Our Palace of the 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. It performs multiple acts of inter-embodiment and engages with live audience-participants.
Le spectacle Our Palace of the Intestines fut le dernier volet d'un atelier intitulé, Extispicy in the Everyday: An Exploration of Human-Environment Binaries through the Gut, offert lors de la 9e conférence de la Society of Artistic Research, “Artistic Research Eats Itself”, à la University of Plymouth, en Angleterre, le 11 avril 2018. Le spectacle comprend plusieurs scènes de personnification d'organes internes et incite le public à y participer.
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 and ecofeminism, 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.
Cutting across the top of the pie, I tore away the lid to reveal a labyrinthine sausage, the ‘palace of the intestines.’ The convolutions were counted, amounting to 11, which was considered a bad omen. Participants were invited to ingest the pie in a commensal act, conjuring an experience of interconnectedness through the gut.
Our Palace of Intestines performs multiple acts of inter-embodiment, or “ways of being-with others, where one touches and is touched by others,” 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.”
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.’
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’ collapse ‘human-world binaries through the gut, offer[ing] a dramatic example of the transactional mingling of organism and environment,’ 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’.
Amanda Couch is an artist, researcher, and senior lecturer at University for the Creative Arts, Farnham, where she teaches Fine Art, and Creative Arts Education. Cutting across media, Amanda’s art practice and research researches and re-imagines histories of the body, particularly the digestive system, skin and hair, and ancient artifacts and rituals, through the domains of performance, sculpture, photography, print and the book, food, participation, and writing.
Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2010).
For example, Astrida Neimanis, Bodies of Water: Posthuman Feminist Phenomenology (London: Bloomsbury, 2017), and Shannon Sullivan The Physiology of Sexist and Racist Oppression (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).
The ‘palace of the intestines’ is a translation of the inscription, ekal tìrànu found on Tablet S.239 in the collection of Vorderasiatisches, Berlin by assyriologist Ernst F. Weidner, in “Zur Babylonischen Eingeweideschau: Zugleich ein Beitrag zur eschichte des Labyrinths,” Miteilungender Vorderasiatischen 21, 191-198, 194, accessed December 14, 2017, https://archive.org/stream/orientalistische0102hommuoft#page/n219/mode/2up
In here would have been between ten and fourteen or sixteen complete loops. Convolutions outside of these figures, as well as odd numbers, were considered unfavourable. See Elizabeth Wheat, “The Labyrinth Symbol in Ancient Mesopotamia”, Journal of Ancient Civilizations 28 (2013), 41-64, 49.
Stephanie Springgay and Debra Freedman “Introduction: On Touching and a Bodied Curriculum”, in Curriculum and the Cultural Body, ed. Stephanie Springgay and Debra Freedman (New York: Peter Lang, 2008), xv-xxvii, xx.
Springgay and Freedman, “On Touching”, xxi.
Sullivan, Physiology of Sexist, 68
Donna J. Haraway, When Species Meet (Minnesota and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), 301, accessed 30 July 2018, ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ucreative-ebooks/detail.action?docID=328400
Amanda Couch est artiste, chercheuse, et chargée de cours à la University for the Creative Arts, à Farnham, où elle enseigne les beaux-arts et les arts créatifs. Recoupant bon nombre de médiums, les oeuvres d’art d’Amanda ainsi que ses recherches examinent et réinventent les aventures que vit notre corps, plus particulièrement le système digestif, la peau et les cheveux, ainsi que des objets anciens et des rituels, par le truchement de différentes activités, tels des spectacles, de la sculpture, de la photographie, des gravures et des livres, la préparation de nourriture, la participation à des événements, et l’écriture.