Teresa Lanceta – Bergen Assembly

From September 5th to November 3rd, 2019.
Entry and exit according to farm hours.

“Un evento para gallinas en la granja” (Chiken coop)
Langegården besøksgård and the espace of Belgin Bergen in Kode Museum, Bergen, Norway.

A work of Teresa Lanceta & Pedro G. Romero.

The starting point can be found in a story recounted by the Byzantine historian Procopius of Caesarea in his book The Vandal (De Bello Vandalico), which goes like this: “…they say that the Emperor Honorius in Ravenna received the message from one of the eunuchs, evidently a keeper of the poultry, that Rome had perished. And he cried out and said, ‘And yet it has just eaten from my hands!’ For he had a very large cock, Rome by name; and the eunuch comprehending his words said that it was the city of Rome which had perished at the hands of Alaric, and the emperor with a sigh of relief answered quickly: ‘But I thought that my fowl Rome had perished.’ So great, they say, was the folly with which this emperor was possessed.” Procopius was talking about the famous Sack of Rome by the Visigoths led by King Alaric. The 18th-century historian Edward Gibbon was already sceptical about this literal “anecdote” that portrays the Christian emperor Honorius as a weak, extravagant fool hanging on to old pagan customs and unconcerned with Rome, its Senate, and its enemy Alariac. But as Vinciane Despret would say, the right question is: why chickens?

For our purposes, it was interesting to read about the political awareness of space in the chickens described by Giorgio Vallortigara in his book Cervello di gallina (literally “hen’s brain”, an Italian euphemism equivalent to “birdbrain”). The dimension of space is linked to the perception of community: the movement of the group, the distribution of food, and the place where eggs are laid, all determine chickens’ distinctive angular path, a bit like a knight in a game of chess. The animot, said Derrida, should combine the zoology and the cultural significance of animals.

The invitation to collaborate on this work concerns Teresa Lanceta in various ways: there is of course the carpet in the painting by British artist John W. Waterhouse, The Favourites of the Emperor Honorius (1883), but there is also her interest in Marin Kippenberger’s Disco Chicken (1988), and the gift of Bert Flint’s adage at the Tiskwin Museum in Marrakesh, “donning feathers is a form of decolonisation.” And there is of course her memorable statement: “my political consciousness was born when El Lute was arrested and his first charge was stealing chickens.” I think that Teresa Lanceta’s carpets and wall hangings, her tapestries, have always explored a different way of understanding space physically and symbolically, always aware of the need for a new distribution, which is essentially what we are attempting.

The tapestry that Lanceta has made with the old items of clothing and leftover wool offered by friends and neighbours is woven with different techniques, but mainly jarapa, which is crafted from scraps and offcuts. The pattern is based on some of the geometric floors on which chickens performed their legislative duties in ancient Rome. The Romans gave us the legal system, but their laws often had to be ratified by the movements of a group of chickens observed and interpreted by the augur-priests. From the mosaics of Villa of Livia Ad Gallina Albas to the floor of the Curia Julia -the seat of the Roman Senate during the reign of Honorius- chickens also stood for plebiscitary democracy: over these old practices of Etruscan divination, the Emperor preferred the modern augury of the sacrificed rooster which allowed its liver to be examined, always in private. Chickens represented contradictory pairs: archaic religion and the modern plebs, the prudence of the old senators and the crazy extravagance of the Emperor, secular paganism and the weakness of the Christians. But the important thing for us is the floor that these contradictions trod.

Our chicken coops are full of politicians, philosophers, and fools: of chickens, that is. As in Luigi Malerba’s Le galline pensierose, a chicken is supposedly the model fool. María Zambrano gave a good account of that gait in which there are no straight lines, that constant dancing around something, that pendulous swaying of the head saying something or other, and that expression, which is often interpreted as foolishness or idiocy and is only akin to the joy of a living being who has found love and freedom at the same time. It is always a hypnotic pleasure to watch chickens. Our tapestry is only intended as a kind of magnifying glass, an optical instrument to enhance the pleasure of those who stop and look. We also offer a few texts and pages of notes in which to keep adding to the almost infinite number of observations.