An interactive transgenetic performance by Klaus Spiess and Lucie Strecker in cooperation with Daniel Aschwanden and Mark Rinnerthaler
The Hour of the Analyst Dog is an interactive, transgenetic performance which reflects about hybrid time, which is synthetically created by splicing together timer genes and time experiences of different species. It is a real and a fictional laboratory process choreographed as a performance.
The performance targets the future of synthetic times but departs from Sigmund Freud’s beloved chow-chow Jofi. The way in which Freud and his dog stayed synchronized with one another while the dog taking part in the analysis sessions has been recorded by Freud’s analysands as well as being described in the poems of Anna Freud and Marie Bonaparte. Due to its participation in thousands of psychoanalysis sessions the dog is said to have adapted its molecular clock to the sessions at an epigenetic level.
With DNA extracted from the hairs of Freud’s dog found in the London Freud Museum a so-called, “zeitgeber [timer] gene” was experimentally cloned into living yeast cells. Co-regulated via sensors recording the spectators’ body heat, the gene of the dog whose barking had for years served as a timer to end Freud’s psychoanalysis sessions now acts as a hybrid timer for a performative psychotherapeutic group session in the museum.
In The Hour of the Analyst Dog the dog’s entrained present-time with the human spectators’ ability to “travel in time” is spliced together to explore the capacities of animal timescapes. Man, animal and yeast start to autopoetically process different modes of time and thus to affect the time of the performance, the respective perception of the audience and people’s general desire for hybridity as well as for immortality.
Beyond interface biodesign, The Hour of the Analyst Dog is a philosophical essay about changing cultural and collective memory. The Hour of the Analyst Dog becomes an experience of the evolution of time. The time-related flow of information between man and biofact invites the audience to contemplate the potentials of a perception of time supported by nonhuman animals. The Hour of the Analyst Dog also reflects how differently psychoanalysis, genetics, and re-enactment transfer the past into the present in order to conceptualize a possible future.
The extended aim of the performance and a guiding panel discussion is to connect the art, the psychiatric and the international science community on site.
Above all, since its inception the science of genetics has been obsessed with the issue of time, due to its ongoing association with questions of heredity (‘generation time’). In genetic laboratories, organisms’ time-scales are continuously being changed to alter biological processes.
The Hour of the Analyst Dog explores the interfaces of four different areas in which time is negotiated: animals’ perception of time (‘stuck in time’), neurotic time (‘frozen in time’) the unconscious with its states of dreaming (‘timelessness’), and the manipulation of time by synthetic biology. In dreaming, former experiences are recreated, even the dead appear as if they were alive and animals emerge with human features, with their own history. Here dreams meet genetic engineering: to revive dead cells, cells are frozen, heated, and DNA is transplanted from one species to the other.
DNA-related visions of the future are also ideologically constructed instruments of power. Reset Dog reflects this instrument within a performance arguing the chronopolitics of synthetic biology and the nature of non-human agents.
The actual trangenetic performances generally reread symbols and referential systems of science in the context of performance arts. In The Hour of the Analyst Dog genetic DNA’s capacity to preserve living matter is understood beyond trivial naturalism in introducing biosynthetic, imaginary, narrative, performative and ontological contexts linked with genetic DNA.
The point of departure in The Hour of the Analyst Dog is the following contradiction: artistic practices as well as biological temporalities depend on simultaneities, instanteities and multisynchronicities, however society modifies time only for linearity, duration and commodification. In The Hour of the Analyst Dog the animal’s intensified sense of present-time is spliced together with the spectators’ mode of ‘travelling in time’ in order to explore new capacities of animal timescapes in an era on which linear time is putting increasing pressure. A physical no-timescape evolving during the performance leverages random discontinuities, context-dependent temporalities, expanded and multisynchronized time. The Hour of the Analyst Dog also questions the tenability of culture in times of historical change. The animalistic psychoanalytic re-enactment, which imposes as having psychoanalysis’ main topic – lost human memory – becomes a symbol for the desire for wholeness and revivification as well as the fragility of the scientific monument of past-centered psychoanalysis. Cultural and collective memory in The Hour of the Analyst Dog becomes a process of development. In the entanglement of different time layers during the the re-enactment development becomes tangible. Targeting the question of whether historical processes can be experienced, verified or fixed, The Hour of the Analyst Dog becomes a philosophical essay about changing cultural and collective memory and an experience of the evolution of time.
