Brazilian Carp - Byungseo Yoo

Byungseo Yoo

Rembrandt's painting The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (1632) portrays an anatomy lecture by Dr. Nicolaes Tulp conducted to non-experts. The anatomical procedure as depicted in the picture is rather unconventional. Instead of cutting into the lower abdomen to remove the intestines that are prone to rapid degeneration, Dr. Tulp seems to have started with the subject’s hand — hand that had committed a crime. But the circumstance implied by the hand is quite bizarre. The shape of this unproportionately large hand seems anatomically improbable. The position of the subject's thumb suggests that the exposed muscle is the one that should normally connect to the palm. In the painting, however, the muscle leads to the back of the hand, suggesting that the hand in question is the right hand. The overall composition of the painting that had been portraying the scene rather realistically start to crumble at this point where Dr.Tulp’s right-hand meets the corpse’s left arm.

Another mystery of the painting unveils itself in the way Rembrandt handled the protagonists’ gaze. All the men in the picture are looking elsewhere, and not the body that is being dissected. Even the eyes of Dr. Tulp himself, the one presiding over the procedure, are directed at someplace else. The anatomy lesson in which nobody is looking where they are supposed to look surely seems like an impossible lesson.

At the time of the painting’s creation, anatomy classes were regularly conducted on the bodies of criminals. It was a kind of post-mortem damnation on those who committed crimes. In this sense, starting the procedure from the criminal’s hand is befitting. The averting gazes of the men in the picture seem to be suggesting that even the act of looking at the body of a sinner was regarded as a sin, almost equivalent to death. Here, Rembrandt circumvents behind the men’s gaze. By making sure that nobody is directly staring into the body, he eliminates the possibility of staring death in the face. The device of averting gaze, or the problem of transparency in Rembrandt's paintings reflects the perception of reality of the time — the perception of death, even. The problem of transparency is closely linked to the theme of my works.

The conception of the Suicide Club project is indebted to a passage from The Map and the Territory, a novel by a French novelist Michel Houellebecq. This novel mentions the Dignitas clinic located in Switzerland. The death clinic, as depicted in the novel, cremates the bodies of its patients after their assisted suicides and illegally discharges the dust into Lake Zurich. As a result, the population of Brazilian carps inhabiting the lake grows exponentially, leading to a series of ecological and social problems in the region.

I have created Suicide Club in collaboration with L`assaut de la menuiserie in Saint-Étienne in September 2016. It was an exploratory performance work, a sort of quest in search of the legendary Brazilian carp. The Suicide Club begins by posting a classified ad in a local newspaper calling for volunteers and subsequently embarking on a fishing quest with the volunteers to Lake Zurich. In the process, the volunteers shared with one another their ideas, fears, and memories concerning death and wrote short essays on their own demise.

The Brazilian Carp is a kind of an artistic sequel to the Suicide Club and attempts to take on the problem of transparency under today’s cultural climate — the very issue that Rembrandt addressed with his averting gaze techniques. This project puts flesh on the bones of the Brazilian carp, a literary object. The so-called averting gazes in this project will be funneled into a single narrative, which will be finalized in the form of a scenario for a TV series or a feature film. The process and the outcome of this artistic research including the scenario will be put on display in the document-oriented exhibition format.