Piscis ludicrous / Transfixed gaze | Lygophilia

Muzej sodobne umetnosti Metelkova, Ljubljana
15 February – 15 April 2018

Lygophilia is a series of research-based artworks initiated in 2017 by Robertina Šebjanič to explore the love (Gr.: philéō) for darkness (Gr.: lúgē) and the unknown dwellers in places inhospitable for humans.

To be a thing at alla rock, a lizard, a human is to be in a twist.
How thought longs to twist and turn like the serpent poetry!
Timothy Morton (Dark Ecology)

Robertina Šebjanič is working the fields of living systems (bio-art) and sound art, thus creating interactive ambiental responsive immersive installations, dealing predominantly with cultural, political and biological realities of marine and aquatic environments, not least for their obscured visions in the human imaginaries. In Piscis ludicrous / Tranfix Gaze (Lygophilia) she showcases non-human-subject Mexican salamander »axolotl« – one of many non-furry friends that have long transfixed the human minds – through different narratives:

– axolotl as a species that is facing extinction in its natural environment;

– axolotl as a subject of scientific research considering its extraordinary regenerative abilities and the promise of everlasting life;

– axolotl as a cultural heritage representing biopolitical and decolonial relations, displaying the connection between mythology in the contemporary world.

The artist creates an immersive and poetic visual soundscape and ​encourages the viewers to reflect – on the level of sensory experience – on new (ecological) realities in the time of the Anthropocene (notwithstanding moral judgment). With her field-recording (audio-video) equipment, the artist entered into axolotl’s living environment and discussed this ecology with several scientists, ethnobiologists, farmers (chinamperas) and other experts who monitor substantial changes in axolotl’s ecosystem.

Axolotls, trapped in the reality of ecological catastrophe, have taken – through the centuries – many shapes in the imaginaries of the humans who encountered them. A sixteenth-century Spanish naturalist recorded its Nahuatl name and came up with piscis ludicrous – the ludicrous fish. (Henderson, 16) In a short story “Axolotl” by Julio Cortázar, the writer is transfixed, experiencing his own metamorphosis transforming into an animal: “I stayed watching them for an hour and left, unable to think of anything else.” The video essay offers a multilayered view of the animals and the viewer is experiencing the transfer that Cortázar writes about. It challenges the perception of the relationship between the non-human-subjects and human. It explores if and how we are able to perceive the parameters of ecological needs of other species in the times of a dark ecology.

Axolotls intrigued the ancient Aztecs because of their fascinating appearance and regenerative powers, and were believed to be a manifestation of the god Xolotl who was the ferryman of the dead to the underworld and the God of Fire. At the same time, they had been a part of their culinary tradition and folk medicine.

Axolotl’s mythology and scientific facts, merged with popular culture, invite the viewers to gain a more profound view of interspecies cohabitation in the contemporary world. This is a story about particularly complex case of such cohabitation. Since the end of the 19th century, the numbers of axolotls has increased, however, only in laboratories, where they are examined for their biological advantages of their perpetual youth. On the other hand, humans are the cause for (imminent) extinction of axolotls in their natural habitat and the lakes surrounding Mexico City, where axolotls originally live(d) in the darkness of the swamps, are losing their symbolic meaning as a connection of the past and future.

Given all the scientific merits in the field of regenerative biology and the promise of prolongation of human life, it is almost impossible for humankind to see axolotls as they are – non-human-subjects in the process of inevitable extinction.

The project thus opens the questions: Who observes whom? Who is seen as a monster and who is perceived as an optical illusion?

Bibliography:

  • Cortázar, Julio, “Axolotl”, in Literaria, Buenos Aires, 1952.
  • Henderson, Caspar, The Book of Barely Imagined Beings. A 21th Century Bestiary, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2013.
  • Morton, Timothy, Dark Ecology. For a Logic of Future Coexistence, New York: Columbia University Press, 2016.
  • Voss, Randal S.; Woodcock, Ryan; Zambrano, Luis, “A Tale of Two Axolotls”, v BioScience, No. 65, Issue 12, 1  December 2015, pgs. 1134–1140

Colophon

Piscis ludicrous / Transfixed gaze (Lygophilia)
video essay, 15′ 30” , 2018

Camera, editing, sound
Robertina Šebjanič

The exhibition was prepared by
Ida Hiršenfelder

Text
Robertina Šebjanič and Ida Hiršenfelder

Voices
Polona Torkar, Matija Drobne

Sound editing
Rok Kovač

Interviews
Tzintia Mendoza, CIBAC-UAMX: Dr. José Antonio Ocampo Cervantes, Arturo Vergara Iglesias, Alan Roy Jimenez Gutierrez, Angelina Saldaña; Instituto de Investigaciones Biomédicas UNAM: dr. Jesús Chimal Monroy in Brianda Berenice Lopez Avina,El Laboratorio de Restauración Ecológica UNAM: dr. Luis Zambrano.

