MINUS ONE: A CARPET IN SHADES OF BLACK, GREY AND BROWN
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?",
Lucy R. Lippard: "Eccentric abstraction", (1966), Art
and Feminism, red. Helena Reckitt, (Phaidon Press, N.Y, 2001),
Amelia Jones: Body Art: Performing the Subject, (University of
Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1997).