Grace Woodcock: GUT-BRAIN

17 September - 31 October 2020
Castor is pleased to present GUT-BRAIN, Grace Woodcock’s debut London solo show which examines the gut’s role as the original brain, 1960s space-age aesthetic and soft furnishing.
“When you go back to creatures with the first nervous systems, they are creatures whose whole bodies were fundamentally an intestine. So they were floating digestive systems, and the very first thing that nervous systems were able to do is peristalsis, the ability to make the gut move along so that food could move along in that tract.”

Antonio Damasio
If the gut is the original brain, peristalsis is its drive. Influenced by trillions of microbes, the steady rhythm of muscles contracting and releasing in the intestinal tract dictates our subconscious instincts and feelings.  Peristaltic waves govern how we experience agency, reality and desire.

Peristalsis functions through the mechanism of contract and release, which also lends itself as a sensory paradigm for our perception of desire as tension. The organic body/agent is driven by this ever-multiplying, unresolvable physical charge. It’s an urge for release manifesting in its object, yet once fulfilled it simultaneously annihilates itself only to regenerate again. Desires are generated by a mixture of cues from our internal and external ecosystems all outside of our control. Our imagination and awareness of our limitations shape our consciousness through exposure to information (people we met, things we saw and what we experienced), alongside the microbes, bacteria and other elements within our complex internal sensorium, in our gut, in our brain.

Much like the millions of microbes and bacteria in our bodies, desire is viral; its goal is to procreate and to replicate itself into more desire. It’s a messy, porous, desperate knot of flesh pulsing through an intestine, eternally contracting and releasing. Fuelled by fetish, fear, fantasy, taboo, bacteria, muscle and nerve, we are propelled into actions just as messy, complicated, alive and uncontrollable.

To gain control over the paradox of desire has been both a physical, social and intellectual exercise that reoccurs in most social bodies. This manifests in religion,Western philosophy, or the mandates of law and order but it is also expressed through direct interventions into the individual body through diets, hormones, medication and surgical procedures. Perhaps this attempt for control is best expressed through our species’ recent attempts to excavate the supposedly autonomous human consciousness from flesh and isolate it within a machine or Artificial Intelligence in order to produce a more efficient , rational, disembodied reality.

Desire as a peristaltic, bodily sensation is unfamiliar to the artificial entity.It lacks the physical intelligence that comes with being a body in the world and within itself. The machine doesn't know what it isn’t or what it doesn't have — it is what it is and it knows what it knows, but is unaware of limitations. It might have a consciousness, but it does not have an imagination. The organic, pulsating tension of desire is unknown to it. We might try to control this unresolvable tension through uploading our consciousness into a machine; through condensing the gut, brain and spirit into a sterile screen and replacing our microbiome with data. But such an existence would be isolated from the physical, peristaltic cycle of desire driving so much of our current reality, aesthetics, intimacies and creativity.

Peristaltic waves of desire ripple through Grace Woodcock’s layered sculptures. Immersed within a 1960s-style sunken living room (first called ‘conversation pits’), the fleshy colour scape and pod-like environment of GUT-BRAIN gently shifts our focus inward. Woodcock’s pieces are simultaneously architectural and evoke bodily intimacy in immediate and more hidden ways. The works are a pristine expression of form, precisely designed and constructed with materials such as foam, silicone, Perspex and steel. However, the layers are subtly hijacked with traces of spirulina, pro and prebiotics and zinc oxide, charging them with organic energy as if they were live tissue. Both sleek and sensual, Woodcock’s sculptures capture the tension between texture and form, the artificial and the organic, control and desire.
by Sonja Teszler