Translated by Sujin Lee
Traversing, a solo exhibition by Mooni Perry fully takes in the artist’s painful struggle to speak about the violence committed against minority identities without relying on a safe place, which is being a “minority.” Standing in the position of the minority is not as innocent as one might think it is. The position comes with benefits including exemptions from all kinds of criticism; therefore, it is rather preferred by the field of art and scholarship. Nevertheless, Mooni Perry refuses to be in the position with advantages. “I think when any stance of resistance is given a name and put into a category, the act of naming and classifying itself becomes another form of violence” (from the artist’s statement). However, without giving a subject a name, one cannot think about, converse about, and cooperatively act upon it. The artist’s dilemma is that she has to speak what cannot be spoken.
And they begged repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss gazes into the very problem. The inspiration for the piece is Kim Hye-soon’s book of poetry entitled Blossom, Pig. One year when there were a massive number of slaughters committed in effort to control the foot-and-mouth disease, the poet happened to witness tens of thousands of pigs being buried in the ground. Many years had to pass until Kim was finally able to write about the experience. The pigs were put underground because they were defined as polluted bodies. Without the slightest respect in killing, livestock is abruptly driven into a pit. Most people will find this animal version of the holocaust horrifying. Veterinarians and part-time workers who were assigned to the culling have experienced severe traumas.
Pigs are killed for ham and pork belly. However, we human beings do not associate this type of killing with the animal version of the holocaust. It is the work of governmentality. The artist, who practices veganism, shows how governmentality functions in an old commercial for ham. The commercial presents three cute-looking pigs praising and singing about the Frosty Morn ham. They were born to be government-inspected ham. The three sweet, chubby pigs sing that becoming the top-quality ham itself makes them content enough. “Being a woman makes me happy,” spoke a well-known celebrity in another commercial and this overlaps with the praise sung by the pigs. It has always been like that: To subjugate and oppress, without a bit of remorse or hesitation, the ruler makes the ruled to proclaim their joy. By presenting happy faces, the governmentality of affect covers up the act of ruling and killing.
However, the governmentality of affect breaks down everywhere. Affects are created in a contact zone where existents encounter one another, and the contact zone is open to the contingency that cannot be accommodated by any elaborate governmentality. Just like Kim did, when one confronts pigs being buried in a pit and thrown into filth and sees their shrieking faces distorted by pain, they finally ask who these thrashing things are. One mindlessly stands before the unknowable hole—the place where the established distinction between who and what collapses.
And they begged repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss grasps on the hole that keeps opening up despite repetitive blocking. The piece opens with a blue background. From there, an upright-walking anthropoid appears. The imagery of the ape walking erect scientifically supports the idea that even if humans are no longer a creation of God, they are still exceptional, extraordinary beings. Humans are special as they sit on the top branch of evolution. The ape strides over its world—the world consisting of branches with exuberant leaves, but the world is unsteady. Though the top of the tree is where the anthropoid belongs to, its position is being threatened. The tree with thickly grown branches is disjointed at the bottom as well as on the top, and those branches waver. The blue background which the ape appears from shrinks down to a hole and follows around the ape. The ape repeatedly goes through the hole. “The crack is immediately stitched up.” However, the crack, the hole, reappears and tirelessly goes after the ape. The artist states that the blue hole is a hole in the ontological interruption and a place of ontology where determinacy deviates.
The place of ontological deviation should be referred to as an abyss where all kinds of determinacy have merged together, not as a vacant space free of determinacy. Determinacy consistently appears from the abyss, but the abyss arduously catches up and breaks it up. Existence, being itself does not signify an absence of being who/what, but it indicates the potential where the countless who/whats are merged. The determinacy of who/what appears from the abyss. The ontological abyss—the abyss of darkness where all determinacy has melted down—has been mostly represented as a dark hole. Nonetheless, the artist presents it in blue.
The artist’s blue background breaks up traditional regulations. I find the conventional representation “ontological non-determinacy = a pitch-dark hole" problematic not just because the concept has already become banal. What I find more critical is the binary opposition of light and dark. Light that represents determinacy and dark that signifies an absence of determinacy (or an excessive abundance of it)—this binary opposition always seems to underline the upside-down binary, an existence as the origin of beings, regardless of how much one stresses that dark comes before light. In contrast, Mooni Perry’s blue background evokes the color of the Windows desktop or that of Internet Explorer. The color belongs to a space of work and connection. The space of work is where many different beings are called for and where the summoned encounter one another—which is, in other words, a contact zone.
The contact zone is a place that is realistic and secular, but it is not a place of pre-determinacy or the origin of determinacy. It is a place that regulates and is also where determinacy falls apart. Therefore, the place is not pure but stained with different “colors”—classes, races, and sexes—and it is where all these colors disintegrate. The blue in Mooni Perry’s work is also the color of the multinational giant corporation, Microsoft. However, the blue of the contact zone no longer belongs to the giant monopolizing corporation. Think about what is happening in the computer world: the copyleft movement, hacking, and serial number tracking. The blue hole that chases the upright-walking ape is created because: the ape eats, fights, dances, loves, kills, and dies in the contact zone, the ape has eaten the subject of its affection, which leads to indigestion, and the ape has fallen in love with what it consumed. These are mundane activities and such a daily life punctures a hole. Therefore, the upright-walking ape's world wobbles and deviates.
