The use of genuine biological matter in art works is now a well established contemporary art practice and artists working with plant, animal and even human material often attract a great deal of interest.
A sculpture constructed by the artist Marc Quinn from his own blood in the early 1990s caused a furore. Quinn collected blood over a period of a few months, poured it into a silicon mould made of his own head, and had the object frozen. The existence of the work depends on a cooling technique which protects it from melting, with the consequent irreversible destruction. The question arises as to why this blood sculpture stirred up so much attention since it could at anytime be replaced by other human blood reserves or cattle blood from a regular abattoir. What is special about the original? Since there is know way of telling visually whether this piece is made of the artist’s real blood and is thus literally a self-portrait, it is the awareness of authenticity which becomes the decisive factor commanding interest in the work. Alongside an academic interest in anatomical preparations of human matter conserved in spirits, or complete body plastics as in the work of dissector Gunther von Hagens, it is this fascination in the real which attracts people to exhibitions. The exhibition “Body Worlds” which toured numerous cities internationally attracted millions of visitors. The show exhibited real human bodies and body parts with the curator emphasising “authenticity” since they were “not artificial anatomical models models but real dead people on display”.
In his piece “Crash” (1995) Marco Evaristti also worked with real dead people, presenting not the real physical bodies in the exhibition space but representing them with real pieces of clothing and significantly their blood. Evaristti raised the issue of the serious but neglected problem of traffic accidents in Thailand which claims up to thirty lives a day. With the support of the relevant authorities he established his operations centre in the police station and over several months had the use of a car in which he followed the emergency vehicles to numerous accident scenes. The exhibition was comprised of the blood of the fatally wounded which was stuck on the car wrecks, the clothing and pictures. It is the same blood as that which we are accustomed to seeing in all its redness in daily media reports but of which we are denied the smell, but which smells as real blood does and is rapidly subjected to the natural process of change. The fascination of Hagen’s clean and real anatomical preparations is often met by a deep rejection on the part of the public because they are experienced as a clinical aesthetic, quite different to Evaristti’s work.
Whilst the work of Quinn and Hagen the knowledge of the “realness” triggers fascination but also disgust, the “realness” in Evarissti’s work is directly readable for the viewer because of the context of the items from the accident, and is directly experienced with all the senses.
His dramatic re-setting of the actual accident scene is not a horror show but is firmly linked metonymically to the source material, the deadly loss of blood of the dying. Just as Quinn’s artist’s blood is literally a self-portrait, here the blood is an actual representation of the dead. The authenticity of the material is the underlying cause of the controversy and media interest.
Choreographing the real on the media stage.
Evaristti’s work has for years attracted a great deal of media interest. His initiation of a debate on the problem of traffic accidents in Thailand, using real blood in his work, as well as the use of sperm in “Kids” (1996) in Herning Art Museum caused evident media discomfort, as again it did in when he in a 1997 Bangkok exhibition used condoms and again bodily fluids, this time to problematise the serious problem of prostitution in Thailand. By confronting the public with tangible elements from everyday life, Evaristti overcomes any kind of intermediary space created by the media which is so characteristic of our media manipulated consumer society.
Whilst von Hagens uses the lure of the real to attract a hundred thousand visitors to his exhibitions and to interest them in human anatomy, Evaristti attempts to examine social problems and taboos and to provoke the visitors by direct confrontation with the material. The artist deals with issues such as prostitution, sadism, voyeurism, nationalism and environmental degradation – problems too easily ignored. He uses dramatic methods in a calculated fashion, but in no way in a missionary or fanatical manner. He is a politically campaigning artist who does not subordinate himself to any ostensible limits set by the media and politics. He always operates within the existing system, for example with the co-operation of the Thai authorities in “Crash”, or in other projects with the western media apparatus. The activation of media hype pushes the issues for a short time at least into the public consciousness. With this calculated involvement of the media, Evaristti succeeds not only in attracting extensive publicity for his critical interests but also exposes the way in which information is generated and managed. His work is not a reflection on art, but renders communication itself an art form.
The viewer as judge in the age of Big Brother.
The greatest media attention enjoyed by Evaristti was on the occasion of the opening of the exhibition “Eyegoblack” at the Trapholt Art Museum in Kolding on February 10th 2000. The opening catapulted Evaristti, the museum and the director S. Meyer into the world headlines. Reports on Evaristti’s installation “Helena” appeared in print, radio and television from the Danish daily papers to BBC World and CNN. Ten white Moulinex Optiblend 2000 mixers were placed on a simple table. Each of these was filled with water and contained a live goldfish. The mixers were visibly plugged in and thus ready to use. Anyone pressing the yellow button would liquidise the fish into a cold soup. The visitors thus became the “judges of life or death”. An hour after one of the visitors had pressed one of the buttons, the police entered and ordered the electricity to be cut off. In the two days during which the electricity was on, sixteen fish died. Meyer was charged with animal cruelty and fined 2000 Danish Crowns, upon which he appealed. During the following laborious trial expert witnesses called who gave evidence on the way in which the fish were killed who established that, in contrast to customary methods, the short duration of the killing of maximum one second, was one of the more humane methods. On 19th May 2003 the BBC reported Meyer’s acquittal with the headline “Liquidising goldfish not a crime: … but a court in Denmark has now ruled that the fish were not treated cruelly, as they had not faced prolonged suffering. The fish were killed ‘instantly’ and ‘humanely’, said Judge Preben Bagger.”
