Thursday, 29 January 2009


Photo Antony Hall, ENKI experiment 3, 2008

23 Jan – 22 March 09

Interspecies is a touring exhibition organised by the Arts Catalyst. It brings together a group of artists who actively question the sovereignty of the human species over animals.

The show has recently been the subject of debate on the Live Art Jicsmal e-list regarding the ethics of using live animals in art, with subscribers voicing concern regarding the exploitation of the animals involved. The fire of this debate was well fanned by Interspecies’ involvement with Glaxo Smith Kline – the animal-testing pharmaceutical multinational associated with the exhibition’s London tour. But any concerns that the opening evening on Friday would be disrupted by animal rights activists were unwarranted; the well-heeled and well behaved Manchester crowd that were packed into Cornerhouse Gallery were there to engage seriously with the central question of the exhibition: ‘can artists and animals work together as equals?’

Attempting to make visible familial connections between humans and primates, the aptly named Nicolas Primat screened various videos of himself interacting with tribes of monkeys and Bonobo apes. Also concentrating on shared ape/human behaviours, Rachel Mayeri presented ‘Primate Cinema: Baboons as Friends’, (2007). Unlike feminist writer Donna Harraway’s re-thinking on otherness in human/dog relations in her 2003 ‘Companion Species Manifesto’, a publication that glimpses highly charged inter-species encounters on the page, Primat’s work did not embody the possibilities of the animal-human bond. The intimacy of his interactions was somewhat lost on video, making his sincere attempts to integrate himself –bare bottom first- into a chimpanzee family seem faintly absurd. In contrast, Mayeri’s sophisticated work was clearly meant for the screen; her filmic juxtaposition of Baboons’ mating behaviour set against human courting rituals was at once comical and disturbingly uncanny.

There is a lot of video in Interspecies. This is no doubt due to the numerous ethical and logistical considerations regarding bringing live animals into the gallery (a problem artist Beatrice de Costa did not solve by decorating PigeonBlog (2006) with odious dead, stuffed pigeons). But despite the challenges, two artists did manage to situate their project alongside its living subject in the gallery.

For ENKI Experiment 3, (2008) Anthony Hall built a makeshift booth and conducted a communication experiment between various members of the public and a Black Knife Ghost Fish, an electrogenic fish species. Inside the booth, fish and human participant influenced each other with sonic and magnetic signals, the results of which were transmitted to display equipment in the gallery space. Kira O’Reilly installed herself in a straw-filled enclosure with a pig named Deliah in order to explore shared animal/human intimacies in Falling Asleep with a Pig, (2008). These installations were undoubtedly the most successful. They engaged the audience in the moment of experimentation, enabling the complexities of the attendant research and theoretical sources to be projected onto the works’ material form, instead of from lengthy programme notes or wall texts. The public nature of these live experiments, experiencing the actual artist/animal signals, grunts and actions, also enabled audiences to witness the conditions of the collaboration, and judge for themselves whether the test subjects were indeed transgressing established animal/human relationships.

Photo Antony Hall, ENKI experiment 3, 2008

Interspecies is full of complex, heavily research based work that is located at the edges of current understanding concerning animal – human interaction. It is not easy to digest these years of specialist information in one surface glance. In addition, this work is almost entirely without precedent, it is experimental and interdisciplinary. For many aficionados, this makes for exciting art, but it also makes for work that is difficult and easily misinterpreted; an all too easy target for vociferous Jicsmail e-list members, hack art critics or unscrupulous headline hunting journalists.

Despite these risks, difficult questions do need to be asked of Interspecies: On what grounds is Ruth Maclennan’s ‘The Hawk and the Tower’, (2007- 09), a dizzying birds-eye or ‘bird cam’ video of North London, considered urgent here in the UK right now? What are the ethics of Primat exposing himself and his practice to unwitting apes? And if O’Reilly’s ‘Falling Asleep with a Pig’ is an equal collaboration between artist and Deliah, how can the work be mutually owned, documented and disseminated?

Rather than providing the answers to these questions, it is the questions themselves and their established fine art framework that is at stake in Interspecies. What we are left with is where, how and what to use in locating Interspecies; this intriguing hybrid animal that is equal parts science and science fiction.

Rachel Lois Clapham

Cornerhouse is running a series of education events involving the artists featured in Interspecies. The exhibition is also being debated on

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Living Art in Interspecies exhibtion.

