Helen Pynor 'Fallen'

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‘Fallen’

Chicken. The name we give to a bird. Chicken. The name we give to its meat. The chicken’s life and death, the purpose it serves for us, are intertwined in our naming of it. Helen Pynor’s exhibition, Fallen takes visitors through a suite of photomedia works ruminating on the life and death of domesticated chickens, documenting a long-term artistic study which has traversed the seemingly discrete spaces of farms, supermarkets and laboratories in which the chicken lives and dies, is bought and sold and used to stand in for the lives of others. But while focused on the lifecycle of the chicken and its shifting presence between subjectivity and objecthood, Pynor’s enquiry has been stimulated by some very human questions about when death occurs in the body. Historically, the cessation of the heart beating has signified the point of death in the medical context, but due to hospital protocols regarding organ harvesting for transplantation, death is now determined by the activity of the brain and central nervous system. And with advances in resuscitation technologies, an increasing number of people have reported lucid experiences during clinical death, leading to questions about what lies beyond life in the moment of time defined as death. Liminality and the under-defined space between states of being, has been a long-term artistic preoccupation of Pynor whose previous photomedia and photographic works have captured objects and living beings frozen in a kind of suspended animation – floating, falling, flying or contained in liquid motion – as a metaphor for this state of in-between-ness. But the desire to learn more about this transitional state has opened up a scientific pathway for the artist to look at ‘death’ from a less ambiguous perspective. It is a long way from thinking about human experiences of death, to working with chicken meat – purchased from the supermarket – in a laboratory of the Max Planck institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany. While undertaking a residency there in 2015, Pynor used the most ethically available source of ‘adult’ tissue to apprehend how long bodies can stay ‘alive’ in some respect, after death, and whether there were still living cells to be found in days-dead meat. She found that there were. The tiny video in the exhibition, made with digital microscopy at the laboratory, shows the growth of cells taken from a biopsy of the supermarket chicken. In it, a cell can be seen forming a nucleus, while its striations appear to reach outwards towards other cells, bringing them together and drawing them apart. Life, found in meat packaged for consumption is an ethically challenging result to contemplate, particularly for meat eaters, but it draws further connection between the exchange of energies that takes place when we consume animals for food. And this notion of the lively, life-giving nourishment provided by the chicken was a further source of interest for Pynor.


Aside from her biological and microscopic research at the Max Planck Institute, Pynor also visited the chicken farm that supplied product to the local supermarket. She filmed the chickens in their “free-range” environment, the birds apparently preferring the clucking cacophony of each other’s company inside the shed, over the relative peace of the pasture outside. The artist purchased a feathered bird direct from the slaughter process in order to make the photographic works that capture the form of the adult bird falling, then gradually, progressively de-feathered and returned to an embryonic form. These photographs capture the lusciousness of the bird’s feathers, in the kind of vivid, painterly detail reminiscent of still-life works of the Dutch Renaissance, but rendered against a cold, concrete background. In this way, her photographs are almost oppositional to the representations of wealth from this pre-industrialised context, from which only the super-rich could boast such luxuries of abundant fruit, vegetables and fowl. Now the chicken is ubiquitous and the most widely consumed meat in Australia, with global trends matching our local preference. In Fallen, Pynor reveals and asks viewers to contemplate the individual bird against an unyielding, hard surface, creating a visual metaphor for the bleak industrial, transitional space for this chicken’s conversion from live animal to meat for consumption. Opposing this sequence in the exhibition space is another, also made in the laboratories of the Max Plank Institute in Dresden. While our appetite for chicken meat is well known and documented, the use of chicken foetuses in embryology is perhaps less visible. In these contexts, the chicken embryo often stands in for the human, as it poses much less of an ethical, political and religious minefield than working on aborted human specimens or lab-grown zygotes, beyond a few days of growth. Conveniently packaged outside the body in the form of an egg, chicken development at various embryonic phases appears very similar to our own, with two dark eyes, pink bodies and four limbs emerging from rapid cellular multiplication and differentiation. The recognisable affinity of our shared morphology is evinced by Pynor in these works, as the chicken embryos are shown in the process of literally falling from their gestational sacs, away from the life-giving maternal space and into darkness. Figuratively, the works also point to the darkness that shrouds our own understanding of the industrialised and medicalised use of animals for the continuation and support of our own lives. It is not easy to contemplate these works without a degree of self-reflection interrupting the act of looking – which is precisely the artist’s intention. How close are we to the sources of nourishment that give us life? How limited is our understanding of death? What life remains in the bodies of the seemingly lifeless? Are we comfortable with animals standing in for ourselves? Does recognising chicken subjectivity change our relationship to our most favourite meat? With so much human and animal shared experience rendered invisible by the machinations of our culture, Pynor’s work in Fallen takes us into physical and emotional territory that is usually reserved for people who work behind the scenes to deliver our meat and our medicine. Bec Dean September, 2017
































