In December 1961, Manzoni wrote in a letter to his friend Ben Vautier:
“I should like all artists to sell their fingerprints, or else stage competitions to see who can draw the longest line or sell their shit in tins. The fingerprint is the only sign of the personality that can be accepted: if collectors want something intimate, really personal to the artist, there's the artist's own shit, that is really his.”
When there is shit involved in an exhibition, one cannot not refer to Piero Manzoni.
Manzoni's critical and metaphorical reification of the artist's body, its processes and products, lead the way towards an understanding of the artist identity and product of the artist's body as a consumable object. The Merda d'Artista, the artist's shit, dried and canned 'with no added preservatives', was the perfect metaphor for the bodied and disembodied nature of artistic labour: the work of art as fully incorporated ‘raw’ material. Manzoni understood the creative act as part of the cycle of consumption: a vicious circle of reprocessing, packaging, marketing, consuming.
The act of valuing body fluids or excrements as art products or a method to make art was made possible by that first tinned can of shit. Artists who add body substances to a piece of work confront nature (here the body) with culture and puts the value of artworks in an interesting perspective. The artistic value of an object is only realised by the act of the artist - producing and exhibiting -, giving him (or playing with) a so-called divine status in a context where this is accepted. Humour, playfulness and self-irony balances this status and gives a responsibility to the public.
Various Artists uses a body as a tool to produce an artwork or to transit the art object, i.e. the pearl that reduces in size but gains in value due to the mere act of swallowing and shitting it out.
nn.Pearl originated from a typical working session/method of Various Artists where all artists are invited to give a response to the same topic or question.
The starting point of nn.Pearl is the project Anel. Anel, by Morice de Lisle, is a collection of various rings that are 'processed' by a performer by wearing the ring and scraping it against walls and buildings. The scraped rings loose substance and therefor have diminished in value. At the same time, the symbolical and poeticalvalue of the city and its surroundings augments because of the traces of the precious metal that are left behind. By performing this artistic action the artistic value of the piece also increases. The paradox of this piece started a chain of contributions from other Various Artists.
With nn.Pearl, by Anna Omandichana, Hélène Thensiau, and Lima Drib, the size and therefor the value of the asset is diminished by indigestion. The body of the performer gains poetic value by swallowing pearls. And again, the performative action increases the artistic value of the piece.
'Casting pearls before swine' refers to a quotation from Matthew 7:6 in Jesus's Sermon on the Mount: "Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces." This quotation is used often by artists, curators and culture makers in general to divide the "good" public with the "lesser".
The gallery in San Gimignano is a good example of a place that tries to counter this kind of thinking by welcoming all into their spaces. On the one hand the shows are frequented by collectors and art lovers from all over the world, on the other hand San Gimignano is flooded by tourists that occasionally trickle into the gallery. Various Artists, as most artists, are divided on this matter and have to fight the inner urge to judge certain groups of public. The piece tries to develop a critique and some answers to this kind of judgmental behaviour.
nn.Pearl was in production since September 2014. On a daily routine pearls were being swallowed and defecated. Over the course of the year thousands of pearls were digested and used to produce a collection of jewellery that was presented in different installations.
nn.Pearl is highly influenced by Morice de Lisle's proposal in such a way that during the production of the work (approximately 1 year) toilets could not be used in a normal fashion.