Unspeakable Freedom >> Tastes Like Chicken
Private view: 23.9.16 | 6 – 10 pm
Exhibition: 24.9.16 – 21.10.16
Performance evening: 7.10.16 | 6:30 – 8:30pm
Opening hours: Thurs – Sat or by apt.
From 23rd September – 21st October 2016, Block 336 will show a major installation by Jennet Thomas, featuring her magnum opus The Unspeakable Freedom Device as well as Animal Condensed > Animal Expanded #1, the first in a trilogy of new works exploring the meaning of animals in a post-digital and post-anthropological world.
Originally commissioned by Grundy Art Gallery, The Unspeakable Freedom Device combines a number of interconnected multimedia and sculptural elements and paints a picture of an absurd primitive-future world populated by a cast of uncannily familiar characters. Its narrative shadows two women who wrestle with the fascination and threat of techno-totalitarian supremacy personified by the all-powerful Blue Lady. Thomas’ powerful portrayal is as formidable as the histories it prophesizes and its timely creation couldn’t be more fitting against the backdrop of today’s political unconscious.
Animal Condensed > Animal Expanded #1 stages a philosophical encounter between what are perhaps best described as two postanthropological agents who, in an attempt to reconcile themselves with the trauma of a mass biotechnoviolation, quiz one another on the origins and ontologies of their species. Set in a virtual black and white world where human and nonhuman identities are anything but, the overriding question here is less one of animal rights and more of how our new animal ‘wrongs’ might think, feel and communicate. Neither ‘toys’, nor ‘food’, Thomas’ ‘animal-unreliables’ speak to one another in a language hatched on the wings of today’s eco-hypocrisy, and the fact that we can understand them almost perfectly, only makes what they have to say all the more troubling.
This exhibition was kindly supported by the Arts Council England
Jennet Thomas in conversation with Simon O’Sullivan & George Vasey / 12.10.16
In conjuntion with Unspeakable Freedom >> Tastes Like Chicken, Block 336 held an event in which Jennet Thomas discusses her work and practice with Simon O’Sullivan and George Vasey.
Simon O’Sullivan is Professor of Art Theory and Practice in the Visual Cultures Department at Goldsmiths College. He is a theorist and artist working at the intersection of contemporary art practice, performance and continental philosophy.
George Vasey is a writer and curator at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, Sunderland. His curated projects include ‘Blend the Acclaim of Your Chant with the Timbrels’ Jerwood Space, London and ‘Breakin’ Up is Hard to Do’ KARST, Plymouth. His writing has been published by Frieze, Art Monthly, Apollo and Kaleidoscope.
‘The World is Completely Alive! Or the World is Completely Dead!’
The following essay is written by Tom Groves as a response to Animal Condensed > Animal Expanded #1 produced by Jennet Thomas and shown for the first time at Block 336.
– “What are you?” asks the folky, ancestral Authenticity Fetish.
– “I am an effect, a casualty […] a casualty of Animal Expanded,” replies the Chicken.
– “How did this happen?” – “Unforgiveable, unforgiven, returned unbidden, unspeakable, unspoken, unhidden. […] Animal Condensed, Animal Expanded, Sky was falling, now sky is landed. Fear. Tastes like Chicken, Licken, Unforgiveable, unbranded. […] Now falls the cloud”.
Part 1 of Thomas’ upcoming trilogy Animal Condensed > Animal Expanded stages a bite-sized philosophical encounter between what are best described as two post-anthropological agents who, in an attempt to reconcile themselves with the trauma of a mass biotechnoviolation, quiz one another on the origins and ontologies of their species.
Echoing the paranoid dialectics of the fearmongering Chicken Licken, (the feathery hysteric made popular in the well-known Ladybird book of the same name) the jumbled language of Thomas’ protagonist too masks an existential truth. But unlike Chicken Licken who fears the worst before suffering a killing more cruel, Thomas’ red-footed friend has already fallen foul to a fate worse than death – not departed, perished or expired, but ‘condensed, expanded, extended and unbranded’. She is what Thomas describes as the ‘poster-girl of the industrially ambiguously animal-ish product’, something surfed and turfed out of the greedy anus of our new farming revolution.
The chicken’s interlocutor is a member of the ‘Expanded’ field, an oddball Authenticity Fetish with a peculiar aesthetic charm. Handmade, home-grown and seemingly always on the cusp of delivering up words of life-changing insight, this ropey ‘hope-puppet’ in fact struggles to articulate anything at all. As he converses with the Chicken, it is relatively clear that whilst his heart is in the right place, he is a bit mixed up with other kinds of messages possibly culled from a badly constructed Google search.
Characteristic of much of her recent work, digital and material processes have been interwoven throughout this, the first of a series of new films that Thomas plans to produce over the next three years. We are somewhere between the virtual and the actual here, a place where real objects have been sweet-talked into rendering up digital outcomes, and computer effects are dumbed down and exposed for what they really are. Thomas’ use of the photogrammetry 3d model generation process that intelligently sculpts an approximate distance between figure and ground here results is a sticky visual matter where chicken and henhouse jostle for significance.
At some point during their metaphysical chat, the Authenticity Fetish gives up trying to answer the bird’s insistent questions and pulls from his mouth a sequence of unearthly things before portentously dropping them on the floor: a human thighbone, on which is inscribed the words “Don’t wish for it, work for it”; then a toothy jaw, with “If you see something unusual, report it”. Lastly out comes a rubber Trump mask, and as if ironising the faux-illusions of her own practice, we are forewarned that “Complexity is fraud”. These coded nuggets of wisdom hatched in Thomas’ brave new world are of course frighteningly familiar. Positive thinking, paranoia and boorish idiocy are after all the meat of our times, but in her hands such Capital Speak feels somehow more ambiguous, uncertain and flighty.
Following her formidable The Unspeakable Freedom Device commissioned by Grundy Art Gallery in 2015, Animal Condensed > Animal Expanded #1 confronts our anxieties around transspecies existence and the formulation of farmed subjectivities and stresses the fact that whilst ‘animals as we know them, no longer exist’, our visual culture is struggling to catch up with what today’s life on earth is really like. Far from didactic, Thomas’ approach is characteristically oblique, anarchic and playful. Through the collision of meanings and ‘anti-meanings’, Thomas’ method constructs a mirror that candidly reflects our unstable and open-ended selves.
Previewing alongside The Unspeakable Freedom Device at South London’s superb artist-run gallery space Block 336, Animal Condensed >> Animal Expanded paints a corn-fed smile on the faceless head of the primate world. Set in a virtual black and white realm where human and nonhuman identities are anything but, the overriding question here is less one of animal rights and more of how our new animal ‘wrongs’ might think, feel and communicate. Neither ‘toys’, nor ‘food’, Thomas’ ‘animal-unreliables’ speak to one another in a language borne on the wings of today’s eco-hypocrisy, and the fact that we can understand them almost perfectly, only makes what they have to say all the more troubling.
Animal Condensed > Animal Expanded #1, 2016
Trailer (Film: 7mins)
The Unspeakable Freedom Device, 2015
Trailer (Film 40 mins)