On the other hand, cattle are the most slaughtered animals throughout human
history. In the US there are 100,000 cows slaughtered every day. Followed at a
short distance by
the Australian people ,
average North American, during the course of his/her life eats ,
the meat of seven cows .
As a mediated reality we are presented with either images of lucky cows provided by advertising (LaVacheQueRie, milka, Müllermilch, emzett and so on) or we have something which is totally deprived of the visual identity of a cow: clean-plastic-packed meat, or just leather, which is also parts of a dead cow.
our general perception of death,
either a religious thing, or a personal thing which also has religious
connotations, we are accustomed to deal with animals and their bodies as
products and commodities. “At this level of detachment,” says James Serpell “the animal
becomes a mere cipher, a unit of production, abstracted out of existence in the
pursuit of higher yields.”
During the process of realizing this work I visited a slaughterhouse, made photographs, sketches and measurements there.
picture 1: heads
“Usually the cows enter the slaughterhouse single-file. Immediately upon entry they are stunned by a pneumatic gun. As each animal sinks to its knees, a worker quickly hooks a chain onto a rear hoof, and the animal is mechanically hoisted from the platform and hung upside down over the slaughterhouse floor.” While some slaughterhouses still kill with knives, usually a cow gets killed by a shot in the head or in the neck.
animal moves along the main disassembly line. (...) the hide is cut open at the
midline of the stomach and a skinning machine strips the animal of its hide,
leaving the skin in one piece. The carcass is decapitated, the tongue is split
and removed (...) After the viscera are removed, the body is hurried along to
the next station, where the carcass is cut down the center of the backbone with
motorized saws and the tail is pulled off the animal”. In some
slaughterhouses the skin is removed first, in others the head, the feet and the
tail get chopped off first. In just one
are all the same: the carcass doesn’t get to touch the ground, not before it is
sliced into small pieces and packed into plastic.
Should one take as a starting point a situation which one considers ethically unjustifiable? Can you criticize objectification in general and cow-slaughter in particular while using the mortal remains of a slaughtered cow?
If this cow had not been slaughtered for meat consumption, the project would not have been possible — and it would not have been necessary, either.
veterinary hospital of the Freie Universitaet Berlin provided
the opportunity to make a study on a dead cow lying down on the ground; this is
very unusual for a cow that is slaughtered in the usual manner, since a dead
cow ‘normally’ doesn’t get to touch the ground, unless it belongs to that very
small minority that di cow
through sickness or old age.
proceeded to carve the model out of Styrofoam using anatomical proportion plans,
wooden and plastic skeleton
s and starting
with a clay model in scale 1:10.
picture 2: kuh, studio situation, 2001
The skin, which was sewn over the core, was conserved by a taxidermist.
The cow was
a milk cow that got slaughtered close to Berlin for meat consumption because it
had a bad leg —
decision was taken by the farmer based on
economic considerations. [s pace]
We are accustomed to experiencing cowskin as raw material for shoes or jackets or furniture; sometimes it is conserved and utilized as a carpet on the floor or on the wall.
is always a gap between reality and its representation; images are set up as
convey and produce reality; representation as such is not in contradiction with
construction, it goes hand in hand, it is construction/destruction of “reality ” .
Being engaged in image production one can join the ‘politics of representation’.
With sculptural and taxidermic methods the visual identity of a cow — a dead cow — was reinstated, and displaced and detached reality-perceptions reconnected. Subsequently the semi-real corpse/artifact was placed in public space.
Max Ernst wouldn’t have wanted this
then being a statement or a theatrical performance kuh is an experiment. Or, if it is to be seen as theatrical, it
could regarded as an application of Brechtian Verfremdung (estrangement), or, reciprocally, of the Freudian Unheimlich (the uncanny): “The uncanny
is that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of
and long familiar.” the
first experiment took place on January 15, 2002, at Berlin Alexanderstrasse.