(Excerpts from a panel discussion at Vienna’s Belvedere/21er House)
The actual transgenetic performances of Klaus Spiess and Lucie Strecker use biological relics of “knowing” animals which have been key figures in relevant scenarios within the arts, sciences, philosophy and genetics. Animals DNA is salvaged in order to compose bioartistic mnemonic devices that diversify cultural memory.
In their preceding project ‘Hare’s Blood Plus’ Klaus Spiess and Lucie Strecker used DNA cloning to reach beyond historical routines and to introduce the synthetic genes as acting living money, as genetic timers, or in the performance on Derrida’s cat will even be developed as spoken microflora, which resist and subvert the historification and commodification of the animal relic as well as its field of origin. After having engineered a specifically responding synthetic gene from the relics’ and a living host’s DNA, in their performances Klaus Spiess and Lucie Strecker program interfaces which activate the synthetic gene as an ‘ecopolitical agent’. In The Hour of the Analyst Dog the chow’s gene, whose barking had served as a timer to Freud, resets a synthetic time in the performative session and reactivates the non-language-based knowledge of the dog and thus structures the performative therapy session on site in an ecopolitical frame.
In The Hour of the Analyst Dog when the historical connection between the animal’s genes and its habitat is transferred to the connection between the synthetic gene and an immersive audience, the living recording devices reframe history and make the animal’s past and its present mimic one another. This transference brings forward incomplete memory traces, advances parallel histories, and drafts speculative fictions. The relic thereby becomes an action, emerging from a combination of genetic discursive and immersive factors. Thus DNA engineering eventually becomes a non-trivial task of bringing the past back to life for an unpredictable future.
The DNA’s documenting materiality in the performance is explored as the biomedial performativity of a transmaterialistic memory. The emergence of life from non-life, the generation of further life from life, the evolution of species of living beings – is regarded as following principles of transmaterialistic memory. Beyond heredity, DNA presents a striking tension between the material preservation of life and its disappearance, which links diverse areas as religion, performance documentation and biobanking. With an introduction of transmaterialistic memory as a key term (in this combination of material and memory), a new aspect results for the performativity of matter, because memory in its variability is still regarded as opposed to the immutability of materiality.
For the performance DNA is not conceptualized as based on its trans-individualising capacity, which frequently leads to an ideologically constructed determinism of the power of genes. Instead, DNA and the genes are considered as quasi-impersonal beings in their own right with a choreography of trans-vivication by a shared relationality between the material DNA and the audience, unpredictable and open-ended. By positioning humans as becoming a ‘milieu’ associated to animal DNA, an ‘aesthetic-affective openness to material vitality’ (Jane Bennett) is foregrounded. The dog’s transmaterialistic memory reframes Freud’s session, by becoming agency of a deanthropocentrised environment.
In the performances animal’s DNA is salvaged and present a rather striking tension between the preservation of life and its disappearance, also found within a wide range of the areas such as religion, performance documentation or biobanked cells. The aspects of DNA ownership in Klaus Spiess and Lucie Strecker’s work has provoked ethical discussions in expert circles about the inviolability of the dignity of historical monuments in arts and science, infringement of copyrights and authorship, aspects of identity and representation. The performances truly put historical DNA documents on trial against the backdrop of societal and technological changes.
Notably since the introduction of new biotechnologies, the animal – which since environmental theater from the beginning of 1960s was ‘the real’ which penetrates culture – has now also come to incorporate technology. As “nature becomes biology, becomes genetics, through which life itself becomes reprogrammable information,” our understanding of the role of the animal as “the natural” in performance has changed.
