Like a living body – Our interview with Ivana Adaime Makac

Reeducation-experiences-en-milieu-rural-Andalousie-2024

Ivana Adaime Makac is an artist living in Paris, whom we encountered in 2022 at an exhibition in Milan. There, we became acquainted with her interesting and original work, and we have continued to follow her ever since. We won’t reveal much in advance because Ivana was kind enough to answer some of our questions, so we’ll let her describe her work.

All the images in this article were provided to us by the artist.

Let’s start with a brief curriculum (for more details, you can look here
)
Ivana Adaime Makac is a visual artist, born in 1978 in Argentina, she lives in Paris since 2008.
After studies of Art History in Universidad de Buenos Aires she graduated at École supérieure d’art des Pyrénées and obtained a MA art research at Université Paris-Panthéon Sorbonne.
Her work has been exhibited in solo exhibitions: Les ateliers vortex, Centre d’art contemporain de Pontmain, Domaine de Chamarande, Le ravitaillement (France), La Chambre Blanche (Canada), Centre d’art contemporain du Luxembourg belge (Belgium) among others. And has also been featured in group shows: Salon de Montrouge, Le bel ordinaire, Villa Belleville (France), Galleria Ipercubo (Italy), Wood street Galleries (USA) along with others. Since 2007 she took part of several international art residency programs. Her work is represented by Galleria Ipercubo, Milan.


Jardin des revenants, group show Ouvrages fantasmer le monde, Rue Beaujon, Paris, 2022

VT: Your research, as also demonstrated in some of your exhibitions, falls within the vein of attention to the post-human, which is configured not only in relation to the humantechnology relationship, but also as a non-hierarchical relationship between humans and animals. In your case, the focus is on small animals, insects, and plants.
How did you start and why did you dedicate yourself to this type of art?

I never use the concept of post-human when I talk/think about my work but I can understand other people do and I accept that point of view. I don’t feel close to the technological part of that concept as my work is very low-tech ! My artistic practice, since the beginning, has been mobilized and affected by other non-human forms of life and the question of domestication and the complex relationships that result from it. This interest in the non-human living has gradually led me to explore questions related to perishable, impermanent, unfinished form, cyclical temporalities and other types of temporalities…
Already in my early projects, as a student, I have included insects, they were dead insects at the time collected in Patagonia. In 2001 I made a photography project called « we are surrounded», it was presented as a slideshow. At the entrance of the projection room I was offering to the visitors aerosol insecticides expired since 1970 and also a kind of clumsy manifesto or statement with a criticism towards anthropocentrism and an eulogy to insects with a sort of scenario in which insects will rule the world… it makes me smile today but I still believe in the essence of these ideas.
Then I started to make videos of living insects and shortly after that their in vivo presence was included in my installation and sculptures. So there was some kind of progression towards the living.
Insects are fascinating and mysterious to me for different reasons: difference of scale, difference of temporality and overall they live in a completely different world or Umwelt that is not easy to decode for our humain eyes, a world we will never have access to with our tools, despite the science and technology research…

VT: One of your fields of interest is the processes of domestication and dis-domestication of living beings. For example, in “Rééducation” (since 2009), you try, spring after spring, to re-teach butterflies that emerge from silkworms to fly, after thousands of years in which domestication has deprived them of this ability. Can you tell us about this, or other practices? Can centuries-old processes of human and non-human domestication be overcome?

