Wonderful post-anthropocentric creatures

For a deconstruction of contemporary aesthetic policy

By Alessandra Ioalè

Today, the idea of the future «tend to revolve around ideas of ecological apocalypse, the dismantling of the welfare state, or corporate-led dystopia». That's what Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams first say in "Inventing the Future" [1]. We need to rethink of it and invent it in a utopian way in order to be able to believe in it and to begin to act differently in the present. Anyway, none of the two authors, give a possible vision of our future on this planet; it’s the American biologist Donna Haraway who finally gives it for the first time in Staying with the Trouble [2]. Haraway affirms that much of the Anthropocene discourse «saps our capacity for imagining and caring for other worlds, both those that exist precariously now […] and those we need to bring into being in alliance with other critters, for still possible recuperating pasts, presents, and futures» and that so the Capitalocene «does not have to be the last biodiverse geological epoch that includes our species too. There are so many good stories yet to tell, so many netbags yet to string, and not just by human beings. [3]»

As Haraway writes, the revolt against the aching gestures of the Anthropocene and the unravelling of the world by the Capitalocene is carried out by returning to practice the tentacular thinking to know «what thoughts think thoughts» and to practice the making of new forms of kinship, of mutual interpenetration, outside the established patterns of the family, of genetic transmission, outside of binary excluding stereotypes. That is to, consider the other non-human and conceive hybridization with it. One of the fundamental paths to the practice of thinking is to tell stories; on the other hand, the path to the practice of making is to shape them. Based on theories of Ursula Le Guin, Bruno Latour and Isabelle Stengers, we should first learn to think and create outside of the aggressive and phallic storytelling of Human in History. It is necessary to free the imagination by removing the egocentric, selfish and closed figure of the man. For Haraway it’s essential to conceive of hybridization between companion species starting from the way we speak, a step which seems fundamental to think of new stories to contrast with the dramatic ones of the Anthropocene and the Capitalocene. Her book, in fact, can be considered as a collection of imagined or reported string figures stories, characterized by the richness of neologisms functional to the story of the Chthulucene, a geological period in which the planet Terrapolis is immersed. Haraway imagines another way of life, where the human being, transformed into a guman, is co-starring with other living beings in the making of critters, multigender and multispecies creatures, full of significant otherness connected and becoming-with to each other and with the environment. Capable of living with the problem, these creatures are working the soil and in the soil, because they belong to the mud more than to the sky and are emerging by the game of string figures with companion species, an exercise of imagination to activate the practice of making kin. Throughout the book, it also clear how much it’s necessary to start from the way we see an to change it to conceive new forms, which can take on these hybrid creatures. That’s why Haraway proposes the figure of Ptonia Theron/Medusa/Gorgone in order to think about the physiognomy in a totally different way. The Gorgone is a female figure without any lineage and any classification of or by gender, her configuration breaks with «modern humanist (including technohumanist) figurations of the Anthropos» [4]. In this perspective it’s essential to read some significant works by a series of woman artists, whose work is very different from each other and, who have begun to unhinge the vision and deconstruct the aesthetic of anthropocentric image, through a practice of making which opposes to contemporary patriarchal, heteronormative and binary politics.


There is a beautiful parallel between the Gorgon and the creatures of the roman painter and urban artist Gio Pistone. They are undefined chthonic entities as well, with monstrous appearances, which break with the classical figurative representations and physiognomy. The artist explores the concept of "monster", which acquires positive meaning, because the idea of indetermination and ambiguity is characterized by monstrosity, «in the sense of "incredibly able to do something" and one of a kind, [5]» the monster is a metaphor for diversity, which ensures multiple possibilities to exist in open and undefined ways and configurations, formal hybridizations far more fascinating than normal configurations of closed and phallocentric systems. It’s the same making philosophy she uses to realizes VVITCH/STREGA, the last serie of works not yet completed. Born from an in-depth research and study of popular myths, stories and legends, it explores the variations the female stereotype undergoes over time within historical processes [6] with that practice of tentacular thinking that tries to understand what thoughts think other thoughts by overturning the misogynistic and homophobic view of history in a new non-stereotypical feminist vision.