Image; courtesy Cornerhouse and the artist

This exhibition of ‘Living Art’ has already caused some controversy within the Live Art sector. Can artists work with animals as equals? Is the use of animals –alive or dead- in art ethical? Go along to Cornerhouse in Manchester and find out for yourself. Open Dialogues will be writing a response to the work seen at the exhibition for this blog.


Private view: 6pm Friday 23 January 2009
24 January = 29 March 2009 (open Tuesday to Sunday)

70 Oxford Street
Manchester, M1 5NH

Touring to London and Edinburgh

'Interspecies: artists collaborating with animals' consists of four new commissions by artists working closely with different species of animal, and three existing works, stimulated by the anniversary of Darwin's birth.

There have been many examples in history of 'living art', where artists have manipulated the actions of swarms of bees, herded sheep,commanded dogs and sent rats down mazes. But can artists work with animals as equals? It has recently been discovered that humans are closer to the higher primates than was previously thought. Following the well publicised observations by primatologist Jane Goodall and others of chimpanzees in the wild, our nearest relatives resemble us more than previously thought, with behaviour reflecting politics, deception and even possibly creativity as well as being able to be taught sign language to communicate with human primates. What does this mean to the way we humans see ourselves as just one species inhabiting a planet in crisis?

The Arts Catalyst is building on its extensive work in bringing knowledge about contested issues in science to the public through this new touring exhibition, opening at Manchester's Cornerhouse. Interspecies comprises new work by a group of four artists (*Nicolas Primat*, *Kira O'Reilly*, *Antony Hall* and *Ruth Maclennan*), and existing pieces by *Rachel Mayeri*, *Beatriz Da Costa *and *Kathy High*. All the artists in Interspecies question the one-sided manipulation of non human life forms for art. They instead try to absorb the animal's point of view as a fundamental part of their work and practice.

*Nicolas Primat* has proposed to work with primatologists and zoos to make a new work in which higher apes are taught video skills. The apes will make the creative decisions, with humans simply providing guidance and training. Primat's work explores how the animals' natural communication skills can be extended into the realm of human/ape creative collaboration.

*Kira O'Reilly*, one of the most experimental and controversial performance artists in the UK, will present an action/installed performance featuring herself and a sleeping female pig. The work addresses the ethics of human and non-human animal interaction, acknowledging the implicit ambivalences and violence in the appropriation of animals as a resource.

*Antony Hall *will encourage the public to directly communicate with live electric fish in the gallery space, through mild electrical impulses (both tactile and visual). The artist's motivation for this project relates to his long term interest in aquariums. Typically installed as calming objects, on closer inspection there are revealed as contained environments of both aggressive conflict and submissive tolerance.

The Department of Eagles (*Ruth Maclennan*) will produce will examine the relationship between falcons and falconers. For centuries, these birds have served to naturalise human surveillance. Arguably, their existence only continues today through human intervention such as tagging, breeding programmes, and the construction of artificial nesting environments.

Two existing works will also be shown in the touring exhibition: *Rachel Mayeri*'s 'Primate Cinema', which casts human actors in the role of mating non-human primates, *Beatriz Da Costa*'s 'PigeonBlog' which investigates the military use of homing pigeons.

Interspecies will tour during the Darwin 200 celebrations in 2009. 12 February 2009 marks the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth. Interspecies will open at Cornerhouse in Manchester in January 2009, and then travel to Northumberland, London and Edinburgh A series of talks and debates between the artists, writers, scientists and animal welfare experts will accompany the exhibition.

Text Art Festival in Bury from April 30th

For those interested in the intersection of art and writing the second Text Art Festival in Bury promises to be great. Open Dialogues will be at the festival- do let us know if you are planning to attend.


Major UK festival of Text Art launches May 2009 in Bury

Groundbreaking event features exclusive appearances and commissions by international practitioners

The second Text Festival is a celebration of international poetics and language in art. With a greater focus on text in performance and sound art, this ambitious event features exhibitions and commissions from some of the world’s leading practitioners including US visual poet Geof Huth, US Poet Ron Silliman and artist Jenny Holzer as well as emerging artists.

Text Festival Director Tony Trehy explains, "With this only the second Text Festival to date, the event has already established itself as the most important international coming together of innovative poetry and conceptual art. This year the festival takes a much closer look at how the dialogue between these two fields impacts on film and multimedia."

Poetry Film
Met Arts Centre, Market Street, Bury
The Festival opens on Thursday 30 April 2009 with a survey of international poetry film, curated by Festival Director Tony Trehy and Canadian poetry-film expert Tom Konyves. Poetry Film is a burgeoning art form merging two practices in new challenging ways. The event will feature works from UK and international artists including a live performance of FUSES by international performance poet Caroline Bergvall.

