In the 2nd or 3rd century A.D., a crude drawing was scratched into a plaster interior wall of an imperial page school in Rome; it depicted a person interacting with a crucified figure with the head of an ass, accompanied by a scrawled inscription translated as “Alexamenos worships his god.” Most scholars interpret this graffito as being part of a wave of anti-Christian sentiment during this period, including the charge that Christians worshipped an ass-headed god, a libel that had been formerly deployed against Jews. In his Apologeticus (197 C.E.), the Christian scholar Tertullian offers this response to charges of onolatry: “If the image we cherish is a freak, it doesn't really matter what kind of freak.” Kelman’s reimagining of the Alexamenos Graffito might serve as a stumbling block for those complicit in the persecution of religious minorities within today’s Christian majority societies, as well as a paradoxical monument to the embrace of the freakish, the syncretic, and the vulnerable. (Text from the Drawing Center group exhibition, "Where Do We Stand," 2017
GIGANTOMACHY (PART I)
A father instructs his adult son in the techniques of mime and a set of wooden puppet heads narrates the story of their own construction; mime and puppetry begin to serve as inappropriate mediums for telling two historically disparate stories of young men engaged in false bombing plots which are in reality traps laid by agents provocateur.
GIGANTOMACHY (PART II)
A road trip to a community of concrete domes in east Texas leads to the construction of a set of dome-based sculptures which obscenely constrain the movements of a human body; the sculptures are in turn destroyed and the fragments are transported as egg-like bundles for to be reconstructed in the original dome community, all to a soundtrack of classic rock radio hits reconfigured into paranoid mantras of the security state.
An attempt by Rafael Kelman and Mary Walling Blackburn to animate their own reproductive, economic and artistic collaboration as wet and dry; burden and beast; hoot and whimper. The works are animated by research into the historical production of citizen-workers through reproduction and reproduction as forced labor (Silvia Federici), as well as the problem of the couple as core building block of capitalism (Guy Hocquenghem). The works use Walling Blackburn’s ♂ ANTI FERTILITY GARDEN project, a response to national and state pressures on women’s reproductive rights, as a departure point.
Conspiracy theorists (1) revel in the archaeological record of conical head-shape as evidence of extraterrestrial visitation. Interpretations of this evidence tend to follow two roughly hewn paths of logic: either an alien gamete found its way into the bodies of ancient humans, or our terrestrial ancestors were so impressed by these god-like beings that they were moved to alter their own skulls (or more precisely, those of their children) to mimic the oblong craniums of these visitors. Both camps take a dim view of the autonomous capabilities of humans, ascribing most of the cultural and technological achievements of premodern humans to extraterrestrial colonists. A third narrative dismisses the theory of alien ancestry and instead interprets the worldwide practice of cranial deformation as evidence of the onetime existence of Atlantis. The sensational testimonies that constitute this body of revisionist history seem to accrue in the margins of the bookstore and the internet (self-published books, low-traffic blogs (2) only to be harvested and reconstituted as mass spectacle by the likes of the History channel (3) and Steven Spielberg. (4)
Archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians of medicine tend towards more measured rhetoric in their interpretations of artificially altered human skulls. Contemporary academic discourse around "headshaping"/"artificial cranial deformation" broadly defines it as a semiotically charged practice of body modification, indicating, in respective cultures, elite status; ethnic identity; gender; and aesthetic refinement. (5) Angelbeck and Grier tally intentionally altered skulls among the pre-contact Coast Salish people in the American Pacific Northwest to frame their argument that Coast Salish social structures would be better described as anarchist than egalitarian; a chronological expansion in the number of altered skulls in the archaeological record indicates the advent of an "inverted pear" shaped society, composed of a majority elite. Earlier anthropological treatment of the subject is often marked by––or actively constitutive of–taxonomies and hierarchies of racial type based on craniometry, employed by colonial power structures to maintain the myth of white supremacy. "Was the Skull of the Moriori Artificially Deformed?," Karl Pearson's 1921 article puts forth a scathing rebuttal of V. Giuffrida-Ruggeri's claim that the "extraordinary frontal flatness" of sixty five Moriori skulls under examination was due to intentional headshaping; Pearson concludes that "the Moriori have a minimum frontal index, not because they deformed their skulls, but because they contained a racial element more primitive than the bulk of the 'South Oceanic races'." (6)
(1) Who are these conspiracy theorists? We imagine them to be either pale or sunburned pink. We imagine them to be in desolate corners of the United States, urban or rural, with internet access. We imagine them to be paranoid and perhaps well armed. But based on the apparently broad popular appeal of shows like Ancient Aliens, perhaps we had better expand our imagination of these figures.
(3) Ancient Aliens, 2009-Present, Prometheus Entertainment
(4) Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, 2008, Dir. Steven Spielberg
(5) Neither ancient alien theorist nor physical anthropologist engages much with the most banal and contemporary (banal because contemporary?) occurrences of artificial cranial deformation: the Back-to-Sleep program, instituted in 1992 by the American Academy of Pediatrics, resulted in a 50% reduction in the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, but simultaneously drove up incidents of occipital flattening through "positional deformation." Even more fundamentally, one might consider the temporary deformation of the infant's skull through "peripartal molding" that takes place in the course of many vaginal births. The "naturalness" of the perfectly round head becomes a more malleable construct.
(6) Pearson, Karl, "Was the Skull of the Moriori Artificially Deformed?" Biometrika, Vol. 13, No. 4 (Oct., 1921) , pp. 338-346. Pearson and Giuffrida-Ruggeri curiously reflect the two camps of ancient alien theorists: are these strange skulls thusly shaped strictly through heritable genes (thus rendering the cone-headed human a hybrid with alien or ape, depending on the discourse in question) or through imitable memes (have these primitive people been duped by aliens, or simply by themselves?) Where is this practice located? In sixth grade, within our unit on the Mayan civilization the practice of head-shaping was presented as an exotic anomaly, found only in South America and only in the distant past. E.J. Dingwall, to his credit, begins his 1931 Artificial Cranial Deformation with two chapters devoted to evidence of the practice in Europe, including its presence in France well into the late 19th century.
Anhoek School presents WMYN 87.9 FM
Radio Hosts: Mary Walling Blackburn and Rafael Kelman
A truly desperate plea emitted from an endangered community radio station.
WMYN's regular programming is consistently interrupted by fundraising efforts. The hosts are engaged in a kind of desperate filibuster. The currency requested remains indeterminate. However, what we understand is that the contribution will be bodily; the body must give something up; the donor takes palpable risks. The broadcast will grow in mass (recorded hours) over the course of the show. The volume is determined by each visitor; they control the knob; they provide the power (hand-cranked radio).