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ABSTRACTION MINUS ONE: A CARPET IN SHADES OF BLACK, GREY AND BROWN

Text: Nina Sundbeck-Arnäs Kaasa


A rug of mixed shades in black, grey and brown. Felted from carded dog hair. Similar to the way Ingwill Gjelsvik composes her drawings in layers from the hardest to the softest lead, Abstraction minus one consists of layer upon layer of hairs, divided into two rectangular fields; one dark, and one lighter. The hairs were collected by the artist over a period of ten years because she wanted to spin it into yarn and knit a warm blanket for the dog, her own dog. But it was not to be. Instead, the work of creating the rug became a way of dealing with grief.

Made from hair instead of wool, sheep wool. There is a resistance inherent in the material that has to do with our culture; humanizing the dog and separating it from other domestic animals. Therefore, a physical presence and ethical resistance is imposed by the medium. The difference between dog's hair and sheep wool is really nothing but handed-down traditions and presuppositions regarding the characteristics and areas of use. This is confirmed by the fact that for centuries, certain indigenous tribes of North America used wool and hair from dogs as well as humans for weaving fabrics. What if no more than this separates our species?

Viewed in this context, the work opens critical dialogue about established and accepted conceptions of animals and the relationship between animals and humans. And not least, it highlights Gjelsvik's political agenda; anti- speciesism, a commitment against speciesism or what we would call the chauvinism of the species: the oppression and discrimination of individuals based on their species. The moral can be seen in the fact that the dog hair was collected in order to serve the purposes of the dog, whereas the art project communicates in the interest of all animals.

In her book The Sexual Politics of Meat, writer and animal rights activist Carol J. Adams discusses the relationships between oppression of race, sex, class, and species. Just as with women, blacks and the poor, animals are also made victims to a patriarchal consumer culture maintained by the meat-eating population. In short, she argues that the eating of meat exists in and contributes to uphold a patriarchal world. After reading about the industrialized wool production of Australia, and the grotesque treatment of Merino sheep, the parallel to the oppression of women in some parts of the world is easily drawn. It is also among the feminist and identity oriented art of the last fifty years that we find artworks that, similar to Abstraction minus one, solicit the bodily reactions of the beholder.

Among others, American art critic Lucy Lippard has pointed out how abstract objects and installations by Eva Hesse and Louise Bourgeois in the 1960's transferred tensions between formal and material contradictions that are captured intuitively through the bodily identification between the tactile and structural properties of the object. This form of sensibility is often associated with women's art of the sixties and seventies. Lippard also found a relationship to surrealist expressions such as the fur lined teacup of Meret Oppenheim, or furry and tactile objects by Salvador Dali and Yves Tanguy. But in contrast to the surrealists, whose predilection was with unifying different types of underlying realities, Hesse and Bourgeois were influenced by Minimalism and Conceptual art, where the medium played a central part. In the meeting with Abstraction minus one it is the character and cultural identity of the medium that evokes the ambivalent experience of presence and resistance.

During the 1990's, body oriented art was seen as an expression of the post-modern subject, embodied and conditional rather than spiritual and universal. In the book Body Art: Performing the Subject, the writer discusses art projects that in some way touch upon the viewer's memory of being a body, against a concept of intersubjectivity across categories such as sex, sexuality, class, ethnicity, etc. In addition to performance art and art where the body of the artist is visually present, she refers to a broad spectrum of strategies within the field of art. One example is the installations of Maureen Connor from the early nineties, where the viewers' experiences of their own body and intellectual reflections become part of the art project.


Abstraction minus one signals such an embodiment and intersubjective presence through entering into a dialogue with the viewer's relation with animals through bodily sensations. The experience of the work as an expression of an individual undermines in this respect the dog's legal status as an object. The questions that poses itself is what legitimizes this difference, when we know that animals, like humans, share the will to life and ability to experience both happiness and suffering, properties that are morally relevant and formally superior to differences such as intelligence, ethnicity, sex, race, and species. In this, Gjelsvik's work requests the viewer's point of view - and thus our commitment becomes a way to understand the work.


Carol J. Adams: The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminst-Vegetarian Critical Theory, (Continuum Book, NY, (1990) 2010).
Peta.org: "What's wrong with wearing wool?",
URL: http://www.peta.org/about/faq/Whats-wrong-with-wearing-wool.aspx
Lucy R. Lippard: "Eccentric abstraction", (1966), Art and Feminism, red. Helena Reckitt, (Phaidon Press, N.Y, 2001), 197-198.
Amelia Jones: Body Art: Performing the Subject, (University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1997).