The Hour of the Analyst Dog critically confronts the spectators with the fact that from the early twentieth century animals have been bred selectively for laboratory use, to create specific animals to occupy specific locations in relation to laboratory space and practice. Their development was the materialization of the demand for standardization – epitomizing the demand to be ‘more scientific’; in turn, laboratory equipment (cages, stereo-taxic equipment to immobilize animals’ heads and so on) has evolved to fit standard animals, while animals are further standardized to fit the apparatus. They have, quite literally, been bred to fit the laboratory, its technologies, and its practices.
In The Hour of the Analyst Dog these practices materially embody a new whole set of specific practices – linguistic and material – which newly define what takes place in laboratories.
The Hour of the Analyst Dog, which narrates about an individual animal that was protagonist in art and science history, makes it evident that using an animal relic in an experimental set-up undergoing biotechnological transformations to examine the agency of matter is a two-edged proposition. In The Hour of the Analyst Dog the approach to animality is not provided by an anthropocentric or even exploitative practices to gain knowledge about nature – but The Hour of the Analyst Dog makes humans an associative milieu to a dog’s time-based behaviour in becoming a biomedial intra-action with a dog’s gene. The Hour of the Analyst Dog understands performativity as a material-semiotic process in Barad’s posthuman sense and makes the historical animal itself an agent in the process. As such The Hour of the Analyst Dog considers animality less as an essence than as a doing or becoming, and allows performativity to think about the complexity of human/animal interrelating as a kind of choreography, a co-creation of behaviour. In The Hour of the Analyst Dog the animal’s DNA evolves from materiality and discursive factors as a medial agency which deals with a new liveness stemming from a shifted threshold between dead and living. In The Hour of the Analyst Dog memory is thus strongly related to the material of nature.
The performance includes the unpublished birthday poems in the name of Jofi from Anna Freud to Sigmund and deal with the education of Jofi. It includes a documentary video shot in the Freud Museum London, about the identification of the blanket into which Anna Freud wove Jofi’s hairs. Extraction of DNA and gene cloning in the lab is also integrated as documentary material and in part live on stage.
The choreographic approach aims at guiding the audience into the fictional space of the underlying scientific procedures which will be experienced by interfaces and supported by physical choreographies. The choreographed parcours guides the spectator-performers through spaces of experience, temporal, and spatial. Small groups of spectators move with different velocities guided through the space to generally enhance the sensitivity for space/time relation. The installation – in itself particularly real, particularly fictional provides the markers for an immersion of the spectators into the techno- scientific set up. Travelling between fictionally charged up states of “as if”, and supported by real actions, slow motion, fast forward etc. An important part of the choreography focuses onto the seconds, when Freud’s dog’s barking ended the session. For these seconds performance time will become much longer than narrated time. Spectators are arranged in space laying on the floor around the warming cabinet. With sensors in their hands they are relating to and synchronizing the/with the cells. Different modes of time (stuck in, dreaming etc) are focused on, simultaneities, instanteities and multisynchronicities are contrasted with linearity, duration and commodification. A real chow-chow behind a glass window watches the scientists doing their cloning procedures, which provokes a ‘new materiality’ of timing, along the genetic cloning but also along physical counting with the body (hands, tongue, instruments, materials liquids etc). It’s a choreography across transdisciplinary territories of experience and thought, choreographing participative time to include the audience physically and choreograph them, but also to choreograph a space of the fictional. The evolving ritual addresses the individual as well as forming a transgression towards a temporal collective body, the body of a future society in search of appropriate rituals to deal democratically with the challenges of the emerging paradigms of biotechnological constructed synthetic time.
A previous version of the performance was shown as The Hour of the Analyst Dog in January 2015 at Vienna’s Belvedere/21er Haus, Museum of Contemporary Art. Well-known performers like Nicholas Hoffman and Raphael Mignon took part. A panel discussion was held with discursive scientific contributions by Carola Dertnig (Performance), Eveline List (Psychoanalysis, contemporary history), Christine Mannhalter (Genetics, Bioethics), Ramon Reichert (Mediatheory), Kurt Kotrschal (Cognition biology) and Hans-Otto Thomashoff (Art and Psychiatry).
A performance report has already been ordered by ‘The Lancet Psychiatry’ and a draft has been acceptd by Performance Research. Both will be published in 2016.