The show trial in the service of the freedom of art reached its conclusion. Did Evaristti calculate in the factor of media reaction right from the outset? Was the killing of one or more fish his intention? Was the trial part of the art project? Evaristti did not in any way encourage the visitors to kill the fish, but left the decision to them. According to eyewitnesses, the killing of the first fish created a charged atmosphere among the numerous media representatives who were present who virtually encouraged the visitors to press the button in order to initiate a scandal– something they ultimately achieved. The public followed Evaristti’s division of society into three groups: “the idiot, who presses the button” [the sadist], the voyeur who loves to watch, and the moraliser. […] The media and the public were the voyeur and the animal protection groups and those others who protested were the moralists. The artist sees his installation as a social experiment in which he tries to “interpret reality through reality, and not through a lie.” Evaristti tries in this way to distance himself from representation of horror in the sense of the classical art term, since he considers the interpretation of what happened as a falsification of reality.
What, then, is reality? Can reality even be represented through the real? Evaristti does not use substitutes but real goldfish, which can be really killed. The killing process is genuine, the artist making available to the visitor a real instrument of power of life over death. According to Rosalind Krauss, with “Crash”, Evaristti achieves “a type of signification beyond which there can be no other reading or interpretation.” The choreography of the killing of the fish is provided; the execution is a question of conscience.
Although the act of killing is real, it seems necessary to set this in the context of the general treatment of animals which are killed on a daily basis for consumption or in animal fights where they suffer deaths which are neither rapid nor humane. Whilst hundreds of thousands of people are tortured, abused and killed – not to mention animals –, in the three year long trial there was a discussion as to whether these goldfish were killed in a humane fashion. Of course this trial was a part of the whole art project, since the artist had calculatingly set up the framework for this development. He exposes the hypocrisy of western society, with its insatiable appetite for sensation, dominated by populist mass media which seems to be turned on by reports of death.
Evaristti disrupts the pleasure in the passive experience of the “real” life of others, as in reality shows such as “Big Brother” or in intimate sport reporting. With “Helena”, he makes us aware of the media filter, and the principle of the micro camera: the viewer changes from passive spectator to active participant. Evaristti involves the viewers and turns them into active or passive accomplices, since pressing the button is an act of volition. The role of the media is ambivalent since through encouraging the pressing of the button they are also complicit. They use the art project in order to provide their readers, viewers and listeners with another scandal.
In September 2001, Evaristti developed a similarly controversial project where live rats were used in an installation called “Election Day” in the Rhizom Gallery in Aarhus. In the exhibition the artist took a stand on right wing populism in Denmark. The rats were able to run around freely in a room which one could enter at one’s own risk but where in contrast to “Helena” the visitors were made were aware of this beforehand. In this the artist particularly emphasises the act of volition of the visitor.
“If they enter the room they become part of the happening. I am not aware of what is happening in there. Maybe the rats will be provoked and even bite. When they enter the room they become a part of this work, and what happens is a direct consequence of their entering the room.”
Whether many visitors would have exposed themselves to this danger cannot be known as the animal protection groups obtained a permit from the organisers to shoot the rats in order to end the “animal cruelty” of allowing the rats to run around freely in the room. Similar to “Helena” the offer of interaction with the public was rapidly eliminated by the moralists who exposed their own questionable standards. The communication initiated by the artist had repercussions long after the killing of the animals.
Art as politics at the margins of political discussion.
In “Election Day”, visitors were forced by the presence of live rats to decide whether they wanted to enter the installation at their own risk and thus interact with it or not. The choice of laboratory rats should either put members of the public who chose to participate in an unpredictable and potentially physically distressing situation, or prevent them from entering, since “we believe that rats are disgusting”. At the same time, Evaristti attempts to make a political statement with these white rodents with an implicit historical and contemporary relevance since Jews were insulted in atrocious National Socialist propaganda as “rats”. The relevance to today is in the fear some people express of losing their language and consequently their identity. Evaristti chose the extreme right Danish People’s Party as his reference point, seeing the laboratory rats as a political signal against nationalism and racism, because “these kind of white rats with red eyes are malformed because they all originate from the same breed, (or race). A mixed society is healthier.”
The rats act as a metaphor for the irredeemable utopia of a “pure society” which the visitors can actually physically experience. Evaristti offers the visitors a real physical experience comparable to the killing act in “Helena”. The background is based on the daily politics of the unspoken social code, the “Janteloven”, which represents morality and decency alongside the official Danish law.
Thus, the artist questions such societal consensus which is all too often thought of as “Danish idiosyncrasy”. He writes his own laws which he calls “Jantelove” and transforms for example, “You should not think that you are someone”, into, “I love you because you are nothing”. Evaristti comments on bourgeois conventions as well as social, political and current affairs issues. By pushing the limits of socially established norms and political correctness, he turns against the conventional “order of dsicourse” and the “processes of exclusion”.