Since there was no permission given, it didn’t take long (about 90 minutes) for
the police to come and confiscate the ‘cow’, which had been outlined with chalk
and fixed to the ground with metal chains, while no author or evildoer was
identifiable . After ten minutes of investigations (touching, footkicks and
soundcheck by fingertips
ripped it off , and considering it ‘special garbage’, wanted to
discard it. That is when I inter fered to make
them give it back to me, making it possible to execute an experiment in another
district next day.
the same time in Berlin the Internationale Gruene Woche took place,
year in January. The Gruene Woche is an international trade show for the food,
agricultural and horticultural industries; it is an image opportunity,
organized and visited by food industry representatives and targeting a mass
audience of “consumers from Germany and neighbouring countries”, wholesalers,
retailers and “4000 trade and popular media journalists from 70 countries”.When I was a child
growing up in West Berlin , this was one of my favorite events. I
loved to go there and see all those happy animals.
picture 3: kuh, experiment in public space #3, January 17 2002, Breitscheidplatz Berlin
On January 16th kuh was placed in front of the main entrance to the Internationale Gruene Woche at Masurenallee Berlin — it was able to stay about 20 minutes there, the biggest interest undoubtedly being expressed by the police.
third experiment took place on the Breitscheidplatz, a central square in Berlin
West on January 17th. Being located once more in another district
time a permission to temporarily exhibit a sculpture for two hours was issued.
Two weeks later a competition for the the Max-Ernst-Preis was announced in Bruehl, a small town south of Cologne, and there was an open call for entries. All the artwork had to be submitted to the local town hall, so the kuh was entitled to stay one week there.
In Bruehl the conservative party wrote a press release to immediately remove the ‘cow’ from ‘their’ town hall, while on the other hand the politician who was responsible for the art prize backed it up and explicitly refused to execute censorship on any submitted piece. Triggered by this the local newspapers began hyping it up and asked their readers to write their opinions, which led to some dozens of letters to the editors. Alexander Kluge has rightly adjudged the domain of ‘letters to the editors’ as not being an oppositional public sphere, since it is placed and framed within, and controlled by, corporate media organs. Still, these letters provided some insight into how people thought about it.
into dismissive letters that accused
kuh of being disgusting, tasteless or degenerate or which thought it should be
forbidden. On the other side people addressed societal questions such as that
of the double standard and displacement mechanisms in contemporary society.
Some saw references to DADA. One question that was repeated by both groups was
“Is it Art?”, the first group being entirely sure that it was not, the second
group being more divided.
Trier, a member of the jury, was cited in the Koelner Stadtanzeiger to the
effect that “Max Ernst would probably not have liked it” (commenting on a
Ernst wouldn’t have wanted this” - ago
in the same newspaper). A doctor invited anyone who liked this kind of ‘art’ to
buy it and place it in the bedroom instead of an artwork by Max Ernst.
Another reaction was that of an anonymous person, or group of persons, labelling themselves “citizens of Bruehl”, who brought charges against me and accused me of
“arousal of public nuisance; endangering the health of citizens of Bruehl, employees working in the town hall of Bruehl, as well as all persons brought into ‘contact’ — through a bacterially contaminated animal cadaver; alienating and misusing public buildings and institutions; disregarding enforced hygienic statutory orders; violation of ethical principles and injury to the related feelings of the citizens through the placement of a cadaver.”
particular interest is that the charges spoke of a ‘cadaver’, thereby
demonstrating an unbroken faith in the transparency of the relationship between
a realistic representation and the empirical phenomenon to which it refers. “As
we have learnt, that feeling [of uncanniness] can not arise unless there is a
conflict of judgement as to whether things that have been ‘surmounted’, and are
regarded as incredible, may not, after all, be possible.” But as here the
referent and the signifier overlap, the confusion was intended. On the one hand the referent
real dead cow, and
on the other hand
the signifier :
the utilized materials . — Partly being mortal
remains of a dead cow, it is a
One can locate this hybrid on the edge of the objectification of bodies, be they animal or human. If we start from nature and extend it onto artificial life we also progress to artificial death: the concept of partial life  implies partial death as its counterpart. If you stuff parts of your body with plastic — usually the penis, the breasts or the lips — these inanimate body-extensions are what I would refer to as areas of partial death.
