Situationist, urban project

Gare St. Lazare area
Paris, France: June 1999

Housebroken, 1999, was a participatory project with medical doctors who received weevil infested bread-bowls in exchange for conversation about wellness. Weevils are bugs that feed on flour. Thousands of bowls cast in bread dough that I had fabricated for my Tower-Tour project (1997) were infested. This situation spawned the Housebroken project.The animation shows a weevil moving from hole to hole where weevils deposit their larvae and reproduce in an endless cycle.
Housebroken, 1999, close-up view of packaged, weevil infested bowls cast in bread, ready for delivery to project participants.
Housebroken, 1999, view of packaged, weevil infested bowls cast in bread, ready for delivery to project participants.
Housebroken, 1999, Paris map showing the route to be taken for the delivery of weevil infested bowls cast in bread to project participants.

I build model cities. My building blocks are bread-bowls baked in a baker's oven. The bread-bowl is a visual marker that refers back to the origins of civilization and the first cities. I use it to explore contemporary notions of place, where "the principle of containment no longer serves a self-evident prerequisite of order. Instead, place as container breaks up and in so doing discloses the problematic consequences of an ordering that can no longer be taken for granted”. (Samuel Weber)
Cereal insects known as weevils invaded the bread-bowls. These creatures began consuming the Model City from the inside out. This chance event instigated the psychogeographical project: "Housebroken" (as in braking and entering a dwelling).
"Housebroken" involved the participation of medical doctors practicing in Paris. 20 doctors received infested, vacuum-packed bread-bowls and an invitation to participate in a discussion about wellness in the urban environment.
Conversations about medical disorders, gave way to discussions about social disorders. My aim was to build a space for speculation.

The project involved:
The map: A trajectory was marked out within a concentrated area of a Paris map around Gare St. Lazare, where streets are named after world cities (Milan, Budapest, Madrid...)

The real space of the city: On-site investigation of these streets, revealed the names and telephone numbers of 20 medical specialists, posted at the threshold of their office building.

"La (de) marche": Following the trajectory marked out in the city map, a vacuum-packed tower of bread-bowls addressed to each doctor was delivered, on July 8th '99, at their doorstep with the following note:

A project description and a request for a participatory reply were included.

Each doctor was asked to contribute a reply to two questions:

1) What destiny do you reserve this infested object?

2) How do you, as a medical specialist, define the frontier between order and disorder?

Project by: Pat Badani,
team members: Petra Brand and Jacky Idée

With the assistance of: Jocelyne Hubert, Carole Théot, Jann Martel, Sybille Badamie et la Société MULTIVAC, Petra Berger, Dr. Michael Bravo / Dr. Monique Horvitz / Dr. Marc Perez.


Transcriptions & translations of three sample conversations:

Interview with Dr. Marc Perez:
(excerpts of the interview transcribed and translated from French to English)

Pat's question: ...these bowls are made of organic matter and they would normally disintegrate by themselves, however in this instance, the process has been accellerated because they have recently been infested by an epidemic of weevils. I would like to use this example for us to talk about two things: the subject of epidemics in humans and how we combat them, and the relation between host and parasite.

Dr. Perez's answer: But, we all have parasites. Our body is full of microbes. If one gets sick, it's not because one has microbes...these are already there. It is because our self-repairing system is not functioning. Let me explain. There are parasites, yeast, viruses and bacteria. There are many things that can "eat you up". In the case of the bowl there are worms. In our bodies, we also have "worms". In the present day, our bodies defend themselves poorly because people, instead of healing themselves depend on someone else...A doctor who in turn works for pharmaceutical firms who sell the "good" medicines for profit.

Pat: could we talk more about how the sciences give themselves the right to transgress...

Dr. Perez: There are things that should be stopped. There ought to be limits...however if there are none, nature will impose them. Nature sooner or later declares an alarm signal. When one witnesses genetic manipulations it is alarming! On the one hand it is very good that this can be used to cure people who suffer genetic disease and malformations...but on the other hand, this should stop here. However, nature will sanction things. As with the case of the "crazy cow" or the case of the chickens or the salmon...There are things that are very good, and then others that are monstrous. Progress is fine, but we should always be vigilant about the "human".

Pat: How about the disorder that we identify with sickness?

Marc: There are two types of sicknesses...There is a percentage of people who are clinically sick, and another percentage who are not. These last ones are in good "clinical" health but they suffer anyway, and these make up the majority of people whom I see during the week. There are people who have serious phobias, who are manic-depressive and these need treatment as well. But for the most part, a lot of people who come to see me are just little neurotics. They come to make themselves more beautiful, they come to hear that they are not really sick...these people are not really sick, they come to get information. This is the easy part because my role is a pedagogical one, I explain, I reassure... Then, you have those who have real sicknesses, mental sicknesses, malformations, anomalies...they are really sick because they deviate from the norm. There are malfunctions caused by life circumstances, even social malfunctions...and the only way to cure these is to change the situation that is causing it...this is not always easy...

Interview with Dr. Monique Horvitz:
(excerpts of the interview transcribed and translated from French to English)

Dr. Horvitz: When I received your vacuum-packed bowl with weevils, I really questioned myself with regards to my very own concerns...not so much the question of CHAOS, for me, the question does not lie there but rather in LIFE or DEATH. It's the death of an art-work in opposition to what would normally occur, an art-work being, in theory, less ephemeral than us.

The bowl is container and continent, and this is where it all lies. Bread and bowls are the most ancient and primal of objects surrounding nourishment.

When I see these things disappear, this makes me think of the death of beings...of the insecurity that the death of something evokes, be it the death of art-works, or the death of grand and great human constructions, such as the Tower of Babel and others.

