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Pigginess fantasies

Kira O’Reilly’s controversial performances, explore bodies - human and non-human. In an intimate dialogue the limits of the audience are tested in an astonishing and disquieting way.
Kira’s work involves performance, biotechnical practices and writing. She has exhibited extensively across the UK, Europe, Australia and China.


From body art to bio-art. How did this progression occur?

My interest in working with and about the body has always been driven by preoccupations with materiality and metaphor, how the physical stuff of body is a vehicle of cultural meaning, and how culture produces bodies. So the development from working with the performative integral body to the body to more fragmented and distributed forms was a clear and logical progression and one that I view as part of a continuum of working with the body and the living.

The movement towards working with bio media was facilitated by first encountering the work of Tissue Culture and Art Project and Oron Catts who suggested I do a residency SymbioticA.

To me the body had always been endlessly malleable and mutable, so to harness the technologies of tissue culture was of huge import in terms of exploring forms and growth of body without the confines of form. Equally the status of what the body when separated from the whole, and extended and cultivated as a satellite body autonomous in the technological architecture and apparatus of the laboratory, was something I wanted to investigate first hand. What is it? How might we conceive of it, outside of the scientific logics and biomedical imperatives.

Do you consider you have shifted from human body to other bodies? How do these bodies inter-relate?

Yes, my concerns and preoccupations are far more to do with the unruliness of taxonomies, concerns with non-human animals, and notions of mergences/metamorphosis and the occurrences that can be fabricated between unlikely combinations of living materials in the tissue culture dish.


Working with life poses some ethical considerations. Do you feel your art practice is constrained by these?

The process of making art works that bring personal ethics into engagement with institutional ethics is valuable and potentially interventionalist, creating opportunities to open up spaces of investigation, consideration and refection in which ethics can be approached as an experiential practice, and the underpinnings of ethical operations can be considered.


Ethics are of course complex cultural constructs, contingent and indicative of their time and place; for example I have been advised that in a UK context it would be highly unlikely I would be given the approval to work from my body that I received in Australia.

Past performance works I have made on and with my body have always sought to excavate the ideological underpinnings of the context and space the work is located in. This has included the law of the land, institutional ethics and health and safety. On some occasions the work has gone ahead below the radar so to speak, in direct conflict with the governing laws, ethics etc.

I think the obvious dangers are when institutional ethics are utilised as policing or governing apparatus, effectively constraining activities in fields in which they are inappropriately applied.

Marsyas: running out of skin is your first work in bioart. Can you tell us a bit more about this experience?

Marsyas: running out of skin
was an attempt to make living lace out of my own skin. It was a period of research and development conducted over ten months at SymbioticA art and science research laboratory in University of Western Australia, between 2003 and 2004 and it was funded by the Wellcome Trust.

It was my first time situating my practice in a laboratory and working with the technologies of tissue culture and also the textile craft of lace making.

I had become intrigued by the myth of Marsyas in Ovid’s Metamorphosis, he was particularly featured as a trope during the renaissance, a time of huge innovation and accelerations of anatomical exploration when the body was in effect being reconceptualised in accord with this extensive production of anatomical knowledge’s. Marsyas was a satyr (and therefore a slippery in between body of half human half goat) who was flayed by Apollo when defeated in a dual of musicianship. His is described as becoming ‘one whole wound’. This story became a reflection of the cultural anxieties centred abound frontiers of body exploration.

I spent a significant amount of time developing my lab skills, and practicing culturing skin from non-human animals, in this case pig skin. I also embarked on the process of applying – and receiving approval from the human ethics committee to conduct my work from my own body. Both of these activities became central to the work and indeed become the work; the use of non-human animal tissue, the relations I built with these materials that I cultivated for substantial time periods, the very real ethical ambivalences I experience from hands on engagement with other lives and the very living materials I extracted from them.

Although I did receive ethics approval, I did not complete the work from my own body, there were complications with getting someone to perform the biopsy and then time and money ran out. This further served to locate the work in the vital ethical considerations of working from the pig’s bodies.

Kira O'Reilly in a performance

The outcomes from the work were:
Red Lab Coat Intervention, wearing a specially made and highly theatricalised red laboratory coat, it was a commentary on the conventions and rituals that construct the laboratory as much as the processes, equipment, furniture and architecture.

Marsyas, Beside Myself,
a performative text that spoke in a number of registers about the process of the work, from the academic, to anecdotal, poetic to scientific. It was subsequently published in sk-interfaces: Exploding Borders - Creating Membranes in Art, Technology and Society, edited by Jens Hauser.

Marsyas, Beside Myself,
a video that accompanies a reading of the text. It features video material including a whimsical play with plastic toy animals whilst feed pig dermal fibroblast cells.

inthewrongplaceness, a durational performance made for one person at a time, made on my return to the UK from SymbioticA, it was a response to my experiences of working from pigs bodies in a scientific research environment and encountering the non-human. It was also very much influenced by a book called Pig Tales by Marie Darrieussecq, about a woman who turns into a pig. She spends quite some time in the middle of the text oscillating through in between stages, neither entirely one nor the other.


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Porto, Portugal | 02, Julho de 2020