Academic journal article Tamara Journal of Critical Organisation Inquiry

An Aesthetic Inquiry into Organizing Some Rats and Some People

Academic journal article Tamara Journal of Critical Organisation Inquiry

An Aesthetic Inquiry into Organizing Some Rats and Some People

Article excerpt


Rats crawling, an art gallery, rats as art, warm furry bodies, bright plastic tubes, disgusting, chilled dead frogs, rats for science, a preparation, a sweet little rat, a village hall, women in white coats, rats in cages, a rosette, urine, a rat in a pouch, cuddles, rats for art, the winner is, strong black tea, how many do you have, in the literature, breeding, get more rats, a rat down a sleeve, I'll give you a lift, sign in, a rack of cages, what is that, the data shows, please wash your hands, they can smell your perfume, protestors, I don't know, a knock out, brain surgery, squeak squeak, the Morris water maze, toys, slice, you are a messy boy, the critique, I haven't got a licence, drawings, rats in art, do you mind, a duvet, insurance, a queue, a drawing device, sugar rats, chunky knits, where' s the nearest rat, black rubbeiy tails, video camera, a T-maze, sawdust, a cleavage, nail clippings, face painting, artist rat, drawings, it's different, two young women, a judge, art for rats, agility training, he remembers from last time.







Here is an artwork I want to make but have not yet been able to make. It's called the Rat Evaluated Artwork or REA1 (shown in Figure 1). I imagined it as a gallery piece, sitting on tables, with many tubes and wheels, a closed environment for rats visible to the spectators who might watch and engage with them, offering diversions and decisions points for rats, and diversions and decision points for humans. The rats would be inside the tubes, and the humans would be outside, able to read the labels on the tubes that the rats would move through. The rats would be invited to evaluate different aspects of the artwork by making choices about which tube to move through. For the authence, where the rats moved would help them understand how beautiful the work was, how exploitative and how critically engaged.

As I began to explore how to make this work, an artist colleague one day found me photocopying pages from a catalogue from a company which makes play environments for small animals in brightly -coloured plastic. When I told her what I wanted to do, she was horrified: not by the rats but by my ignorance. These tubes were designed for hamsters and would be far too small for rats. I grew up in a family with dogs. I don't remember dissecting anything warm at school. I knew nothing about rats other than that there were both objects of disgust and fear in Western culture and objects of respect - as survivors, fast breeders, quick adaptors. But I really liked my idea for the Rat Evaluated Artwork, and since it depended on live rats, so began my research.

A friend in Cambridge arranged for me a visit to the experimental psychology lab there to see a demonstration with live rats for undergraduate students. Here in a box was a small creature. Alive, but alive for science. Ordered from a catalogue, No Name animal, an instrumentalized animal, sweet in its box, enjoying being handled by the professor, enjoying being caressed and stroked and cuddled, here, did I want a go, did I want to hold it. I held science in my hands. Actually it looked pretty small and I wondered if it would after all fit through the plastic toy tubes from the catalogue. I wondered how would it cope if I was able to make the REA and get lots of rats to crawl through it in an art gallery in front of lots of people. How it would cope and how I would cope.

Could it be beautiful, as well as disturbing, as well as funny, as well as compelling, as well as unusual, as well as shocking, as well as all the other things that contemporary art projects like this can be? In order to answer these questions I had to make the work and find ways to make the work. Finding out how to make the REA by trying to make it, would be my aesthetic inquiry into rats.

This desire to make an artwork with rats lead to a study of one informal and one formal organizational context in which rats play important roles, in fancy rat shows and among fancy rat breeders, and in experimental laboratories among scientists. …

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