No Fetish, No Flirtation


Judith Pichlmüller
EIKON – International Magazine for Photography and Media Art

© EIKON / ÖIP – Österreichisches Institut für Photographie und Medienkunst

An icy white blanket that covers the remainders of the now dead flora beneath it: life stilled. A frozen surface that breaks under bursting fresh innards. Splatters of blood cover the snowy white ground. From the gutted animal situs the lobes of the liver and the gushing intestines glow, lung and heart run along the gristly esophagus: vital organs in humans and cattle alike.

On this runway of multiple innards, lined up like a chain of pearls, she walks unerringly and respectfully in her high heels. In her current video work Walking on Meat (2009), a step inexorably follows each step, and the sound of her stalking about on the organs resonates in our ears. Pichlmüller documents her own performative act by fixating the video camera during the disturbing catwalk on the floor, and thus signaling an active perspective of the observer.

The position of the artist fixed in such a way not only refers to the global, reckless overproduction of valuable beef, which in addition devours significant amounts of arable land that could be used for growing basic foodstuffs for the human population, but also to the fact that animal innards already represent a taboo, in the US, for example. But not only is animal flesh being sold at top prices on the world markets, but also human flesh, dealing with mercenaries, whose grimace ignominiously grins from the stock-market US security company Blackwater.

 © Judith Pichlmüller: Walking on Meat, 2009, c-print on alu dibond, 80 x 100 cm

Pichlmüller's Walking on Meat evokes the work of Adel Abdessemed, whose individual show Don't Trust Me in 2008 was canceled by San Francisco Art Institute even before its opening because Abdessemed's video work shows images of the killing of animals in a Mexican slaughterhouse. Is the anthropological difference in our visual politics paradoxically turning into its opposite? What distinguishes man from the animal that also kills?

Already the loud reactions to Pichlmüller's much regarded work Roach (2005) (with the "cockroach killing box") raised the ethical question of whether in our media-constructed visual universe violence carried out against people now evokes less horror than violence against animals. But in the raw gestures of the artist, what is formulated above all is a rhetorical violence, in which she takes on responsibility, not by flirting with her own aggressive potential, but by declaring it free of all fetishization.

 © Judith Pichlmüller: Grillen / Crickets, 2008, DVD, colour, sound, 3:00 min.

Judith Pichlmüller also captures her political radicality in her video work Grillen (Crickets, 2008). The artist ties the (dead) insect to an upright wire as if bound to a stake, wings and feelers hang forward, the explosives bound to its back, green foliage in the background. As soon as the flame begins to approach on the fuse, the insect begins to jiggle, white smoke clouds emerge as if in a time loop across the image, a glowing orange rain of sparks fills the image, a dark thunder spreads and culminates in a sudden explosion. The cricket lurches back and forth, and finally explodes, and crashes to the bottom. Born to Die, comments the artist on the destiny of these overbred, usually blind feed insects, which, if released in nature would be doomed to die, and whose fate she metaphorically links to the discrepant resources of migrants.

In Pichlmüller's Grillen, the alterity paradigms of death, insects, and migrants are exponentiated: because death is always the other, insects are marked by disgust, and migrants are considered emblems of exclusion. "No other culture bears as much animosity towards insects as does the West,"1 as Korean philosopher Byung-Chul Han sums up in his concept of hyperculturality. For while spider babies in Japanese haiku can crawl like children, in Martin Heidegger's natural world there are no insects, only "domestic, benign" fauna.2 In both West and East, bees are considered useful insects or embody a symbol of fertility. Judith Pichlmüller's new sculpturally conceived bee series, which she will present in the spring of 2010 in her project space at Das Weisse Haus, promises a view of insects with a positive connotation.

 © Judith Pichlmüller: Bees, 2009, dead bees, epoxy resin, glass, framed, 80 x 100 cm


1 Byung-Chul Han, Hyperkulturalität. Kultur und Globalisierung, Berlin 2005, p. 78, foot note 102.

2 Ibid. See also Martin Heidegger, Vorträge und Aufsätze, Pfullingen 1954, p. 181.


© — Claudia Marion Stemberger 2019