26 May 2014

Performance Art

Diaghilev reportedly instructed Stravinsky to "Astonish Me". There's nothing like a bad head cold and a looming conference deadline to induce the yawns - the yeah yeah - rather than gasp of amazement and delight when reading yet another attempt to secure artistic renown by doing something unusual with your body.

Stelarc hung naked from the ceiling suspended by wire and fishhooks. Steven Cohen tied a live rooster to his penis. The rooster gag is for me less engaging than Gerard de Nerval taking a lobster rather than poodle for a walk, featured in Gautier's purported explanation by the poet -
Why should a lobster be any more ridiculous than a dog? … or a cat, or a gazelle, or a lion, or any other animal that one chooses to take for a walk? I have a liking for lobsters. They are peaceful, serious creatures. They know the secrets of the sea, they don't bark, and they don't gnaw upon one's monadic privacy like dogs do. And Goethe had an aversion to dogs, and he wasn't mad.
Pyotr Pavlensky nailed his scrotum to Red Square. Mao Sugiyama cooked and served his surgically-removed genitals at a banquet. Richard Kilpert surgically attached the discarded foreskin from his South African student's ritual circumcision to his own penis.

Under the headline "Norwegian Art Student Boils and Eats Meat from Own Hip" there is a report this week on Alexander Wengshoel of the Tromsø Academy of Contemporary Art, who announced at his graduation exhibition that he had "eaten meat from his own hip". It supposedly tasted like "wild sheep" (or wild goat, in some reports).

Wengshoel gained the bone - which looks rather small in some photos - through surgery to replace a deformed hip with an artificial joint. Supposedly he initially "planned on boiling the hip bone in order to remove the meat and use it as part of his exhibition" but "ended up picking up a piece of meat and tasting it".
I took off a little piece and I thought, 'why not do it. It's not every day I will have a piece of human flesh which is mine and which it is possible to eat', so I had a little taste, and then I thought, 'that's really nice'. 
The hip bone had been such a problem for me for over 20 years, and it was just a way of making it better again. It had been so hard to have it in my body, and when I took it out, it turned into something else, something romantic.
In an echo of Armin Meiwes or Hannibal Lector Mr Wengshoel
proceeded to whip up a side of potato gratin, pour himself a glass of wine, and sit down to finish off the rest of the meat.
Next performance, with or without the lava beans and chianti?

I am more interested at the moment in Karl Dannenfeldt, ‘Egyptian mumia: the sixteenth century experience and debate’ (1985) 16(2) The Sixteenth Century Journal 163; Richard Sugg, ‘Corpse medicine: mummies, cannibals, and vampires’ (2008) 371(9630) The Lancet 2078; Karen Gordon-Grube, ‘Anthropology in Post-Renaissance Europe: The Tradition of Medicinal Cannibalism’ (1988) 90 American Anthropologist 405: and Barbara Scholz-Böttcher, Arie Nissenbaum and Jürgen Rullkötter, ‘An 18th century medication “Mumia vera aegyptica”–Fake or authentic?’ (2013) 65 Organic Geochemistry 1