Becoming-Pig: Humanimal Proximities and Zones of Transit in Kira O’Reilly’s Inthewrongplaceness

This paper explores the resonances between the Deleuze-Guattarian theory of becoming-other and the series of bodily mutations that take place in the Irish performance artist Kira O’Reilly’s live piece Inthewrongplaceness (2005–9). Inthewrongplaceness stems from a scientific experimentation in a laboratory environment, in which O’Reilly explored the possibilities of biotechnology to recreate the body in an alternative way—by growing living lace out of her own skin cells alongside pig’s tissue. As a response to her experience in an animal research facility, O’Reilly performed a naked dance with the carcass of a pig, during which disconcerting shape-shifting transformations, boundary-crossings, and mergences occurred between the human and the dead pig. As a biotech-induced corporeal event, O’Reilly’s piece critically interrogates the distinctions between self and other, human and animal, art and science, and raises crucial questions regarding interspecies interactions, cross-species metamorphoses, and ontological liminalities.

Much of the secondary literature on O’Reilly’s performance approached these questions through spatial, representational, and pre-given terms. This recalls the issue of the reductive and static interpretations of subjectivity via the “process of naming that tends to confer stabilized being”—a problem that dominates performance art criticism, as delineated by Susan Melrose (2006, 8). The critical scholarship analyses the temporary entanglements of the human and the pig within the performance predominantly via stabilised metaphors, such as “half human, half animal” entity (Bissell 2011), “centaur-like creature,” or “hybrid” (Zurr 2008). Yet such kinds of discursive constructs, with their emphasis on the preconceived idea of the “outcome” and “renewed” identity designations, fail fully to specify the dynamic and durational aspects of the bodily amalgamations taking place in O’Reilly’s performative piece. These fixed positional paradigms, while undeniably helpful for rendering the effects of transformation in more graspable terms, steer the temporal processes of bodily change inherent in O’Reilly’s work all too quickly back onto the transcendent schemes. Citing Brian Massumi (2002, 3), on such kinds of commentaries, “there is ‘displacement,’ but no transformation; it is as if the body simply leaps from one definition to the next.”

In this paper, I look at how one might rehabilitate O’Reilly’s practice from the limitations of such readings by turning towards Deleuze and Guattari’s processual and relational ontology of “becoming-other.” Rather than spatial and end-result-oriented models, I argue in favour of approaching the transitional, intervallic, and in-between modes of being opened up in the blurring of human and animal states during her live performance; I do this through the notion of “becoming-animal,” as a way to access nonrepresentational, nonteleological, and nonidentitarian ways of thinking about those mutations and transitions. The visceral intimate performance, during which O’Reilly holds, caresses, and merges with the pig, is considered as a process of “becoming-pig” whereby the artist is momentarily put into contact with pig “affects.” Drawing on the Deleuze-Guattarian notion of “zones of proximity” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 240), this paper further contends that, during the fleeting passages and transitory moments of interpenetration, the pig and the human flesh contaminate each other to the point of indistinction and create what I call “humanimal proximities” and “zones of transit” that are common to both. This way, not only do I arrive at a reading that provides an alternative to the linear, predictable, and clichéd images of change ubiquitous in the existing literature of O’Reilly’s work, I also scrutinise the largely uncharted implications of Deleuze-Guattarian thought for the emerging field of biotech-assisted artistic praxis. This paper construes the importance of this reading of O’Reilly’s performance as posing a challenge to the ontological pre-eminence of humans and providing the possibility of an escape “if only for an instant” (ibid.) from the confines of the molar institutional spaces—laboratories and slaughterhouses—that continue to promote hierarchies and inequalities against animals.

References

Bissell, Laura. 2011. The Female Body, Technology and Performance: Performing a Feminist Praxis. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Guattari, Félix, 1987. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Massumi, Brian, 2002. Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Melrose, Susan. 2006. “Bodies Without Bodies.” In Performance and Technology: Practices of Virtual Embodiment and Interactivity, edited by Susan Broadhurst and Josephine Machon, 1–17. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Zurr, Ionat. 2008. Growing Semi-living Art. PhD thesis, University of Western Australia.