There is no outside to the contact zone and daily life. There is no place without eating, fighting, dancing, loving, killing, and dying. Thus, the upright walking simian never reaches that exceptional, special place that it belongs to. The ape is not an independent, free human. It is not Homo sapiens who has reached the pinnacle of evolution, but it is just an ordinary being who is dependent on others. Its body is fused with the bodies of all different others who have entered via the contact zone. The artist portrays the cute, little pigs in the commercial that wish to become ham as the body of others. The chubby pigs that are only considered as food, the pigs born out of the governmentality of affect, is the body of others—the body that turns one into a chimera, an alien. To the one who pursues a world without pain, desire, and killing and who is meditating in search of a true self by murdering everything in the self, the “pigs”—which is the name of all others—scream: “You live on others’ pain!” "You" can no longer pretend. The artist, who has heard the scream of pigs, overlays a clip of vegan protest and a lecture arguing for the impossibility of living outside killing. She can no longer deny that she is part of the killing.
What should be done to respond faithfully to the ones pushed into the abyss while stopping to pretend that a life outside killing is possible? To explore the question, Mooni Perry visits the Dine in the Navajo Nation, who herd sheep in Black Mesa located on the Colorado Plateau. The sheep that Navajo tribes shepherd are wild sheep called the “churros,” which were first introduced by Spanish missionaries in the 16th century. They were properly tamed to live in the land of the Dine. Dine women weave fleece from the churro sheep, which were raised on a pasture. The livestock of the Dine went through two slaughters. One was in 1863 when there was an effort to make a switch from the wild animals and fruit trees of the natives to improved breeds. The other was during Theodore Roosevelt’s terms by progressive agricultural bureaucrats reasoning that overgrazing resulted in erosion of the land. The two incidents left the natives with acute traumas and robbed them of the foundation of their pastoral economy.
The weaving event in Black Mesa the artist visited is one of the projects for restoring the wounded land. Even though an enormous number of sheep were terminated, the Dine continued to raise the surviving sheep in a distant area, and the restoration project involves Black Mesa activists, natives residing in the north of Mexico, and white scientists who dedicate themselves to the conservation of the churro sheep. The Dine shown in the artist’s video wholeheartedly care for the sheep. From their sheep, they get everything that they need for survival. Before grazing begins in spring, they perform a ritual with liquid made by boiling “ant plant” wishing the sheep a safe return home and having them inhale smoke from burning medicinal herbs to prevent disease.
“I did not take the sheep. The sheep took me.” In a truly caring relationship, the place of who and what is reversed. The logic of power, the survival of the fittest, falls apart. Therefore, the contact zone is not just a place to witness others going through pain. Humans and livestock have prospered for a long time because there have been constant interruptions to keep caring relationships—the relationship between who and what—from being stabilized. The Navajo people call this hozho. Hozho refers to the “proper” relationship between the land and human beings. Hozho is living in the interdependence of finite beings. Dine prayers call out hozho in the refrain in order not to forget the interdependent relationship. Hozho is about not forgetting that we live on others’ pain, thinking about how to share the pain, how to ease the pain, and how to accept the pain for others, and putting the resolutions into practice. Donna Haraway calls this sym-poiesis, i.e., collective production. I would like to translate the word “sym-poiesis” into gong-san (commune). Though communism has failed in terms of economy, the hopes to prosper with others have never vanished. We are not humans. We are definitely not post-humans. We are the beings of gong-san, who have never been alone.
Mushroom Orchestra is a film of two Finnish musicians playing a piece by Vaclav Halek, which is a composition of the sounds of mushrooms in the Czech Republic. Mushrooms are outstanding practitioners of gong-san. They generally form a symbiotic relationship with plant roots. Trees can survive in infertile soil in symbiosis with mushrooms. Mushrooms reach their long hyphae to provide the tree roots with minerals and nutrients. What the composer heard from the mushrooms was not just the sound of mushrooms, but the sound of “everyone” who produces the mushrooms together singing, and who is in a gong-san relationship with the mushrooms. The sound can be referred to as the music of hozho.
However, hozho cannot be one fixed thing and there cannot be a predetermined solution for gong-san. There is no world where eating and killing disappears and eating and killing fails. Therefore, the world always sways around. People in Black Mesa without water or electricity make efforts to raise their livestock and restore the damaged land; however, conflicts between the Hopi and the Dine remain. American colonists have come between the Hopi and the Dine and took over the biggest outdoor coalfield in Black Mesa. They still work behind the Hopi to oppress the Dine. Black Mesa is being rattled in a quite complex historical, racial, and ecological web.
Judith Butler writes: “One would need to hear the face as it speaks in something other than language to know the precariousness of life that is at stake.” However, she is skeptical: “What media will let us know and feel that frailty, know and feel…?” We who are bound to language will conceptualize any medium through language. We will then be seized by representation. Artists who are more responsive to other senses than language may certainly fail. Despite that, artists are the people who see the unknown and who speak what cannot be spoken. They are the ones who are willing to speak what they saw even though they are aware of the inevitable failure of their actions. Hozho will only exist through the practice of endless failings that originate from never giving up on making their hopeless attempts. I wish Mooni Perry's infinite failures.