It is funny how you focus on the butterfly stage and their lost capacity to fly ! Humains have developed more sympathy and empathy for butterflies than larva… In my Rééducation project I
am indeed more attached to the larval phase of Bombyx mori, the longest phase in their life cycle, which means that we share more experiences together during that period.
Indeed, the long domestication process has changed his way of life, moved him away from his original habitat, resulting in behavioural, morphological changes and dependence on humans for
his survival. Today, domestication specialists, consider Bombyx mori incapable of rehabilitation to wildlife, a form in which he no longer exists.
Undoing a 5000-years process of domestication at the scale of a human life, seems a challenge not devoid of absurdity and one of the paradoxes that this project involves. This project is more about deploying attempts than succeeding this utopian goal. One day a genetic researcher from the Marie Curie Institute came to my studio, to see my silkworms. After saying « there’s a good genetic mix here! » she told me « …your project is not completely impossible, but you must make a very rigorous and radical selection… ». For about eleven years I have been doing what I call an « inclusive selection », collecting a few eggs from each clutch, as an attempt to bring together the widest possible variety of lived experiences (with
the hope there will be a transmission to future generations). In 2012, in the framework of a show, I made a selection choice that made me uncomfortable: I had selected cocoons that silkworms had managed to weave on the mulberry tree, then separated and installed in a vivarium, so that they would reproduce with each other once they became butterflies. This put me in front of something that made me think of eugenics and made me reconsider my choices. This art breeding experience, like any act of breeding and even plant cultivation involves at certain stages an articulation between care and power. Even if we have benevolent intentions, and even if we provide care and develop an emotional relationship, there are some moments of asymmetry in the relationship, because we make decisions about for them about their destinies.

VT: Just like experiences with artificial intelligences, for which as surprising or fascinating as their operation may be, there must still be a human who activates them, so in the practices of dis-domestication, you still have to be there to care for the animals. Is it a “paradox” you’ve thought about?

Yes, paradoxes are fascinating and they really trigger my whole practice ! Of course, I am conscious about it and it is for me an important and exciting aspect. The process of disdomestication involved in my Rééducation project is an assisted process: in order to « guide » them towards some kind of autonomy I have to support them, take care of them, accomplish different daily tasks. These tasks are similar of those accomplished by traditional breeders but the reasons that animate my breeding experience are different. In a global way I seek to offer to silkworms different living conditions than those of a silk production context. I wonder if giving them the opportunity to experience, or to encourage them to live new experiences that come out of repetition would be a fertile ground for the emergence of singular behaviors. If we offer to silkworms a more fluctuating, less structured or even erratic context of life without expectation of silk productivity, what would they become?
So this project is about low-tech experiences to stimulate the appearance of autonomous behaviors that I set up in different stages of their development.
Some of these experiences are related to food (mulberry), combining feeding and exercising. In this sense, sometimes I make them sculptures with mulberry leaves that push them to make efforts to feed themselves. And sometimes I take them to eat directly on mulberry trees in the parks of Paris, theses picnics are a very complete and demanding experience for them, with a wide range of stimulations. Not only they eat while working their dexterity on the tree, but they can also have outdoor stimulations and brave the elements they have lost contact with: the sun and especially the wind that makes the branches move defying their stability. They also have to deal with diurnal predators such as ants, wasps or birds, in front of which sometimes I take the role of a scarecrow and sometimes the role of a shepherd dog…
This spring, during a residency, I continued these experiences in a rural context in Sierra de Aracena, Andalusia. These experiences went beyond the idea of «picnic» because once the
worms became robust enough to face the outdoors, I took them to eat on the trees daily and it was more like a short transhumance. Anyhow, when I produce this kind of experiences I wonder
about their life 5000 years ago, before their domestication when mulberry trees used to be their host plant.
The origin of the silkworms (bombyx mori) still remains unclear and is the subject of hypotheses: for some it would be the theophila mandarina its starting point, for others the silkworms would descend from an already extinct insect.


Primeurs, zombies, nagori, solo show, Le ravitaillement, Gavray-sur-Sienne, 2023

VT: Building on the previous question: the living beings you are interested in become part of a work of art with its compositional rules. That is, the photos and installations you create still respond to your precise aesthetic choice to which the subjects participating must adapt. The same pumpkins with which you have recently worked change based on the grids
you lay out. Does art still return to a human gaze?

