ABOVE: Brandi Muzylouski touches an Aganetha Dyck work
at Gallery One One One. Photograph by Peter Dyck.
Edited by Serena Keshavjee.
The following essay is by Juan Antonio Ramírez .
Click here for Juan Antonio Ramírez' essay in Spanish.
AGANETHA DYCK: The Living Skin
Aganetha Dyck already figures in the histories of contemporary art thanks to her Extended Wedding Party, an ambitious installation exhibited at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 1995. This work is comprised of, among other things, a series of clothing items and shoes belonging to the hypothetical participants of a nuptial ceremony. All the exhibited objects are partially covered in bees wax and fragments of incipient honeycomb; the clothes hanging inside rectangular, furniture-like cages constructed from the metal grilles that are used as separators inside modern beekeepers hives. The culminating point of this installation is a fantastic wedding dress that rises, powerfully illuminated, from a circular base. The dress is adorned with large pieces of glass with which the basic elements of the bodice and the fullness of the skirt are configured, but these fragile pieces appear invaded by honeycomb whose cells are nearly full of honey. As presented in the gallery, with its substantially conical form, the work evokes the colonies of rustic, traditional apiaries found in many regions of Western Europe. It is, in effect, a veritable beehive whose interior (we will get back to this later) is made partially visible thanks to the transparency of the glass walls.
The references to possible precedent myths are not gratuitous here: I dont think that any other artistic work of the twentieth century can be situated as well as this one in the wake of the Large Glass of Marcel Duchamp (conceived around 1912, begun in 1915, and "definitively incompleted" in 1936). Were not going to discuss something as complicated--albeit well-known--as the workings of The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even, here, but we can recall its principal matter: the unfolding on two sheets of glass of the drama of the bride stripped bare and her transition from a virgin to a married state. Included among the many metaphors of this legendary work are those that suggest a simultaneous optical accessibility and a tactile separation; which is to say that the Duchampian glass permits one to see what is happening while presenting an impediment to physical participation in a representation that appears before the spectator as something abstract, immaterial, and elevated to an unearthly sphere of four-dimensional mathematics. What happens here is very different: Aganetha Dycks Lady in Waiting is also transparent, and through the glass panes of the clothing armature we gain access to the interior of the body of this newlywed. We are discussing something here that is most certainly fabulous, made from many irregularly-shaped panels, adhered in various different ways onto the walls, forming a mysterious organic labyrinth, all the while strangely welcoming. It is the abode of the beehive; an entity that is constituted, from the biological point of view, of a multitude of (virginal) worker bees, a few drones (equivalent, perhaps, to the bachelors of the Duchampian machine), and of a queen destined to be fecundated by one or more males of the community. This organism is visible thanks to the artifice of the glass. Aganetha Dyck has made a dress that is a veritable observation-beehive, and if we accept the resemblance, this one would be the only one of its type with the spindle-form that characterizes traditional rustic beehives. Viewing: this is how the bachelor-spectators participate in the optical undressing of the just-married bride.
But, is the bride-beehive of Aganetha Dyck as distant from us as Duchamps abstract and mechanical antecedent? Beeswax and honey are organic substances whose intense odour permeates the total environment of the gallery. The olefactory, which is of such crucial importance in the processes of amourousness, decisively conditions our perception, stimulating an appropriation of the work that is not exclusively visual. It is worthwhile remembering, moreover, that no material is better than wax at evoking the texture and colour of human skin. It is sensitive to our temperature, maleable, and of a colour similar to that of many people, which is precisely why wax has traditionally been the material of choice for making the hyper-realistic sculptures found in popular wax museums. The crystalene dress of Aganetha Dyck is covered with a layer of skin that has been applied by bees, and the organic appearance of which has completely altered the cold and mineral nature of the support. Its as if the bride, properly speaking, has amalgamated herself with her bundle and made any distinction between dress and skin, or between the body and the bride-proper, impossible. Aganetha Dycks creation is, finally, a sweet feminine figure: a beehive-woman, emerging like a bright star in nocturnal obscurity, promising an endless honeymoon. From the mental and parodic undressing of Duchamp, we have passed with Aganetha Dyck to the total possession of the bride through an operation that is olfactory, visual, tactile, and gustatory. The total work of art.