SELECTED SOLO EXHIBITIONS 2017 Fallen, DOMINIK MERSCH GALLERY, Sydney The Body is a Big Place, The Old Operating Theatre, London. In collaboration with Peta Clancy 2016 World Science Festival, Eagle Lane public light boxes, Brisbane 2014 The Accidental Primate DOMINIK MERSCH GALLERY, Sydney

Burial, Kandos Projects, Kandos, New South Wales. Collabora;on with Peta Clancy. 2013 The Body is a Big Place, Galerija Kapelica Ljubljana, Slovenia. Collaboration with Peta Clancy 2012 The Life Raft, DOMINIK MERSCH GALLERY, Sydney 2011 Milk, The Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney Breath, GV Art, London The Body is a Big Place, Performance Space, Sydney. Collaboration with Peta Clancy The Body is a Big Place, Leonardo Electronic Almanac. Collaboration with Peta Clancy 2010 Liquid Ground, DOMINIK MERSCH GALLERY, Sydney 2009 Swelling, Diane Tanzer Gallery, Melbourne Milk, Sydney College of the Arts Gallery, Sydney Milk, DOMINIK MERSCH GALLERY, Sydney Love Letter, Galerie Chez Robert, France 2007 red sea blue water, Dianne Tanzer Gallery, Melbourne 2006 Breathing Shadows, Harrison Galleries, Sydney 2005 Shadowbreath, Linden-St Kilda, Contemporary Arts Centre, Melbourne 1996 Defence, Artspace, Sydney


SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS 2017 No Such Thing as Gravity, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taichung

The Rise of Bio-society, Riddoch Art Gallery Mount Gambier, Australia The Pa;ent, Manning Valley Regional Gallery Taree, Australia Seeing Science, Grace Cossington Smith Gallery Sydney 10, DOMINIK MERSCH GALLERY Sydney 2016

HAAR, Centraal Museum, Utrecht, Netherlands The Patient: The Medical Subject in Contemporary Art, UNSW Galleries, Sydney Winter Group Show, DOMINIK MERSCH GALLERY Sydney FEMEL_FISSIONS, The Block, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane

Octoroon, Ateneo Art Gallery, Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines Iden;ty, DOMINIK MERSCH GALLERY Sydney 2015

Post Mortem, Rommelaere Ins;tuut, University of Ghent Belgium Chez Robert, FRAC - Le Fonds Régional d'Art Contemporain - Franche-Comté, Besançon, France Octoroon, La Trobe University Museum of Art, Melbourne and Visual Art Centre VAC, Bendigo, Victoria Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Photographic Award Finalist Exhibi;on, Gold Coast City Art Gallery, Queensland 2014 Berlin-Sydney, Galerie Patrick Ebensperger, Berlin Encyclopaedia Galactica, GV Art, London

Vanishing En;;es, London Science Week, Limewharf, Vyner Street, London The Mirror (Berlin Reflec;on) DOMINIK MERSCH GALLERY Sydney 2013 TEA/Super-Connect, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taichung Art and Science as the Conjectured Possible, National Centre for Contemporary Arts, Kaliningrad, Russia Synapse: A Selection, ISEA2013 – 19th International Symposium of Electronic Art, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney Oscillator, Science Gallery, Dublin Brains: The Mind as Matter, Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester Nature Reserves, GV Art, London The Body as Evidence, The Gordon Museum, King’s College London Art and Science, GV Art, London Diverse Gatherings, No Format, London