Gio Pistone, La Mandarra, Artengo Festival - Stigliano Matera, 2019 - Courtesy the artist; photo © Alessandro Suzzi


Considering the making kin practice, the research of the Polish artist, based in New York, Olek, stands out all over the world for the realization of urban art projects, which manage to change the connotations of everything that meets her crochet practice. Active since 2002, her sculptures and installations are like creatures "wearable" by humans, urban furniture objects, architecture. They redefine space, forms, perception, transforming the urban landscape into a fantastic scenario, fills it by converting the people in multigender or multifaceted beings, characterized by that monstrous ambiguity accentuated by chromatic explosions into blinding vivacity of contrasts. In her crochet performances, like We all deserve Morning sex and Pancakes [7] (realized around the City of Lyon in Oct. 2019 for the campaign “PAINT (RED) SAVE LIVES”), action and interaction are mutated, suggesting to those who look at them new forms of behaviour which are not coded in gender or sex stereotypes and criticising at same time the socio-cultural fabric. A peaceful and provocative weapon against domestic violence, working in support of equal rights of the LGBTQ community, sexual equality and freedom of expression. Large-scale projects designed to engage people of the local communities by teaching them, when necessary, the technique of crocheting [8]. An ancient technique to which the artist continues to give vigour with the making of entire environments that can be explored in VR to “never forget why you fell in love in the first time. We are divine beings having human experience. Trust your own soul.” Until today to launch one of her crochet messages into orbit around the Earth by Satellite Ladybeetle-1 for the first exhibition in space “Stone Age of Cosmos” (co-sponsored by DIP Art Foundation of New York, Commsat and School of Architecture, Tsinghua University), working with nine other international artists on the relationship between human evolution and tool and technology development.

Olek Stantment 2020
English traslation

Are we human?!
You are about to get turn inside out, upside down and you are going to love it. I am a two-spirit person; a child of the witches they did not burn; a failed art critic and a self-taught artist. All Art is a Self Portrait. Fear is a cockblocker of dreams. What is coming is better than what is gone. The best teacher is my last mistake. Appearances can be deceiving. Art is to the spirit what food Is to the body and what sex is to the species. I crochet moments so they will last forever.
I make shit happen.
It’s not patience, it’s passion.
My mind manifested unheard sounds and unseen colors. Love is an angel disguised as lust. Never forget why you fell in love for the first time.

  When life gives you lemons, squirt someone in the eye. Where there is my art, there is life. Wake up and taste my soul.

  Brooklyn is a verb. Clean start. The art of eye contact. The intimacy of speaking with your mouth shut. My art is magic. My art will never age for you, nor die, nor fade. My art is paradise.
My favorite color is the Universe. This is a robbery. Give me your Moon.
Art feels the vibration of your soul. It takes a lifetime to create like a child.
Listen to your eyes.
I’m not sure where I am going, but I am sure it will be beautiful.
I am about to take a road trip inside you.
Because of you I’m here.
My heart always trespasses.
You are the creation of my mind. Make them feel like art. You are a soul.


In line with Haraway's thinking, Katja Novitskova shows her point of view, as representative of the Estonia Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2017, by saying in an interview that, in the representation of the world it is necessary to keep in mind that «it is not just bound to our species. There are forms of vision of the world and forms of engagement with it that are parallel to our lives but are done by other creatures. In order to have a more harmonious relationship with the world - with the different ecologies - it’s obligatory to gain empathy and understanding of how other creatures engage with the world and include them in one way or another, rather than just conquering them [9]». Breaking with the anthropocentric vision of history, the admirable practice of the Estonian artist, who is based in Amsterdam, also focuses on online data about forms of life that are visible only under a microscope and make them the main characters of her installations in museums and biennials. Exemplary of this vision is the huge installation Pattern of Activation (C.Elegans) and Pattern of Activation (Embryogenesis) (On display till Oct. 23th 2020 at Migros Museum in Zurich), which presents the worm C.Elegans and the sculptures representing its eggs in various stages of development. The C.Elegans is a microscopic species which has become a biological model that is fundamental in biomedical research because of its distant evolutionary relation with humans. Common lab animals are, defined by the artist as unrecognized non-human workers, who silent die "leaving ecological traces of their existence in the digital data" of the “models of their connectome available online for experimentation". In this trajectory, the revolt operated by Novitskova is fascinating, giving shape to the vision of creatures which make up the majority of living organisms on this planet, whose value paradoxically is unknown to most of us.