Friday 1 May – Saturday 25 July 2009

The Agency of Words
Bury Art Gallery, Moss Street, Bury
The Agency of Words is a survey of works exploring the performative landscape of language and identity. Provocatively playful and deadly serious, the agency of words overlaps words as material, words as gesture, words as constructs of meaning and fiction.

Special commissions include Hester Reeve (HRH.the)’s explosive Canonisation of the Artist – pushed beyond the cultural norm and rendered temporarily absurd, the artist as saint and philosopher.

Berlin artists Ming Wong and Patrick Pannetta investigate different aspects of film and language realities – Pannetta in his appropriation of the narrative fiction of movie end credits and Wong in two works reconstructing film histories into his own world cinema.

The melancholy breath of Manchester artist Sarah Sanders gently blows away the hypocrisy of media war lies. Ben Gwilliam slowly overwrites William Boroughs, Irene Barberis from Australia re-writes the Apocalypse, Spencer Roberts reinvents Godot, Liz Collini’s refines words, and Debbie Booth inscribes the unspeakable.

Signs of the Times
Bury Museum, Moss Street, Bury

From advertising to road signs, from global branding to digital communications, text forms the visual and linguistic background to everyone’s existence. For poets and artists who use language the challenge has always been how to make it new. With new works by Carolyn Thompson and Nick Thurston, plus works from Jenny Holzer, Bury Museum investigates how strange and magical the written word and sign can be when lifted from history to create new meaning and recall old and perhaps re-usable ideas of language.
The exhibition will open with a performance by US visual poet Geof Huth.

Other festival highlights:

Saturday 2 May 2009

Poetry readings at Met Arts Centre from Tony Lopez, Phil Davenport, Carol Watts and the first ever UK performance by the leading American poet Ron Silliman. Silliman has emerged as a major figure in international poetry. Since 1974, Silliman has been working on a single poem, entitled Ketjak. Silliman's Ketjak project is composed of four works: The Age of Huts, Tjanting, The Alphabet, and Universe. His 1986 anthology In the American Tree remains a primary resource in this literary moment of Language Poetry and the Silliman blog is internationally regarded as the must-read source of world-wide developments in poetry


For further press information please contact Catharine Braithwaite on 07947 644 110 or

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Free Press: Writing Project

Open Dialogues has been selected to take part in 'Free Press', the collaborative writing project run by Trade Union at Plan 9 in Bristol.

Trade Union is a project initiated to explore ideas around late capitalism - in particular the economies of contemporary art and the possiblities that could arise from the current geopolitical climate.

The Free Press project is a critical collaborative project where participants decide the form and content of a Free Press publication, produce the final document and decide how it will be distributed.

The production of Free Press will happen 6-8 March 2009, at Plan 9 in Bristol when the participants meet for a three day collaborative workshop. At that workshop we will be working through several issues such as;

* What critical models are currently available to artists/writers?
* What would a ‘free press’ be in relation to contemporary art?
* How could we all write responsively, collaboratively and critically in a free press publication?
* Where is the radical edge now situated? - And are its motives and politics different from our artistic predecessors of 1968 and the early 20th century avant-gardes?

To see the groups' dialogue on Free Press see

Critical writing competition 2009, New Art Theory

New Art Theory is a yearly competition to recognise the best emerging new writing talent in the visual arts.

New Art Theory gives those still at, or just after graduating from any BA, MA or equivalent international program the opportunity to publish their work in the context of a professional publication. With a yearly winner nominated from the published shortlist of the worlds most promising new critical writing talent on the subject of art.

New Art Theory is currently the only open writing competition for graduates working in the visual arts. Its purpose is to extend the opportunity for open critical debate in art outside the educational institution. Judged without reference to applicant details by a diverse panel of experienced writers, critics, curators and artists it allows applicants a democratic chance for the merits of the work itself to shine through.


New art theory 2009 is open to all final year undergraduates, current postgraduates and recent graduates of no more than 3 years from of any BA, MA or international equivalent course provided the submission is on the subject of art. Submissions must be made in English Language only.

Submissions for New Art Theory 2009 must be made by March 31st 2009 to

For more information on application guidelines please visit us at

or email

Contact Louise Downe

New Art Theory is Sponsored by TATE.ETC Magazine

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Legacy: Thinker in Residence Awards

Two artists receive Live Art awards of £30,000 each.

The Live Art Development Agency and Tate Research are delighted to announce that Anne Bean and Tim Etchells will receive Legacy: Thinker in Residence awards of £30,000 each.