In “The Order of Discourse”, Michel Foucault remarks that there are two areas today operating within a very narrow framework and where taboos are increasing: the areas of sexuality and politics. It is exactly these areas – the taboos, limits and polarisation of discourse – which Evaristti explores and pushes. “Clearly the discourse is in no way such a transparent and neutral element in which sexuality disarms itself and politics is satisfied. Rather it is a preferred space where some of its most threatening forces can unfold. The discourse may have the appearance of being nothing, but the relevant taboos manifest themselves only too quickly with their connection to desire and power.”
Evaristti is always on a narrow ridge at the margins of the discourse, and yet works from this system and thus within the system of exclusion. The work with the discourse is political, not only because it is relevant to much of the politics of exclusion, but because it “also is an object of desire, and the discourse – as history teaches us repeatedly – is not simply that which is translated into language by political opposition or the power system: it is the reason for and the means with which one struggles: it is the empowerment for which one is searching.”
The real as the basis of the territory.
The question of power is also fundamental to Evaristti’s discussion about the political expression of territory which he first explores in “The Ice Cube Project” when he subjects himself, in the manner of an explorer, to the powers of nature in order to colour an iceberg red, marking it as “his” territory. Similarly, for the project “Pink State”, on the territory of the Kunstraum Dornbirn, he marks out an area of the museum space, only accessible with a valid passport.
Evaristti creates a new landscape composed of different real materials originating from the upper regions of Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Germany and Austria and invites the visitors to take an active part in this temporary nature reserve. His natural landscape is created from material taken from neighbouring territories and he also creates a walk-in slide show habitat in the background, making a connection to his territory in Greenland. In 2004, as part of an expedition setting off from Ilulissat on the autonomous but officially Danish territory of Greenland, the artist marked out his territory at minus 23 degrees by colouring an iceberg with a good 3000 litres of red colour. Thus he made a claim on a small temporary area with an average life-span of between three and thirty years. This spectacular action resulted in a heated debate about the apparent limits of art and this extremely elaborate and apparently pointless provocation.
Evaristti was immediately accused of polluting the environment, something he could easily deflect since he had chosen a non-toxic, completely biodegradable fruit colour. Clearly, tons of food worldwide are treated daily with much less harmless colours and millions of tons of toxic waste such as heavy metals, chemicals and household waste are sunk into the ocean. Evarissti is however not an environmental activist, but an interdisciplinary artist who consistently tests the boundaries between the media, politics, communication and the environment.
On the canvas of his choreography of the real he questions territorial violence as a medium of political power per se, and examines the relationship of the space of landscape to the territorial expression of national identity.
Dieter Buchhart, curator
Further Information about the project at www.pinkstate.com
 Cf. Lüdeking, Karlheinz: Marc Quinn. Explain what it means to be a living, material creature. In: Kunstforum international, Vol. 148, December 1999 – Januar 2000, p. 182f. The story which circulated in the art world, (subsequently denied by the artist), that a worker had switched off the freezer compartment in Charles Saatchi’s London appartment, and that the work had thus been lost forever, demonstrates the fragility and transience of many of these works.
 Budde, Kai: The dissected dead – a terrible image? On the relationship of the living to prepared dead bodies. In Body Worlds. Insights into the Human Body, Regional Museum for Technology and Work, Mannheim, 30th October 1997 – 1st March 1998 et al., Mannheim 1998, p. 11.
 Dieter Buchhart and Anna Karina Hofbauer: Should everyone who eats seafood be taken to court? Kunstforum international, Vol. 162, Ruppichteroth, November – December 2002, p. 271.
 Ibid., p. 271.
 BBC News, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/3040891.stm; 21.05.2003. (Achtung, dieser link ist nicht mehr aktiv!-jenkins)
 Cf. Anna Karina Hofbauer: Do You Participate?. In: Making Nature, Exhibition Catalogue, Copenhagen 2002, p. 38. cf. Anna Karina Hofbauer: Betragterens rolle i participatoriske værker fra den historiske avantgarde til og med samtidskunsten, Dissertation, Copenhagen 2003, p. 77f.
 Anna Karina Hofbauer: Betragterens rolle i participatoriske værker fra den historiske avantgarde til og med samtidskunsten, Dissertation, Copenhagen 2003, p. 78.
 Cf. Note 3, p. 273.
 Ibid., p. 273.
 Rosalind Krauss: In the name of Picasso. In: The Originality and the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths, 5th Edition, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London 1988, p. 28.
 Cf. Note 7, p. 79.
 Cf. Note 3, p. 279.
 Ibid., p. 271.
 Ibid., p. 278.
 Michel Foucault: The Order of Discourse, Frankfurt on Main 1991.
(Achtung, dieses Publikationsdatum bezieht sich auf der Übersetzung, nicht auf das ürsprungliche Werk/-jenkins)
 Ibid., p.11.
 Ibid., p.11.
 Ibid., p. 11ff.
 Ibid., p. 11.