Katja Novitskova, Pattern of Activation (C. Elegans), 2020, featuring Approximation, 2012– ongoing, and Pattern of Activation (Embryogenesis), 2017, Courtesy the artist and Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin; Photo © Stefan Altenburger


Constantly inspired by Haraway's thinking, the research of Korean-German artist Anne Jordan aka Duk Hee [10] (goddess of the sea), trained at the Institut für Raumexperimente under Olafur Eliasson, is characterized by the peculiar making of fascinating environments within which the artist recreates, thanks to a funny and sensual aesthetic, the visual experience of a post-anthropocentric reality that has much in common with the world of underwater creatures, rich in beauty and forms of change and adaptation exemplary. [11] From this perspective I look at the trilogy of environments: Ziggy and the Starfish. How one becomes One with a Fish at the Riga Biennial, Ziggy on the Land of Drunken Tree at the Galerie Wedding in Berlin and Ziggy Goes Wild at Arnsberg Kunstverein, as a symchthonic stories. The first story unfolds in the darkness of a room where the people can lie down on a water bed surrounded by rag animals and watch two videos - realized in collaboration with the researcher Pauline Doutreluingne - one of which, Ziggy and the Starfish, is made with the help of scientists and marine biologists to describe the impact of pollution and global warming and the relative alteration of the sexuality of marine species. [12] The experience in the other two environments, on the other hand, is articulated through different artistic languages that in their combination and interconnection enhance their symbiotic and aesthetic properties. From the installations Coral Sponge, inspired by biotopes of coral mushroom capable of changing sex to improve the evolutionary form of the organism, to the imperfect dance of kinetic sculptures Critters, up to the edible landscape tables Into the Wild (On display till Sep.13th 2020 at Gropius Bau of Berlin), Duk Hee proposes an itinerant site-specific installation and performance, which follows Haraway's composting strategy and invites people to eat the edible herbs prepared by the artist, remains of which are left to compost until the end of the exhibition, becoming humus for a new organic cycle.


Tackling the same themes in completely different ways and related to sculpture, the practice of making of the young athenian artist Lito Kattou, winner of the Ducato Prize 2019, focuses on the attempt to imagine «a new form of creatures which deal in constant adaptability and transformation to new environmental forces [13]» and an original experiment of two-dimensional fluidity - in reference to the digital environments contained and returned by our flat screens - that here translates into fluidity of gender, of place of origin and time. Being close connection with the research and development of a peculiar form of communication to weave relation between the different entities. The critters, freed from the bodily constraints of flesh in their planar dimension, manifest experiences and signs on their laser-shaped aluminum foils - a clear reference to the technological and industrial aspects of our reality - that act as communication tools to establish contact with the other non-human. In the ambiguous compositions of human and non-human elements of the Carrier (a tribute to Le Guin's theory) and Dreamer installations (on display till Sep.12th 2020 at Galeria Duarte Sequeira in Braga, PT), the images of «hand painted drawings of landscapes, animals, insects, symbols and language traces» as well as ones of «the places and biodiversities once being part of or the ones they seek to integrate into» [14], serve to experience that sympoiesis, described by Haraway, «in material semiotic forms other than symbiogenesis», another kind of becoming-with called “symanimagenesis” and to establish connections between symbiont creatures like those experienced by the Camille 3 during «travels to gatherings around the world of sym and non-sym humans» [15].

Lito Kattou, Dreamer, 2020 - Courtesy the artist and Galeria Duarte Sequeira; photos © Adriano Ferreira Borges

Lito Kattou, Dreamer, 2020 (detail) - Courtesy the artist and Galeria Duarte Sequeira; photos © Adriano Ferreira Borges

Lito Kattou, Carrier, 2020 - Courtesy the artist and Galeria Duarte Sequeira; photos © Adriano Ferreira Borges