The Legacy awards have been set up in recognition of the breadth of influence of Live Art practice in the UK today, and to acknowledge its achievers and achievements over the last few decades. These two awards celebrate artists whose outstanding bodies of work have tested the nature and possibilities of live practices and who have had a demonstrable influence on the development of the Live Art field.

Bean and Etchells will carry out extensive research throughout 2009 addressing the legacies of performance in art historical contexts, examining the processes and challenges of archiving live work and looking at aspects of their own performance practice in relation to these. Following this, they will translate their findings into the creation of their own legacies, that may take the form of new artworks or publications.

Lois Keidan of the Live Art Development Agency said “Live Art is often an ephemeral and fleeting experience. It raises many questions about what it might leave behind and poses challenges for the artist, the archivist, the art historian, the scholar and the audience alike. Legacy: Thinker in Residence Awards will provide Anne Bean and Tim Etchells with the unique opportunity to examine these issues.”

Nigel Llewellyn, Head of Research at Tate said: “These are pioneering awards which will mean that that the legacy of live art can be thoroughly examined by two outstanding practioners. I have no doubt this research will yield extremely valuable material which will not only shed light on current practice but which will also form a basis for future thinking in this area.”

Following a national nomination process begun in August 2008 and involving over fifty key UK curators, writers, and thinkers, a longlist of forty-nine artists was drawn up for consideration. From these, twelve of the UK’s most influential and inspiring artists were invited to submit proposals on how they would approach the idea of legacy.

The final decisions on the awards were made by a selection panel comprising: Lois Keidan and Daniel Brine (Live Art Development Agency); Nigel Llewellyn (Head of Tate Research); Lizzie Carey-Thomas (Curator Tate Britain); Vanessa Desclaux (Curator Tate Modern); Michael Morris (Director, Artangel); Stella Hall (Creative Director, Newcastle Gateshead Initiative), Claire MacDonald (Centre Director, International Centre for Fine Art Research, University of the Arts London); David A Bailey (senior curator, Autograph); and Mark Waugh (Director, A Foundation).

Panellist Claire MacDonald described the recipients as “two brilliant artists who speak to the present condition and the history of performance in distinctive and powerful ways”.

Legacy is a one-off initiative developed in collaboration between the Live Art Development Agency and Tate Research. It is financially assisted by Arts Council England and the Live Art Development Agency.


Anne Bean (Born 1950, Zambia. Resident in London) has undertaken numerous solo and collaborative projects worldwide, for nearly 40 years, in diverse media including performance, installation, drawing, photography, video and sound, using materials that range from fire, wind, steam and honey to laughter and breath. In early 2008 she was commissioned by the National Archives to create a permanent installation for their museum at Kew. In summer 2008 she went to Croatia, Iraq-Kurdistan and Spain where she worked with local people to develop and produce performances and installations referencing local history. In autumn 2008 she presented 4 installations for Power Plant, a part of a Liverpool City of Culture programme commissioned by the Contemporary Music Network as well as a performance for Liverpool Biennial Made-Up Weekend. In November she completed a video inspired by Darwin, commissioned by Artsadmin and DVDance supported by the Wellcome Trust and Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. In 2007, she was the International Fellow at Franklin Furnace Archives, New York.

Tim Etchells (Born 1962, UK. Resident in Sheffield) is an artist and a writer. He has worked in a wide variety of contexts, notably as the leader of the world renowned performance group Forced Entertainment and in collaboration with a range of visual artists, choreographers, and photographers including Meg Stuart, Elmgreen & Dragset, Hugo Glendinning, Vlatka Horvat and many others. His work ranges from performance to video, photography, text projects, installation and fiction. He has also developed a unique voice in writing for and about performance - his monograph Certain Fragments (Forced Entertainment and Contemporary Performance), (Routledge 1999) is widely acclaimed. Etchells has also published fiction; Endland Stories (Pulp Books 1998) and The Dream Dictionary (for the Modern Dreamer) (Duck Editions, 2000) are now followed by his first novel - The Broken World - which takes the form of a guide to an imaginary computer game and was published by Heinemann in July 2008. In recent years he has exhibited work at Sketch and Butchers (both London), Netherlands Media Art Institute (Amsterdam), Sparwasser HQ (Berlin), Art Sheffield 2008, ArtFutures (Bloomberg SPACE, London), The Centre for Book Arts, Canada and Exit Art (all New York), Kunsthaus Graz and Manifesta 7 in Italy.