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Due to the misleading, erroneous and bias articles that have recently appeared in a number of paper and online media about the K-9 topology project created by the artist Maja Smrekar, we at Kapelica Gallery, the producer of the project, feel obligated to publish an official statement as regards her work.
This project addresses the co-evolution between humans and dogs and confronts us with the question that is being posed by humans everywhere: what defines us as a superior species in an ecologically destroyed, overpopulated and economically compromised world? With selective breeding that took place throughout the history of coexistence people have projected their human qualities into the numerous dog breeds they have created. Reciprocal domestication of people and animals pulled humans closer and pushed us further away from dogs, in the same was as it brought our human understanding of nature closer to us while simultaneously pushing us further away from it.
The artwork K-9_topology which has been emerging between 2014 and 2017 is comprised of four individual art projects: Ecce Canis (2014, spatial installation); I Hunt Nature, Culture Hunts Me (2014, performance); Hybrid Family (2015/16, studio visit); ARTE_mis (2016/17, project in a biotechnological laboratory).
The exhibition ECCE CANIS (Kapelica Gallery, 2014) presented the visitors with the smell of serotonin, which was biotechnologically extracted from the blood of the artist and her dog (taken by a veterinary at the regular medical check-up). This hormone is one of the key parameters that defines reciprocal tolerance, which has been developing ever since people started cohabitating with wolves (from which dogs evolved) 32.000 years ago. The regulation of this hormone was simultaneously developed in both species and is symptomatic of the non-verbal understanding and the physiological tolerance that exists between people and dogs.
In the performance I HUNT NATURE AND CULTURE HUNTS ME (Bandits-Mages, 2014) Smrekar developed a situational communication with wolves (Jacana Wildlife Studios – Saint Montaine, France). With the help of world renown ethologists – experts in the field of animal behaviour research – the artist tried to establish her animal position within a wolf pack. The performance artistically contextualised Maja Smrekar’s artistic poetics with historically referential projects /performances by Joseph Beuys (I Like America, America Likes Me, 1974) and Oleg Kulik (I Bite America, America Bites Me, 1997).
During her three month seclusion HYBRID FAMILY (Freies Museum Berlin, 2015/16) the artist used a special diet and mechanic stimulation of her breasts (under medical supervision) to prepare her body for feeding her young with drops of colostrum. In the public presentation which took place in the form of prearranged visits in the studio at the Freies Museum in Berlin, the visitors could witness the feeding of a young puppy while discussing the reproductive freedom and the role of women – mothers in a heteronormative society and listening to the criticism of anthropocentrism.
The project ARTE_MIS (Kapelica Gallery, 2016/17) represents the final part in the K-9_topology series. The project addresses the potentiality of co-evolution with an attempt of man/dog hybridisation. This potential hybrid is an artistic attempt of questioning the current biotechnological possibilities, from which the impossibility of the mythological man-wolf figure emerges in all its poetics. The man-wolf figure can be found in all human cultures as the ultimate other. In the gesture of potential hybridity man is once again reunited with nature, from which he excluded himself with the dynamic culture-nature opposition which appeared with 18th century humanism. At that time nature became something else, and man (in the form of a white male)positioned himself at the top of the pyramid from where he dominated all living organisms.
Due to the numerous misinterpretations of the procedures with which Smrekar and her laboratory co-workers joined the cells, we are providing a short and structured description of all procedures from which the individual steps can be ascertained.
Together with a group of co-workers the artist recreated certain biotechnological procedures in BioTehna, a laboratory for artistic research of living systems. With this she artistically confronted the contemporary biotechnological possibilities with mythologies (dealing with human-animal forms) that have been present in various human cultures since Antiquity onwards. In the prescribed protocols one of the reproductive cells was substituted by a non-human somatic one.
The procedures outlined below were performed in vitro:
– The egg cell was placed under UVC light which caused all DNA in the cell to disintegrate, leaving only the cell membrane;
– In the next step the bodily (somatic) cell of the artist’s dog, taken from its saliva, was added;
– Using electroporation (a weak electric current) we made the membrane of the reproductive cell more permeable and thus enabled the somatic cell to enter;
– Nutrients were added, and this allowed for the merged cell to recover (2 days);
– The influx of nutrients was stopped and the cell remained frozen in time;
– Due to the large biological differences between the two species and the lack of appropriate technological conditions, the cell could not develop further;
– No dog or human sperm was used in any phase in any project that is a part of K-9_topology!
– The cell is preserved in a frozen state as a molecular sculpture.
The Prix Ars Electronica – The 2017 Golden Nica for hybrid art
The art project K-9_topology created by the artist Maja Smrekar received the 2017 award Prix Ars Electronica in Linz. This is the highest international award that an artwork in the field of contemporary investigative art can receive. The Golden Nica is an award given for the intersection of science and art and represents a historical moment – not only for the entire Slovene art field – but also for the international discipline. The award was presented at a gala event, which was opened by the Austrian minister of culture Thomas Drozda and the Austrian minister of education Sonja Hammerschmid. Maja Smrekar received the Golden Nica statue from the hands of the Linz mayor Klaus Luger and in the presence of the Slovene minister of culture Anton Peršak.