Centre d'Art Contemporain Genève

For their show at the Centre d’Art Contemporain, the artist collective KLAT (Jérôme Massard, Florian Saini, and Konstantin Sgouridis) constructed a sculpture, Tennessee Wiggler the Big Fat Worm aka le lombric cosmique, 2009, whose form is particularly striking: a fifty-five-yard-long giant earthworm (lombric) made primarily of clay, occupying an entire floor of the center. Impressive for its sheer physical presence, this amusement-park fixture also served as a thought-provoking model for correlating ecological and cultural systems. The so-called Tennessee wiggler, an actual type of earthworm, is prized as an aid in natural recycling thanks to its extraordinary catalytic properties and its resilience when faced with inhospitable environments. The work was also inspired by the book The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge (1995) by anthropologist Jeremy Narby. Narby compares the knowledge of Peruvian shamans and the internalized images of snakes they call up during trances with insights taken from molecular biology regarding the snake-shaped double helix of DNA, in ways that recall the archetypal musings of Aby Warburg in Das Schlangenritual (The Snake Ritual, 1923).

In order to walk along the body of the worm, which was arranged in a ring shape, one had to choose between two paths. Choosing the right-hand path, you first passed a working stove in which bread in the shape of cow patties could be baked. Finished loaves hung in front of the stove on strings attached to the ceiling, along with a genuine cow patty. If you took the left-hand path, you saw a compost heap filled with the living versions of the work’s oversize mutation: actual Tennessee wigglers. At the end of these paths (which was also their starting point), the worm sculpture pierced several walls that divided the space of the show into compartments and organized the worm’s open circular structure. Along the way, one passed nipples spurting water as well as several protuberances blowing air.

The starting/ending point—taken together with the compost heap, fire, loaves of bread, and cow patty as well as the worm body as a digesting machine—illustrated somewhat too blatantly various stations of the bioorganic cycle of matter, including the ingestion of nourishment, digestion, excretion, composting, and re-creation. The allusion to Narby’s theory expands the frame of reference to encompass mythic and cosmic phenomena, linking the cycle via the human genome to a structure that corresponds to it on both the largest and smallest scales. The show as a whole suggested the model of an eternal return that recalled Nietzsche, an infinite and indifferent cycle of occurrences in which death and birth become indistinguishable. The circular arrangement of the sculpture invokes the symbol of the Ouroboros, the snake biting its own tail; the systems of reproduction and regeneration on view point to a phobia vis-à-vis the passing away of all things and thus the futility of all creation. And so this clay sculpture will meet its end without repercussions when the show is taken down. It is not (nor was it meant to be) one of those works that produce “fissures in the millstone that grinds everything,” to take a phrase from Jean-François Lyotard’s Soundproof Room: Malraux’s Anti-Aesthetics (1998), his reading of André Malraux, that describes cracks in the system, fissures Malraux longed for as a form of resistance to a vegetative cosmos.

Valérie Knoll

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.