But this is not the only creation that this artist has realized through such risky collaboration with industrious honey bees. Aganetha Dyck had already discovered, some years before her Extended Wedding Party, that if she introduced a foreign object into a beehive for some amount of time, it would become covered in wax by bees using it as a support for new honeycomb. This is how she initiated the production of a large series of art works whose final form was the result of a collaboration between an artist and her bees. Can these prodiguos, social insects be considered real sculptors? They mould the shape of things, after all, but they do not satisfy the more or less logical expectations of the artist who makes the proposal. The artistic work of bees is unconscious. The final result appears unforeseable enough, such that this method of Aganetha Dyck could be another way of conscientiously searching for a collaboration with an aleatory element in the creative process, something which was already very important to some artists of the historical avant-garde during the inter-war period.
I am not referring to Dadaist chance here; to the absolute unforessen. But this is also not about the objective chance of the Surrealists, or, to that supreme form of logic that permits the illumination of inexorable occurences whose coherence is recognized, in the end, in spite of of the limits of ordinary reason. The aleatory element in the works of Aganetha Dyck is more the result of a working process that is regulated but at the same time juxtaposed between two species of life-forms in a dialogue propelled by and through the intervention of the artist. Such works of art are the product of a biological misunderstanding or mismatch. We are talking here, of course, of the impossibility of communication as the motor of a romantic, creative impulse.
It is worthwhile referring to one of Aganetha Dycks most recent works, entitled Working in the Dark (DeLeon White Gallery, November 1999 to January 2000): one of the most acute comentaries on the limits of the relationship between beings that have been made in the contemporary world. In this work, the artist had a poem that was especially written for the occasion by Winnipeg poet Di Brandt translated into Braille. These texts, on 54 sheets of paper (which also contained delicate drawings related to Aganethas own bee-keeping), were introduced into beehives so that bees would intervene in them by covering them partially in wax and honeycomb, or devouring parts of the poem. This activity (which is habitual in the interior of any beehive) was carried out on the margin of human visibility, in complete darkness. This process was only interrupted in the final phase in order to check on the result just before the exhibition of the work. Is this not equivalent to inserting a message in a bottle and throwing it out to sea? What do the bees perceive of this poem that they cannot see, but that we see in the bees reply with luminous clarity?
These and other uneasy questions cannot be answered. Aganetha Dyck throws us a challenge: communication between living beings seems to be a fascinating task for the future of a post-humanity that might be capable of considering planet earth an amourously interconnected global entity. Art, meanwhile, permits us to dream the unknown and the mysterious processes of life and death that are latent in the dark interior of all things and bodies. I dont want to imply here that this has been a constant obssession of the artist. Shrinking sweaters (protective clothing) up to 1976, conserving buttons (in jars isolated from the exterior world) around 1983, or encapsulating in wax various objects (with the help of diligent bees) since 1991: these are operations whose common denominator is the creation of a skin for things and for messages. This wrapping (or containing) aspires to confer upon its contents a life of its own, and this is why it is perfect when constructed out of an organic material such as beeswax that has been directly applied by honey-producing, virginal insects. Bees animate the material, resuscitating it, and thanks to them, the artist, possessed by what we can call the Frankenstein complex, flirts with the ancestral yearning to surpass the work of the gods.
Juan Antonio Ramírez
May 4, 2001
Translated from the Spanish by Rafael Gómez-Moriana
The Aganetha Dyck: Nature as Language CD-ROM includes essays, images and the interactive work called The Wax Museum which is an Aganetha Dyck, Richard Dyck and William Eakin collaboration. The disk also contains information about other Gallery One One One exhibitions: $20.00 plus shipping = $25.00 payable to Gallery One One One, School of Art, Main Floor, FitzGerald Building, University of Manitoba Fort Garry campus, Winnipeg, MB, CANADA R3T 2N2
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