I would not say I have « compositional rules » it is more about handling different parameters, in which the core are the living beings I work with. Working with living beings and including their presence in a work it’s a big responsibility (and thats’s maybe one of the reasons I have refused at times exhibition proposals that did not offer good conditions).
It is difficult to answer this question with generalities, each project and each living being involved has it’s own particularities.
In the case of Le banquet project (2008-2017) an evolving installation to be maintained daily, I have worked with farmed raised crickets or locusts, which are in both cases they are insects that have been bred as live food to feed exotic pets. By extracting them from this context and offering them a « banquet », they escape to their «vivarium prey destiny », while remaining in a certain form of captivity. The ingredients of these sculptures were chosen according to their diets (omnivorous in the case of crickets and herbivorous in that of locusts). At the same time, this installation composes with the behavior and needs of these insects. For example, in the case of crickets, it is essential to include in each sculpture places to hide and rest in the dark. For locusts, it is important to create sculptures with elements on which they can hang during the molting phase. In short, their way of life, vital needs and diets are parameters for composing these temporary environments.
In the case of silkworms, their lack of autonomy leads me to build a living environment, more or less controlled, in which they can find more freedom than in a productivist context.
With the gourd project, called Gourds under constraints, I try to observe a diversity of behaviors in response to the imposed constraints (ropes, packaging debris). Some varieties of gourds will push back or even tear the constraints by their strength of growth, while other varieties, will adapt and sculpt themselves through the constraints. For me that means that they take decisions in a frame that I settle. In one hand this project is about resilience and in the other hand it is also a brutal or primary way to visually crystallize the action of domestication. Behind all the vegetables we eat every day there are processes of constraints (selections, cultivation methods and conditions) that we do not see (or do not want to see) that are not clearly « written » in their vegetal flesh, like can be in the case of my gourds…
But I would also like to talk about another type of project called Jardin de revenants (ongoing since 2017) that you did not mention in your questions, in which there is a different mode of coexistence and cohabitation with insects. The starting point of this project were remains, residues and leftovers (organic and non organic) collected over almost ten years from other
projects. The idea was to create a new work by gestures of recomposition, «composting» while seeking to magnify the decay of these residues. Conceptually it was a way to make coexist my
different projects while addressing the idea of reliquary and mummification. In spring 2019, I have discovered progressively in this Jardin des revenants the presence of stégobium paniceum (a minuscule beetle) and also the presence of spiders like Steatoda grossa and later a variety of parasitoid micro-Hymenoptera.
These arthropods have adopted an already existing sculptural environment that they perceive as a habitable and nourishing space, where they have developed a food chain, trophic relationships between prey-predators. In short an autonomous way of functioning, an ecosystem, that is transforming-sculpting and turning my work in to « dust ».
The presence of these arthropods articulates decrepitude and revitalization. Revitalization in the sense of dealing with the residues of previous works, putting them back in «circulation» to generate a new work. And also revitalization, in the proper sense, a restart by the cyclic actions of these insects who perceive my work as a living space, producing gradually the disappearance of it.

 Larmes de Lycurgue, solo show, Les ateliers vortex, Dijon, 2015
Larmes de Lycurgue, solo show, Les ateliers vortex, Dijon, 2015

VT: The silkworms that transform into butterflies draw your attention to the incompleteness and changes of the living. This brings us back to the series “Zombies” in which plants are held in a state not yet of death but not yet of life either. Can you tell us more about this?

The Zombie project is part of a research on temporalities and the states derived from the living. Through a conservation technique I have been developing since 2015, I seek to explore the idea of a suspension of time, of an in-between, between the living and the dead. These stabilized plant leaves and vegetables, have lost all their greenness but they keep some flexibility reminiscent of life, and they will not rot nor crack. Despite this form of stability, their appearance is decrepit and decadent. This process renders an uncanny dimension were it becomes difficult to determinate the origin of what you are looking at: vegetal, animal, fungus other ? (Coliflower can look like a humain brain, lettuce can look like a seaweed, cabbage leaves can look like somme lézard skin, etc).
It is also about « vegetalizing » the figure of the zombie (the cinematographic figure), a form of alienation and alteration.
In the early stages of this project, I made pieces with only stabilized vegetables in the form of wreaths but then I started to combine them with other elements and introducing them in another projects. I like when my projects parasitize each other, I see it as a form of coevolution. Jardin des revenants, is one of the projects that has been « parasitized » by the Zombie project. But also I would like to mention a show I did in 2023, in Normandy, called Primeurs, Zombies, Nagori. By this strange tittle, I wanted to settle a sort of temporality chart, corresponding to the different states of the elements of the installation. The installation was like a dialogue between different projects, in which the gourds and the zombie vegetables were central.
During autumn 2022, nine months, before the opening of the show, I went to Normandy and I got in contact with an organic vegetable farmer who let me pick in his property different plants
and vegetables, to create assemblages with « my zombie technique ». My picking was based on plants that do not end up on a human dish, in one hand plants usually called weeds that may
« interfere » with his production activity and in the other hand vegetal elements that are discarded by the farmer like carrot tops or other foliage that are not sold to customers. Then I had all winter long to work and transform this harvest and create assemblages. This leads me to say how important are for me the production processes and « adventures » behind the art work, even if they are not visible in the art space where they are presented. And this also leads me so say how important are seasons. Each season is dedicated to a different project, and as you have remarked spring is dedicated to the silkworm project but also to gourd planting.