If the two-dimensionality for Kattou means liberation from fleshy matter, the sculptural three-dimensionality for Ivana Bašić means liberation from a determined form in favour of transitional form. In the observation of the uncanny Chrysalis of the serbian artist, based in New York, I recognize a fascinating configuration of the transitional aesthetic of Haraway's Camille. Being in front of these creatures means awakening to the principle of ambiguity in the process of metamorphosis, in which everything is unexpected and in power. At the time of the transition, there is no definition, there are no clear distinctions, neither formal nor chromatic, but only fluidity. Her «sculptures are reminiscent of the butterflies’ intermediate condition» [16] in metamorphosis with the human, realistically represented thanks to wax, with which bodily entities are modelled, and other materials, such as blown glass and metal, with which some elements are crafted, grafted into them. This kind of sculptural realization of the non-yet-defined work by Bašić represents, for me, another important step in the process of deconstructing contemporary aesthetic politics. If in Haraway the symbiotic hybridization between man and the monarch butterfly represents a chance of survival, in Bašić, the metamorphosis with the insect, inspired by the vision of the feminist theoretical Rosi Braidotti, becomes the chance of survival to the control of patriarchal society over the woman's body and a chance to escape from the heteronormative, phallocentric and binary conception of the bodies [17].

Wonderful creatures, which abolish all forms of human exceptionalism and utilitarian individualism, deconstruct the established aesthetic policy to which we are accustomed, expressing the possible variations of the becoming-with non-humans. Visual speculations, born of thinking and making practices, that evoke a new sense of "complete", no longer in the binary and symmetrical form of the human figure and in the relationship with it, but in any other non-binary hybrid configuration of being. They teach that, imagining out of the ordinary/binary, beyond the anthropocentric figure and thought, allows to foreshadow scenarios in which it may be possible live well and die well. New non-aggressive configurations that get us used to a different, utopic vision of our future on this planet. Practicing this kind of making is like launching into the mystical space of what we can't experience through the five senses, but it can be perceived in latency. Only artistic sensibilities like these can bring to light the latent and question the aesthetic ideal of the pure anthropocentric form, collapsing its canons by promoting a critical review of our past without falling into rhetoric. The man does not detach from the competitive exclusion natural principle - according to which two species cannot live together using the same limiting resource and just the strongest specie will be survive – instead, Haraway's thinking seems to follow the opposite principle, which is that based on cooperation between species. So, if one of Haraway's merits is to offer this kind of vision to imagine our future, the merit of these creators of new sense is to give shape to this vision, to recreate also an experience of it. Fantastic contributions to restart believing and to trust in utopic vision of our future by learning to inherit without denying and stay with the trouble of damaged worlds. Let's go back to visionary and to utopy to survive and to avoid falling into the syndrome of the bad mantra “all bets are off”.


[1] Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, Inventing the Future, Verso, London, 2015, p. 66
[2] Donna Haraway, Staying with the trouble – Making Kin in the Chthulucene, Duke University Press, USA, 2016
[3] Op. cit., p. 49
[4] Op. cit., pp. 53
[5] Quoted in Alessandra Ioalè, “Quando dipingere su muro diventa gesto ancestrale. Intervista @ Gio Pistone” in UrbanLives 2014 [last access 29/08/2020] LINK
[6] Clara Amodeo, “Il Progetto VVITCH | STREGA di Gio Pistone. Intervista all’autrice” in Another Scratch in the Wall 2019 [last access 29/08/2020] LINK
[7] Donna Haben, “Olek brings her Crochet Skills to the City of Lyon in the Fight to end AIDS” in Graffiti Street 2019 [last access 29/08/2020] LINK
[8] “Crochet world: Interview With Olek” in Create! Magazine 2020 [last access 29/08/2020] LINK
[9] Quoted in Paul Laster “Katja Novitskova: a comprehensive interview” in Conceptual Fine Art 2017 [Last access 29/08/2020] LINK
[10] For more info about the artist and her works LINK
[11] Chrischa Oswald “Anna Duke Hee Jordan” in Collectors Agenda [last access 29/08/2020] LINK
[12] Joyce Beckenstein “Anna Duke Hee Jordan: Changes” in Sculpture magazine [ultimo accesso 29/08/2020] LINK
[13] Quoted in Irene Sofia Comi “Lito Kattou” in ATP Diary 2019 [ultimo accesso 29/08/2020] LINK
[14] Quoted in Veronica Gisondi, “Lito Kattou”, in Coeval Magazine, 2020 [ultimo accesso 29/08/2020] LINK
[15] Donna Haraway, Op. cit., p. 160
[16] Quoted in Stefanie Hessler, Transformation, Immortality, and the Abject in Ivana Bašić’s Sculptures in Flash Art, [ultimo accesso 29/08/2020] LINK
[17] R. Braidotti, Metamorphoses. Towards a Materialist Theory of Becoming, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2002