Translation and proofreading (Slovenian)
Tamara Soban

Proofreading (English)
Paul Steed

Technical support
Uroš Veber (Project Atol), Tomaž Kučer

Production: Lygophilia series, 2017
Projekt Atol, Ministry of culture of Republic of Slovenia, Sektor, CIBAC-UAMX (Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas y Acuícolas de Cuemanco Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana Unidad Xochimilco), Arte+Ciencia at UNAM (The National Autonomous University of Mexico) in 2017 art/research residency at Arte+Ciencia at UNAM lead by María Antonia González Valerio with assistance of Roberto Rojas Madrid Transitio_MX 07 festival, at Centro Multimedia celebrado en Centro Nacional de las Artes (CENART).

Advisers / Special thanks: Tzintia Mendoza,  CIBAC-UAMX team: Dr. José Antonio Ocampo Cervantes & Arturo Vergara Iglesias & Alan Roy Jimenez Gutierrez & Angelina Saldaña CIBAC-UAMX dr. Jesús Chimal Monroy and Brianda Berenice Lopez Avina at Instituto de Investigaciones Biomédicas UNAM, Arte+Ciencia UNAM team: María Antonia González Valerio, Roberto Rojas Madrid, dr.Luis Zambrano (El Laboratorio de Restauración Ecológica UNAM), Alejandra Ramos (UNAM), Francisco Martinez Perez, Secretario Auxiliar de la Cantera Oriente (REPSA), Pedro Soler, Miha Colner, Sarah Hermanutz, Annick Bureaud, Ale de la Puente, Ida Hiršenfelder (MG+MSUM), Kristijan Tkalec (Rampa Lab), Gregor Aljančič (Tular Cave Laboratory), Transitio_MX  festival at Centro Multimedia celebrado en Centro Nacional de las Artes (CENART).

Bio

Robertina Šebjanič’s work revolves around the biological, chemical, political and cultural realities of aquatic environments and explores humankind’s impact on other species and on the rights of non-human entities, while calling for strategies emphatic towards other species to be adopted. In her analysis of the theoretical framework of the Anthropocene, the artist uses the term ‘aquatocene’ and ‘aquaforming’ to refer to humans’ impact on aquatic environments.

Robertina Šebjanič (SI) based in Ljubljana. Her art – research focus is since several years into cultural, (bio)political, chemical and biological realities of aquatic environments, which serves as a starting point to investigate and tackle the philosophical questions on the intersection of art, technology and science.Her ideas and concepts are often realized in collaboration with others, through interdisciplinary and informal integration in her work. She was awarded with Honorary Mention @Prix Ars Electronica 2016, STARTS2020 and STARTS2016 nomination and nomination for the White Aphroid award. Robertina was SHAPE platform 2017 artist. 2018 she was a resident artist at Ars Electronica (EMARE / EMAP). Her art work Aurelia 1+Hz / proto viva generator (artist proof) is since 2019 part of the the BEEP Electronic Art Collection, Spain.
She exhibited / performed at solo and group exhibitions as well as in galleries and festivals: Ars electronica Linz, Kosmica festival_ Laboratorio Arte Alameda_Mexico City, La Gaîté Lyrique_ Paris, Le Cube_Paris, MONOM_ CTM Berlin, Art Laboratory Berlin, ZKM_Karlsruhe, re:publica_Berlin, Mladi Levi_Ljubljana, Centro de Cultura Digita_ Mexico City, Piksel_Bergen, OSMO/ZA_Ljubljana, Device art 5.015 at Klovičevi dvori_Zagreb, Eastern Bloc_Montreal, Eyebeam_New York, PORTIZMIR#3_ Izmir, Kiblix festival_Maribor, Spektrum_Berlin, KIKK festival_ Namur, +MSUM (Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova)_Ljubljana and more …

Robertina Šebjanič