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.
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.