Within the vision of ruins, such as the Greek ruins, we can clearly see that they are not destroyed...they are vestiges of time, but the ruin that disappears completely... now, this makes me think of death, death of man, death of humanity.

There is a whole inner life that is gone. An internal remembrance, as if the old walls, the old walls that have become something else, to which one gives a apartment... an art-work ...(because inanimate objects have a soul that one appropriates) all of this is gone. An art-work is something that is transmitted, there is something affective, emotional that is established between the work and a is the same for an apartment, or a building...I come back to this...and in fact, their destruction would obliterate their remembrance, this would break memory, break the thing and the memory. It is not only a question of the destruction of an art-work, but also the destruction of the memory in those who had seen, known, appropriated, loved or hated the work. So, this globalizes many more things than just the destruction of the work itself, of an is the destruction of memory.

What troubles me most, is the idea of a cosmic destruction, of a planetary destruction...the idea of destruction worries me much more than the idea of an epidemic. As a doctor, I am trained to deal with an epidemic, I know I can fight it...but the menace of a planetary destruction is not something I can deal with.

With regards to the bowl, I often look at the object to see if it has changed, and to what extent it has changed. I ask myself: "Have I looked well enough?", and as a result I have posed myself questions on my own perception about this object...and about other things.

So, I have asked myself: "What have I at my disposal to know what I see, to know what I retain about what I see, and, what is my remembrance?"

And then, "What does one do with the perception one has of others?"

One has a need to remember, but our sensory and memory tools are incapable of giving us an answer.

Everyone wants their piece of remembrance. One sees accumulations of photos in people's homes; photos of holidays, etc., but then, what is the use of all this? if our own memory were not sufficient to STORE all of this. We need to STORE...and everybody takes the same is also a means to assure ourselves that we exist. When one sees something that possibly will break up, desegregate (like this bowl with weevils), one asks oneself if one sees what one saw yesterday...and then you tell yourself to observe more carefully.

More than the relationship between Host and Guest to me, what is at stake here (your project, your being here, the bowl), is communication between people. It is more about the relationship between people. Relationships within society. The correlation that there could be between people...

There is an object that you circulate...and words around an object that will circulate. What does one do? It is a question. And the thing in question is LIFE or DEATH, it's SUFFERING. For me, all our questionings are summarized within those three words. How does this circulate between people...What do people do?...How do people get do they enter in communication with each other?...Do they appreciate each other or not? It is something that ties people together, people need this link.

What is the frontier between order and disorder? Well...there are millions of possibilities. As a doctor, I personally think that I must keep myself open to all kinds of deviations, and to every type of problem. I am aware that I have a particular perspective as a Dr. in Paris, in this particular epoch. But if I were a Dr. in Abidjan or in Asia, I would have another set of references, I would maybe have other values and references regarding sickness. I might see people with the same diseases in a different way. In Psychiatry, order and disorder are much more clear that in clinical medicine.

The idea of sickness, and sickness itself is deeply linked to culture. Order? The Norm?...well...for me sickness is not just: "you're well or you're unwell" is much more complex than that....the frontier...WAW...there is no frontier...ultimately, there are frontiers only when there are labels.

E-mail response from Osvaldo Rosato:

Thanks for your we-evil-bowl. My first impulse was to eat the bowl for breakfast, but thinking of possible hospitalization in one of the city wards, I thought of throwing it away, however, giving thoughts on the possibilities of contamination, I decided to turn it over to a friend in a biomedical laboratory who is presently working on GM ,that is: Genetic Manipulation.

After weeks of thought and test tube consumption we set our goal on a vaccine to cut once and for all with corruption. This will be a CK (Cure or Kill) vaccine based on our own genetic manipulation technology of weevil's brain cells involving G231 and A031 (Guanine and Adenosine) positions in the chromosomes. We will be working hard this next few years.

The description above deals with your first question ("What destiny do you reserve this object?"). I will keep you posted on the developments.

As to your second question ("How do you define the frontier between order and chaos within your profession?"), the medical profession will never be able to answer that, so I turned to somebody I know, who works in the Physics Department at a nearby University. He told me that there is no such thing as a frontier but rather a continuum between chaos and order. Chaos is part of a much broader concept that involves Entropy. Entropy is, according to my friend's own terms, "el grado de despelote de un sistema fisico aislado" (that is the degree of disorder in an isolated physical singularity). And this one augments for ever and ever. This means that eventually, in centuries from now, you end up as a heat wave. That is the end of story: order is not a frontier but a state you have to work towards, because disorder (entropy) pulls eternally in the opposite direction. If not, try to leave your place with no housekeeping for a week and you'll kick soda cans, plastic cups, pizza boxes all over the place!

This is all. When the time of my human field-testing arrives, I hope you will sign up for the experiment. Who knows if you will survive CK?

E-mail response from Alain Reinaudo:
1: Quelle destinée réserveriez vous a un tel objet?
RECEPTACLE FAMILIAL POUR LES CENDRES DES DEFUNTS: Chaque pot contient les cendres d'un membre proche de la lignée. Le dernier pot reste chaque fois ouvert à la vie en attente du prochain défunt . Si le dernier de la lignée s'éteint sans descendance le dernier pot reste vide a jamais, sinon la colonne augmente sans fin.
2: Comment définissez-vous la frontiére entre l'ordre et le chaos?
C'est l'in-categorisable le perméable aux codes et aux normes. LE METEQUE Un être caméléon qui emprunte tous les masques et glisse entre toutes frontiéres, qui ne se laisse jamais identifier, qui s'ouvre à toutes les expériences et à tous les genres, toujours EN DEHORS semblant être EN DEDANS.