Our nations spirit
George W. Bush announced that “As we face the challenges and opportunities of
this new era, the arts help reaffirm our nations spirit” I’m not sure if he
read Herbert Marcuse
an ‘artist’, or as a self-employed politician or as an individual person,
cannot fix society, that is way beyond my reach. At
best I one can function as an observer,
working on having as clear as possible a consciousness and awareness of what is
going on around me, to eventually function as a filter or
catalyst, producing tangible objects provo cing ative of
Now what about the spectacle — is it OK to stage a media extravaganza? Is it right to utilize sensational methods at all? Is it possible to appropriate ‘spectacle’ as a valid means of social intervention?
“For Debord, the spectacle is a tool of pacification and depoliticization, it is a ‘permanent opium war’(#44) which stupefies social subjects. (...) Debord’s concept of the spectacle is integrally connected to the concept of separation and passivity, for in submissively consuming spectacles, one is estranged from actively producing one’s life.” After Debord, a DIY spectacle is a contradiction in itself, a logical impossibility. Still, what is considered spectacular in common sense is not necessarily congruent with the theorized notion of spectacle. Maybe it is legitimate to rethink the legitimacy and operative value of apparently spectacular political strategies and to scrutinize their content and motivation. It is problematic anyway. “For an example of the reversal of the spectacle, or at least its contradictions and contestation take McDonald’s.”
The stakes are high in the field of Biotech, be it
tissue culture or genetical engineering with its market application of
genetically modified organisms (GMO) in the field of food production (the
agricultural applications of GMO amount to 85% of the biotech market share
today). What makes cautious critical examination particularly necessary is the
irreversibility of genetical manipulation, once there is any gene flow from the
GM crop to the natural ecosystem —
once release d
into the environment , a GMO will reproduce and can never
be taken back. To prevent this, a distinct clear zone of a certain distance
must be established around broad acre cropping systems with GM crop.
public figures, artists carry a particular responsibility, and the adaptation —
either naïve or disingenous — of ‘no harm’
paired with a critical posture (a prominent example is the Alba project by
are as dangerous as projects that shift the focus by romanticizing the problem
or merely aestheticizing the subject matter.
at the current historical moment Biotech companies prefer to operate rather
discreetly and employ very defensive media strategies, these strategies might
change with the political/psychological climate. As has been investigated and
demonstrated in the work of Hans Haacke and others: “Many public relations
opportunities are available through the sponsorship of programs, special
exhibitions and services. These can often provide a creative and cost-effective
answer to a specific marketing objective, where international, governmental or
consumer relations may be a fundamental concern.”
This I would regard Cultural production as a
smokescreen of the first grade.
We have no reason to believe that the role and significance of corporate sponsorship and structural censorship within the field of ‘high culture’ will decrease in coming years — but this is not just about its quantitative occurrence.
One could argue that it has reached new qualitative level with indirectly celebrative shows like Ars Electronica being a prestigious showcase for high technology (or, in the field of biotech, the show Paradise Now) and directly celebrative shows like Armani and Motorbikes at the Guggenheim.
there are new marketing methods and government techniques emerging: beyond
being a smokescreen or indirectly or directly celebrative, it is difficult to
avoid (is it even possible?) being staged or staging
oneself within pseudocritical debates, able ready to
be utilized as a very welcome alibi, smokescreens of the second grade.
There were people who supported this project substantially.
I want to thank my father Gerhard Pichler.
I want to thank Pedro Garcia Nogales. I also want to thank Thomas Bratzke, Jose Martin Garcia de la Torre, Stefan Klaue, Felix Klein, Buero Neulant, Karin Noack, Klaus Staeck, Thomas Stuessi and Gulsah Unal.