Tonality in Music as a Key Concept to Explain Life

What do I mean by tonality? Is there a closeness between tonality and affection? Why did Deleuze use so many musical terms such as “rhythm,” “vibration,” “resonance,” “tone,” and “ritornello”? (Deleuze and Guattari 1980; Deleuze 2002).

Each musical piece is a totality of sound waves. Produced by single or multiple sources, they interact between themselves and with the environment that they are in, creating an “atmosphere” by travelling distances and transmitting energy; furthermore, they go through our bodies. So what do we mean by tonality in music? Is it so crucial in understanding Deleuze? Is it so crucial in understanding life? Can an oscillation be related to what we call “the soul” in living beings? Can music, as a certain form of harmony in sound waves be considered as a model for explaining affectivity?

“Tonality” and “affection” are closely related terms that constitute the antithesis of all thinking based on human rationality. Furthermore, these two concepts may serve as tools to understand the animal question and its links to music (Heidegger 1995).

Animals can produce various sounds with rhythm, tonality, intensity, and variation, and so on; nevertheless, we assume that they do not have a language. There are scientific studies that prove plants are affected by certain types of music and react according to the levels of tonality and atonality, to expressions of affectivity. It is argued today that all living creatures have a language in their own way to communicate with one another (Gould and Gould 1994; Dawkins 1998; Grandin and Johnson 2005).

These are the pure basis of “having a soul” or “being alive” (vitality). This “being alive” does not lie in human logos (reason) only; it lies in the production of meaning inside the universe. Tonality (in music, in painting, in literature) explains the nature of this production and, for Deleuze, this can be examined in all kinds of art and thinking, but music differs from the others especially in its physical relation to the body.

Deleuze says that we need to understand that everything in the universe is a “becoming” and build our “becoming-animal” by “recapturing the forces” (Deleuze 2002, 56) through arts, literature, and music—especially through music—to travel distances inside bodies, to grasp the unity of the body/soul. How? (Deleuze and Guattari 1980, 237).

“Becoming-animal” can only be built by grasping the functioning of affects defined by Spinoza. “Becoming-animal” as the grasping of the nature of affects and the affirmation of life as a whole unites all becomings (Deleuze 1969). Those sound waves which are going through our bodies can be considered as mediums of transmitting energy between “bubbles” of life, as Uexküll (1957) once called it: as transmitters between worlds. Just as language is a transmitter of meaning and significance for humans, music can be a transmitter of meaning and affectivity for all living beings. Music is an infinite source to show why there cannot be a single and central point of view (human perception and sensation) from which to understand and explain the universe (Zourabichvili 2003). Following the analysis of the concept of devenir-animal, we may clarify the role of tonality in music in the elucidation of life in general.

References

Dawkins, Marian Stamp. 1998. Through Our Eyes Only? The Search for Animal Consciousness. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Deleuze, Gilles. 1969. Spinoza et le problème de l’expression. Paris: Editions de Minuit.

—. 2002. Francis Bacon: Logique de la sensation. Paris: Editions du Seuil.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. 1980. Mille Plateaux. Paris: Editions de Minuit.

Gould, James L., and Carol G. Gould. 1994. The Animal Mind. New York: Freeman and Company.

Heidegger, Martin. 1995. The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude. Translated by William McNeill and Nicholas Walker. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Temple, Grandin, and Catherine Johnson. 2005. Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Uexküll, Jacob von. 1957. “A Stroll through the Worlds of Animals and Men: A Picture Book of Invisible Worlds.” In Instinctive Behavior: The Development of a Modern Concept, edited and translated by Claire H. Schiller. New York: International Universities Press.

Zourabichvili, François. 2003. Le vocabulaire de Deleuze. Paris: Ellipses.