Two Exhibitions I Will Never See

Thanks to the laws of economics and physics, I seem to miss more interesting exhibitions and events than I can attend. Here are two recent misses: one which will, I hope, be accessible as part of a larger exhibition in the future; and one that you can still catch if you’re in London this month.


IMAGE: “The Museum of the History of Cattle” installation at the Cable Factory, Helsinki; Terike Haapoja.

The Museum of the History of Cattle
Cable Factory, Helsinki, 30 November — 10 December, 2013.

For thousands of years history has been written from the perspective of a small minority, humans. Still, the world has always been shared by numerous species. For the first time in history a non-human form of life will have their own museum, an institution that makes their experience of this shared reality visible.
[Terike Haapoja and Laura Gustafsson, “The History of Others”]

Finnish artist Terike Haapoja’s recent works try to re-imagine history, politics, and culture from the point of view of its non-human animal participants — particularly those of companion species such as sheep, dogs, horses, and cows. These are species, as Donna Haraway writes in her Companion Species Manifesto, that exist, for the most part within an “obligatory, constitutive, historical, protean relationship with human beings.”

In other words, we have shaped them and they have shaped us, and, the theory goes, by attempting to re-insert their agency into our shared history, we might be able to temper the worst excesses of human exceptionalism and build a more resilient multi-species future.


IMAGE: From COMMUNITY (2007) by Terike Haapoja, showing the cooling down of a dog’s body after its death, as recorded by a heat-sensitive infrared camera.

In 2011, Haapoja created a fascinating intervention and exhibition called “The Party of Others,” which questioned the way in which human political structures deprive their non-human participants of democratic rights.

After all, if you think about it, the latest U.S. Farm Bill affects cattle just as much as it does humans—for example, by decreasing the availability of corn feedstock through bio fuel subsidies, and, in turn, potentially reducing the requirement for an antibiotic regimen to undo the gastric distress caused by an all-corn diet. For her piece, Haapoja interviewed a series of legal scholars, animal rights activists, and environmental policy experts, in order to imagine a political system in which non-human animals could be accorded a voice and vote, in some shape or form, and then drew on those insights to draft the platform for a new political party.

Following on from that comes “The History of Others,” an ongoing collaboration launched in 2013 with author and playwright Laura Gustafsson.

“The Museum of the History of Cattle,” on display in Helsinki for just a few weeks last November and December, showcased the first part of Gustafsson and Haapoja’s research into world history from the perspective of non-human animals. “For the first time in history,” Haapoja’s website claims, “a non-human form of life will have their own museum, an institution that makes their experience of this shared reality visible.”


IMAGE: “The Museum of the History of Cattle” installation at the Cable Factory, Helsinki; Terike Haapoja.

From the slideshows and exhibition text available online, it’s possible to get an idea of the structure of the exhibition. One room compares how the human scientific theory of evolution and its associated technologies (breeding) and ideological movements (eugenics) have affected the lives of both cattle and humans: on display are photographs of beauty contests, designer babies, and a bovine artificial insemination kit. Another section looks at the concepts of assembly line labour and Fordism, as realized through both mechanized slaughter and contemporary workplaces.


IMAGE: Semen straws at “The Museum of the History of Cattle” installation at the Cable Factory, Helsinki; Terike Haapoja.

Beauty contest 460

IMAGE: Beauty contest photograh at “The Museum of the History of Cattle” installation at the Cable Factory, Helsinki; Terike Haapoja.

The role of the housefly, another companion species shared by both humans and cattle, gets a mention, and the exhibition also foregrounds bovines whose lives have been lived on the edges of “the normative, human-dominated cattle society,” such as the last wild aurochs in the seventeenth-century forests of Poland, prior to its final extinction at the hands of human poachers, agricultural encroachment, and diseases passed along by domesticated cattle.

Finally, in what seems to be the least successful section of the show, Happoja and Gustafsson have attempted to imagine “concepts of time, history, and heritage” from a cow’s perspective by putting words to typical cattle experiences. This is a device or prop that seems to duck one of the most interesting challenges of the project, which is how to exhibit and make accessible the different knowledges and experiences of a non-verbal, non-human culture.

Cow Time 460

IMAGE: Cow perception explored at “The Museum of the History of Cattle” installation at the Cable Factory, Helsinki; Terike Haapoja.

Haapoja’s website promises the next installment in her and Gustafsson’s “The History of Others project,” “The Museum of the History of Parasites,” in 2014, leading towards “a large-scale, encyclopedic installation exhibition planned for 2015,” so, although I (and perhaps also you) have missed out on seeing it in person this time, there is still hope for the future!

The Politics of Food
Delfina Foundation, London, 20 January —15 February 2014


IMAGE: Gallery installation, “The Politics of Food,” Delfina Foundation.

Another exhibition that forms the first part of a longer-term research and programming theme, “The Politics of Food” is a group show and series of associated events that promise to “explore an array of artistic strategies, both past and present, that address the history, politics, and ethics of food production, consumption, distribution and display.”

Few specifics are currently available online, but the short descriptions of each of the twenty-plus artists’ proposed works are tantalising: to give you a taste, Asuncion Molinos “will research the economic structures and practices of food futures and commodities trading,” James Muriuki “will explore the links between colonial and multinational approaches to agriculture in Kenya,” and Candice Lin “will present a contemporary take on the medieval edible sculptures known as subtleties — fantastical, bizarre, or illusionistic foods — and warnings, a specific kind of sugar-based subtlety.”

Candice_Lin subtleties 460

IMAGE: Candace Lin, via the Delfina Foundation.

If you hurry, you can still see the exhibition this week, while the event series stretches on through March. Meanwhile, I’ll hope for an excuse to be in London for the next iteration.

I learned of “The Museum of the History of Cattle” via @wietske, I believe, and “The Politics of Food” exhibition via @joseph_grima

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One Comment

  1. Posted May 22, 2014 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    Three months post facto, I wanted to thank you for telling about The Politics of Food exhibition, which I was luckily able to see, and wrote up here:

    It was great! So thanks again 🙂

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