This essay is deriven from talks given at the Museum of Contemporary Art Skopje (December 16 2002), the Rensellaer Polytechnic Institute,Troy NY (October 2 2003), the Lion Arts Center, Adelaide (February 27 2004).
It will be published in an exhibition catalogue (working title: “Art, Culture and Biotechnology”) by the Experimental Art Foundation, Adelaide in late 2004.
According to German funeral law “Every corpse has to be buried”
(Bestattungsgesetz von Baden-Wuerttemberg, Par 30)
even if it
is “supplied to an anatomical institute for scientific purposes” it has to be
buried later on (ibid, Par 42). The same law prohibits the public exhibition of
human corpses (ibid, Par 14), just as it prohibits the permanent conservation
of corpses (ibid, Par 29). But with some legal gymnastics and bureaucratic
tricks the corpses were already preserved and de-individualized out of German
territory, and -
at the moment they were imported - legally not
considered corpses anymore.
Certau, Michel de,
“Kunst des Handelns ”, Berlin
1988, p. 336 (translation from German into English M. Pichler; for the original
text see Michel de Certeau, “L’invention
du quotidien.1- Arts de faire ”, Paris 1980)
In 2000 Menschenmaterial (human material) was elected to be the
the 20th century ”
by a jury –
consisting of reputed linguists and capacities in German philolog y- which
elects the unword of the year annually.
This term was already coined in the 19th century and is to be found in Karl
Marx writings (1867). Nevertheless it was not until the 20th century that it
gained a particularly cynical meaning, most prominently in its application to
circumscribe the soldiers who lost their lives in World War One and Two. A
similar logic underlies word creations describing materialization of
human such as “embryo
raw material ” , “bodyleasing ”, “human
capital ” , “soft
(in artillery jargon) and “collateral
(the last one was elected to be the “Unword of
the year 1999 ”;
for further information see www.unwortdesjahres.org
In the first phase of “Aktion T4” (between October 1939 and August 1941), the
pilot project of industrialized mass murder in the name of ‘euthanasia’ most of
the victims were cremated, their ashes sent to their relatives for burial. In
later phases, when the strategy was changed to carry out ‘euthanasia’ secretly,
of the victims personal
belongings also their hair and teeth fillings
and economically utilized, while a lot of the corpses were given to anatomical
institutes for scientific utilization. as dissection material,
others were discarded in anonymous mass-graves; some were used for the
production of soap. Johanna Bleker and Norbert Jachertz (Ed.),
Medizin im Dritten Reich, Cologne 1989
See also Wolfgang Neugebauer, Herwig Czech, “Die ‘wissenschaftliche’ Verwertung der Opfer der NS-Kindereuthanasie. Die Gehirnpräparatesammlung im Psychiatrischen Krankenhaus der Stadt Wien.”, Untersuchungen zur anatomischen Wissenschaft, 477-506
figures taken from
des Todes ”,
Der Spiegel 4/2004
Natural History Box: Preservation, Categorization and Display 1995 ” in
Corrin, Kwon, Bryson (Ed.) “Mark Dion ”, London
 ibid., p.137
Pimentel and Hall,
“Food and Natural Resources ”, San Diego
“Beyond Beef – “The Rise and Fall of the cattle culture ”, New York
Tab. 19-6 in Ensminger, M. E.,
“Animal Science ”, Danville,
“In the Company of Animals ”, New York
“Beyond Beef – “The Rise and Fall of the cattle culture ”,
New York 1993, p.14
 ibid., p.14
“Studien zur Gestalt des Tieres ”, Stuttgart
This term was coined by British cultural studies and in particular by Stuart
Hall, who insisted that “representation is the production of meaning through
language, discourse and image” (Stuart Hall,
“Representation: Cultural Representations and
Signifying Practices ”, London 1997), thereby claiming,
that meaning is not found, given or discovered.