VT: Mutations that are also of meaning, depending on the living being that uses an element.So plants, which are living beings in themselves, can become food for others or objects of daily life for humans. As in the case of cabbages converted into books or chairs. I’m glad you have observed this aspect. Everything revolves around perspective, and altering
contexts or finding new configurations for the same element that can lead to a varied perception.

That’s something I try to play with. I would like to mention again the case of Jardin des revenants, which is also about perspective. This project, that initially was thought as a form of reliquary and momification exploration, became without any intervention on my part a chosen spot for stegobium paniceum and other arthropods, who decided to settle in this sculptural environment. Finding in different sculptures
the necessary to develop their lives by drilling the varnish layers to find the organic matter that interested them. They even eat sculptures made out of silkworm excrements. The waste of some living beings becomes food for other living being…
VT: If you have browsed our website, you will have seen that one of our areas of interest is the Art Market. How is this work of yours received, not so much the photos or videos you
produce, but the object itself that you produce, by galleries and collectors? What differences do you find compared to more traditional expressive methods such as painting?
Although artistic practices have evolved considerably since the second half of the 20th century, with a growing interest in non-human livings and organic materials, the expectation towards art works remains more or less the same: that they endure, that they have a relatively stable material existence in order to be part of a collection, a museum and the art market. There is like a conservation instinct, or like writer and psychoanalyst Gérard Wajcman says «dreams of eternity» of our society in which the conservation and restoration methods are the symptoms. He also talks about the paradoxical aspects of our society: we are surrounded by disposable objects, objects that we discard after use and on the other hand objects that we would like to keep forever. I wonder why today it is still so difficult to accept that an art work can change, or be materially unstable, like a living body?
In that way, my art practice resists to art market, that’s for sure, but I think the mentality is changing (slowly) and I am happy to have a very few openminded and sharp collectors.
About the question related to the differences between practices like mine and practices using more traditional expressive methods, I would answer by saying something obvious, that you

VT: If you have browsed our website, you will have seen that one of our areas of interest is the Art Market. How is this work of yours received, not so much the photos or videos you produce, but the object itself that you produce, by galleries and collectors? What differences do you find compared to more traditional expressive methods such as painting?

Although artistic practices have evolved considerably since the second half of the 20th century, with a growing interest in non-human livings and organic materials, the expectation towards art works remains more or less the same: that they endure, that they have a relatively stable material existence in order to be part of a collection, a museum and the art market. There is like a conservation instinct, or like writer and psychoanalyst Gérard Wajcman says «dreams of eternity» of our society in which the conservation and restoration methods are the symptoms. He also talks about the paradoxical aspects of our society: we are surrounded by disposable objects, objects that we discard after use and on the other hand objects that we would like to keep forever. I wonder why today it is still so difficult to accept that an art work can change, or be materially unstable, like a living body? In that way, my art practice resists to art market, that’s for sure, but I think the mentality is changing (slowly) and I am happy to have a very few openminded and sharp collectors.
About the question related to the differences between practices like mine and practices using more traditional expressive methods, I would answer by saying something obvious, that you probably imagine: less visibility, less exhibition opportunities, less collectors… But there is no
bitterness about that, this is just a fact.


Jardin des revenants (detail) group show Ouvrages fantasmer le monde, Rue Beaujon, Paris, 2022

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