Media: cotton cloth, animal blood meal, caput mortum pigment, bovine vertebrae, hook, chain, water container, glass container
280 x 180 x 220 cm
Commissioned by State Festival, Berlin.
The installation Lymph tackles the fear of contamination and the physiological origin of disgust by staging a controlled staining process on a white cotton cloth sculpturally hanging from the ceiling. A staining liquid mixture of caput mortum pigment and blood meal slowly drips though a hose and stains the cloth for the whole duration of the exhibition. On the floor, next to two bovine vertebrae, there is a glass vase containing blood meal: members of the audience can lift the lid of the vase and smell it like in olfactory trainings. With a visual reference to classical aesthetics, Lymph displays an inquiry on symbolism of materials and physiology of emotions as metaphors for Western societies challenged by increasing polarization, environmental crisis and fear of the Other.
Caput mortum pigment and blood meal both hold a reference to death, purification and contamination. The two materials are the same colour and their production and use have been, in different moments of human history, highly controversial. The name caput mortum [Latin for “head of the dead”] derives from alchemical knowledge and refers to the residuum of transformation processes such as sublimation: a worthless remnant after all valuables have been depleted or evaporated. Widely used in painting, it’s said that caput mortum pigment used to be made with ground-up mummies, replaced with iron oxide once artists became aware of it in 19th Century.
Blood meal is a heavy powder with an intense smell. It is a byproduct of industrial slaughterhouses: extremely rich in nutrients, animal blood is sterilized, dried, ground-up and commonly sold as organic fertilizer or and ingredient for fishing baits. In the past decades, it used to be combined, together with other animal remnants, in cattle food, playing a role in the outburst of Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). Since then, some retailers avoid handling it because customers associate it with BSE scandal. Blood meal smells like something between dried mushrooms and corpses. For its smell it is also used for keeping deers away from gardens. Its smell triggers neuroreceptors responsible for physiological reactions associated with disgust and gestures that prevent possible contamination, such as nose wrinkling, stepping back, breath holding.
Partly waste partly resource, animal blood – “industrial” blood – is disgusting and symbolic at the same time. Removed from its original industrial context and used as paining material on a white cloth, blood meal works as a catalyst for a reflection on ancestral fears.