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CuizineArt

Our Palace of Intestines: An Art Project-in-Progress

  • Amanda Couch

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Our Palace of Intestines is part of the broader project of Extispicy in the Everyday which explores theories of inter-embodiment, and the continued fascination with entrails in the human imagination, through the reinterpretation of the ancient practice of extispicy, divination using the entrails.

In extispicy, the ancient practice of divination using the entrails, the liver and colon, in particular, were examined to guide decision-making. At the moment of sacrifice, the gods wrote their will on the innards, which was then interpreted. In the ancient practice, the entrails metaphorically and physically connected the wider environment, activities, and the cosmic realm, with the viscera. Embodying ideas of interconnectivity, I propose that these practices resonate today with the fields of new materialism[1] and ecofeminism[2], which I have touched on in the previous issue, “Extispicy in the Everyday”.

A recent incarnation of Our Palace of Intestines was the final part of a workshop, Extispicy in the Everyday: An Exploration of Human-Environment Binaries through the Gut, delivered at the 9th Society of Artistic Research conference, “Artistic Research Eats Itself” at the University of Plymouth, England, on April 11, 2018. Workshop participants undertook activities which reinterpreted the practice of extispicy, divination of the entrails, including postures to call upon an awareness of their innards, and a walking exercise in the locale to notice materials that resembled guts.

Invoked as a large, raised pie with divination models cast into the pastry, Our Palace of Intestines performed as a sacrificial body. Participants, with hands on their abdomens, and mine on the pie “belly”, were instructed to follow their inhalations and exhalations as breath travelled through their torsos.

Figure 1

Our Palace of Intestines, detail #1, cutting open of the pie, part of Extispicy in the Everyday: An Exploration of Human-Environment Binaries through the Gut, at 9th Society of Artistic Research conference, “Artistic Research Eats Itself”, University of Plymouth, England, April 11, 2018. Photograph by Ellie Neason, 2018.

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Cutting across the top of the pie, I tore away the lid to reveal a labyrinthine sausage, the ‘palace of the intestines.’[3] The convolutions were counted, amounting to 11, which was considered a bad omen.[4] Participants were invited to ingest the pie in a commensal act, conjuring an experience of interconnectedness through the gut.

Figure 2

Our Palace of Intestines, detail #2, counting the convolutions, 9th Society of Artistic Research conference, University of Plymouth, England, April 11, 2018. Photograph by Ellie Neason, 2018.

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Our Palace of Intestines performs multiple acts of inter-embodiment, or “ways of being-with others, where one touches and is touched by others,”[5] as defined by Canadian scholar, Stephanie Springgay (University of Toronto), and American academic, Debra Freedman. They propose “that the construction of the body and the production of body knowledge is not created within a single autonomous subject (body) but rather that body knowledge and bodies are created in the intermingling and encounters between bodies.”[6]

In Our Palace of Intestines, bodies are entangled through the proximal senses of touch, taste and smell, as well as hearing and sight of performer and participant, and through the processes of digestion, absorption and elimination. It is through the metaphorical belly (in the form of the pie), the image and materiality of the intestines (the labyrinthine sausage form, its smell and taste), the participants’ bodies (the sound of their synchronised breathing, and their senses, seeing, smelling, tasting, and digesting of the pie), as well as the recalling of ancient bodies, human and non-human, in the reinterpretation of extispicy, that ‘inside and outside are no longer separated but intertwined, interconnected, and contiguous.’[7]

Figure 3

Our Palace of Intestines, detail #3, consuming the pie, 9th Society of Artistic Research conference, University of Plymouth, England, April 11, 2018. Photograph by Ellie Neason, 2018. The purpose of the photograph is only to showcase the work and provide context for the artwork; every effort has been made to preserve anonymity of the public participants.

-> See the list of figures

In the commensal act, as the pie containing its intestinal sausage is taken back into bodies, and where ‘the physiological functions of digestion and absorption’[8] collapse ‘human-world binaries through the gut, offer[ing] a dramatic example of the transactional mingling of organism and environment,’[9] we might consider the piece in relation to food studies scholarship, with a focus on what it is to be human, an eating, digesting animal consuming the flesh and innards of pigs, our ‘companion species’[10].

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