Alix Villanueva’s exhibition “…hair strewn and tangled feet…” is the fourth of a series of MFA solo shows in Tent Gallery.
The exhibition interprets the yet-to-be-defined term “cosmoecology,” which first caught Alix’s attention in Despret and Meuret’s “Cosmoecological Sheep and the Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet.” The term gestures to how each being’s way of living and dying impacts on an other’s. The prefix “cosmo” alludes to the making of worlds, as well as celestial bodies and associated beliefs. For this reason, Alix uses “cosmoecology” to explore how folklore and the ‘strange’ might be used to make sense of a contemporary ecological moment riddled with uncertainty.
In order to enable a vision in which ghosts and witches act as ecological agents, the exhibition enlists three anthropocentric ghosts, the fragments of a conflicted healing ritual and an attempt on paper at thinking about ‘cosmoecology’.
The ghosts, sooty and exhausted, loom in the first room. They are greasy, from having been conceived in buckets of discarded fat. They are oily and dark, gesturing to oil-spills and destruction, and at the same time, they are aquatic, organic in their shapes. Their materiality is anchored in ‘excess,’ all that oozes from surplus, from waste, from used up coffee grounds and ‘chippy’ fat…
Midway between the two exhibits sits a disruptive thought, over-spilling on its pages, uneasy and calling for a radical re-centering. It begs for a disruption of narratives of success, which prove toxic to environmental health, interspecies relationships but also and very often other humans.
Within the main exhibition space, between the two glass walls, “A Healing at Cramond” is re-staged. Part of Alix’s last solo show, this time the installation is in the open gallery space.
The exhibit holds the vestiges of a ritual.
In attempting to explore how chronic pain experienced by an individual might actually be understood on an ecological scale, a healing ritual has been carried out on polluted shores of Cramond. Chronic pain often leads the suffer to look for alternative sources of healing, as very little answers are given by modern medicine on the cause or cure of such ailments.
In Scottish and Irish literature, the Cailleach Bhéara, the witch figure, the hag, the healer, does not offer direct remedies to ailments – no direct fix. Rather, she points out the disharmonies between this world and the Otherworld, the sacred natural. Such disharmonies are suggested to be the root cause of ill health. With that in mind, the chronic pain suffered by one becomes cosmoecological. Rather than existing as one individual person’s suffering, it engages with “multiple beings, gods, animals, humans, living, and dead, each bearing the consequences of the other’s ways of living and dying” (Despret and Meuret 26).
The folklore does not replace the science , but rather re-positions the way in which the pain is thought about. It is not contained ; it does not belong solely to the individual. It must be thought about holistically, bringing in causality and effect, examining how we live, how we interact with the entanglements we are part of rather than as an individual.
Ó Crualaoich, Gearóid. The Book of the Cailleach: Stories of the Wise Woman Healer. Cork University Press, 2006.
Despret, V. and Meuret, M. “Cosmoecological Sheep and the Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet.” Journal of Environmental Humanities, vol. 8, no.1, 2016, pp. 24-36