Sigmund Freud, “The Uncanny” in
“Writing on Art and Literature ”, Stanford
“the word heimlich gives rise to its antonym, unheimlich, (...) one meaning that which is familiar and agreeable, the other suggesting that which is concealed and kept out of sight.” ibid., p.199
 Alexander Kluge, “The Public Sphere”, New German Critique 24/25
 charges submitted to the Court of Bruehl as of February 13 2002 and processed by the State Attorney Cologne under “Aktenzeichen 118 Js 70/02”
Sigmund Freud, “The Uncanny” in
“Writing on Art and Literature ”, Stanford
Recently Roy Ascott proclaimed cultural shift, which is extending/dissolving
the concept of nature onto artificial life. Roy Ascott,
“Reframing Consciousness ”, Perth 2002
 Oron Catts, “The Art of the Semi-Living”, www.tca.uwa.edu.au
 George W Bush in Art News (letter to the editor), October 2002
affirmative Character of Culture ” after
Marcuse is its “real
which supports the prevailing power relations by offering an imaginary world of
substitution and thereby continuously postponing substantial resistance:
“Culture should permeate the given in a purifying way – and not put something
its place. Thereby it is elevat ing the individual without liberating
from its factual oppression”. (Marcuse, 1937) Analogously after Peter Bu erger the “Avantgarde disburdens the
existing society from
pressing forces pressing for factual change”.
“societally the situation of art today is aporetic”; its autonomy gives it the
opportunity to critically examine reality but is also a guarantee for it to
stay without function and consequenses.
Ventura criticised “the failure-figure of the critical theories” and pointed
out , that
by exaggerating suggested claims, the very content gets discredited and slips
out of focus: “the cultural pessimistic disappropriation-thesis is the
expression of a moralizing conservatism, that assumes it possible to have
politics without content” Holger Kube Ventura, “Politische Kunst Begriffe ”, Vienna
2002, p. 37-40
the term was coined by Hans Magnus Enzensberger in
“The Consciousness Industry; On Literature, Politics
and the Media ”
New York (1974) it was expanded and in particular applied and
extrapolated onto the art world in Hans Haacke, “Museums, Managers of
Consciousness” in Brian Wallis (Ed.), “Hans Haacke: Unfinished Business ” New York
and Cambridge, 1986
“Society of Spectacle ”, published
in Paris 1967 and first published in English translation 1970; it is to be
found on various web sites today
“Media Culture and the Triumph of the Spectacle ”,
ibid. Triggered by some British Greenpeace activists, a subsequent lawsuit by
McDonald’s and a anti-McDonald’s campaign by Greenpeace, McDonald became the poster
corporation for protest in the anti-corporate globalization movement. McDonalds expansion was halt
profits were down almost everywhere and bad publicity continues to haunt
through the present.
describe h ow
well this system works may be best described by
using the Canadian canola growers for
example. The appropriate GM regulations were practic ed and
the clear zones established between the canola crop and the surrounding natural
ecosystem. Unfortunately a tornado swept across the Canadian
plains and spread the GM canola pollen into the natural environment as well as
GM free canola crops. Quoting a Canadian canola farmer about this
disaster; ‘The Canadian grown GM ”[ I wonder if Gary
being credited for this footnote- maybe we could just credit an Australian
In “GFP Bunny”(published in
“Eduardo Kac ”, Maribor
2000) Kac claims that “In developing the ‘GFP Bunny’ project I have paid close
attention and given careful consideration to any potential harm that might be
caused. I decided to proceed with the project because it became clear that it
was safe .” and “ 17 -
For an informed examination of this “industry claim I seriously doubt” see Adam Zaretsky, letter to the Alba Guestbook, July 17, 2001 (http://sprocket.telab.artic.edu/ekac/bunnybook.2000.2003.html) . See also Christopher Dickey, “I love my Glow-Bunny”, magazine Wired, Issue 9/04
from a leaflet distributed by the ‘The Metropolitan Museum of Art’ quoted after
Brian Wallis (Ed.),
“Hans Haacke: Unfinished Business ” New York and