Explaining Contemporary Art to Live Eels
In 1965 Joseph Beuys made the work How To Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare in which he walked around a gallery with his face smeared with honey and covered in gold leaf, carrying a dead hare to whom he talked, explaining the pictures before them. The audience for this performance was kept outside, only able to see the goings on from behind a clear screen. There are various versions of exactly what he did but it was concerned with explaining what was unknowable.
Since 2004, in various expanded fields, A Constructed World have performanced and recorded a work called Explaining contemporary art to live eels. In these situations, live eels swim around an artificial aquatic environment within gallery spaces, and are then returned to the pond, the river or the ocean.
In March 2014, A Constructed World presented their recent performance Explaining contemporary art to live eels #8 at La Panacee Centre of Contemporary Culture in Montpelliar. Invited guest speakers explained art works, ideas and concepts to the eels. They were later released back into the lakes around Montpellier where they came from.
Some months later, A Constructed World wondered, ‘did the eels learn anything of contemporary art that one night back in March?’. In a quest to answer this question, they returned to the lakes to find that it had been possible and that the audience did connect with the eels. Here they have captured their answer and the result of that shared transmission.
When developing content for the first edition of the West Space Journal, Peter Tyndall gave us the idea to include a ‘rebus’—a pictographic language game. We decided that with each issue we would ask an artist to create a new rebus as a recurring feature. Emily Floyd made the second, which posits Millet’s (and by extension Agnes Varda’s) Gleaners as ‘working communally’, and here A Constructed World provide us with a selection of GIFlike eels, appearing dependent on varying times of the day.