2012 CyberArts 2012, Prix Ars Electronica, OK Center for Contemporary Art, Linz Brains: Mind as Matter, The Wellcome Collection, London Time and Vision, Australia Council for the Arts-London Studio 20-Year Anniversary, Bargehouse, London Controversy: The Power of Art, Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery, Victoria, Australia The Body is a Big Place video, The Centre for Tropical Medicine, Ho Cho Minh, Vietnam Polymath, GV Art, London 5, DOMINIK MERSCH GALLERY, Sydney, Australia Fauvette Loureiro Memorial Artist Travel Scholarship, Finalist exhibition, Sydney College of the Arts Galleries, Sydney 2011 Art-Science, GV Art, London William and Winifred Bowness Photography Prize Finalist Exhibition, Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne Trick of Light, Core Gallery, London Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Photographic Award Finalist Exhibition, Gold Coast City Art Gallery, Queensland Art Stage Singapore, representating DOMINIK MERSCH GALLERY, Singapore 2010 Brainstorm, GV Art, London Hands On, Hazelhurst Regional Gallery, Sydney Summer Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London Experiments on Plant Hybridization, Dianne Tanzer Gallery, Melbourne 5 BY 5, Menier Gallery, London Melbourne Art Fair, representing DOMINIK MERSCH GALLERY, Melbourne National Photography Prize Finalist Exhibition, Albury Regional Gallery, New South Wales Psychometry, Core Gallery, London White Hot, Dianne Tanzer Gallery, Melbourne AGENDA 2010, DOMINIK MERSCH GALLERY, Sydney Slick, Art Fair, Paris 2009 Hong Kong Art Fair, representing DOMINIK MERSCH GALLERY RBS Emerging Artist Award Finalist Exhibition, RBS Building, Sydney William and Winifred Bowness Photography Prize Finalist Exhibition, Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne Willoughby Sculpture Prize Finalist Exhibition, The Incinerator, Sydney Fraction, CBA Studios, London 2008 Tendances: Contemporary artists in review, The Art Floor, Geneva The Vernacular Terrain, Monash Faculty Gallery, Monash University, Melbourne Postgraduate Degree Exhibition, Sydney College of the Arts Gallery Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Photographic Award Finalist Exhibition, Gold Coast City Art Gallery, Queensland Bazaar ’08, Official Satellite Event, 2008 Biennale of Sydney, Clare Hotel, Sydney


2007 Undercurrent, MOP Projects, Sydney Portes Ouvertes, L’Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris ABN-AMRO Emerging Artist Award Finalist Exhibition, ABN-AMRO Building, Sydney L’Art Emmêlé, Hôtel de Crillon, Paris 2006 Antipodes, Point Éphémère, Paris Post It, Peloton, Sydney Woollahra Small Sculpture Prize Finalist Exhibition, Woollahra Municipal Chambers, Sydney 2005 Contemporary Collection Benefactors exhibition and auction, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney Antipodes, Sydney College of the Arts Gallery, Sydney re/thinking, Bus, Melbourne Luminous Two, Helen Gory Galerie, Melbourne Punch, MOP Projects, Sydney Luxe de Luxe, Avenue K, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 2004 Première Vue, Passage de Retz, Paris 2003 Portes Ouvertes, L’Imprimerie, Paris


‘Fallen 1’, 2017, archival pigment print, 84 x 124 cm, framed, edi;on of 5 + 1 AP

‘Fallen 4’, 2017, archival pigment print, 84 x 124 cm, framed, edi;on of 5 + 1 AP

‘Fallen 2’, 2017, archival pigment print, 84 x 124 cm, framed, edition of 5 + 1 AP

‘Fallen 6’, 2017, framed archival pigment print, 80 x 120, Edition of 5 + 1AP

‘Fallen 3’, 2017, archival pigment print, 84 x 124 cm, framed, edition of 5 + 1 AP

‘Fallen 7’, 2017, framed archival pigment print, 80 x 120, Edition of 5 + 1AP

‘Fallen 4’, 2017, archival pigment print, 84 x 124 cm, framed, edition of 5 + 1 AP

‘Fallen 8’, 2017, framed archival pigment print, 80 x 120, Edition of 5 + 1AP


‘Fallen 9’, 2017, archival pigment print, 84 x 124 cm, framed, edi;on of 5 + 1 AP

‘Fallen13’, 2017, , archival pigment print, face-mounted on glass, 129 x 30 cm, edi;on of 5 + 1AP

‘Fallen 10’, 2017, archival pigment print, 84 x 124 cm, framed, edition of 5 + 1 AP

‘Fallen 14’, 2017, archival pigment print, face-mounted on glass, 129 x 30 cm, edition of 5 + 1AP

‘Fallen 11’, 2017, archival pigment print, face-mounted on glass, 129 x 30 cm, edition of 5 + 1AP

‘Fallen 15’, 2017, archival pigment print, face-mounted on glass, 129 x 30 cm, edition of 5 + 1AP

‘Fallen 12’, 2017, , archival pigment print, face-mounted on glass, 129 x 30 cm, edition of 5 + 1AP

‘Fallen 16’, 2017, archival pigment print, face-mounted on glass, 129 x 30 cm, edition of 5 + 1AP


‘Fallen 17’, 2017, , archival pigment print, face-mounted on glass, 129 x 30 cm, edition of 5 + 1AP

‘Fallen 18’, 2017, archival pigment print, face-mounted on glass, 15 x 20 cm, edition of 5 + 1AP

‘Fallen 19’, 2017, archival pigment print, face-mounted on glass, 15 x 20 cm, edition of 5 + 1AP

‘Fallen 20’, 2017, archival pigment print, face-mounted on glass, 15 x 20 cm, edi?on of 5 + 1AP

‘The End is a Distant Memory’, 2016, single channel video, 3:31 min, edition of 3 + 1 AP



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