Acquired from the above by the present owner
Carol Rama in conversation with Corrado Levi and Fillipo Fossati, September 1996, published in: Exh. Cat., Barcelona, Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (and travelling), The Passion According to Carol Rama, 2014-17, p. 227.
In 1996, Carol Rama was asked which of her paintings she would give to the person she liked most. Her answer was: “The Mad Cow” (Carol Rama in conversation with Corrado Levi and Fillipo Fossati, September 1996, published in: Exh. Cat., Barcelona, Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (and travelling), The Passion According to Carol Rama, 2014-17, p. 235). Created during the last decades of her life, the Mucca Pazza – or Mad Cow – paintings are at once a social-cultural response to the BSE outbreak in the UK and a carnal reimagining of human-animal embodiment. For Rama, these cherished paintings were in fact envisaged as extraordinary self-portraits: “extraordinary not because they are beautiful, but the idea of these tits and bull dicks, this way of seeing the anatomy of everybody in shared parts, extreme” (Ibid.). Part-animal, part-human, part-meat, part-desirous sexual object, Rama’s discombobulated anatomy presents a vision of embodiment as post-human and diseased: a sea of contaminated organs and uncontrollable drives.
Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) – commonly known as mad cow disease – was first identified in the UK in 1986; by 1992 it had become a widespread ecological disaster. In the UK 5 million cattle were slaughtered in a measure to halt the spread of disease – the genesis of which is thought to have developed as a result of using contaminated sheep, goat, and even cow carcasses in animal feed; the livestock industry was effectively turning herbivorous animals into forced cannibals. The feared risk of transmission to humans, through the consumption of contaminated beef and offal, unfortunately proved well-founded: in 1995 the first cases of BSE’s human mutation, variant-CJD (Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease), were reported. A disease that attacks the central nervous system, this degenerative neurological illness is untreatable and fatal in both animals and humans. Carol Rama was captivated by the epidemic, which at the time was characterised by its all-pervasive and fear-mongering press coverage. By the late 1990s, disturbing images of cows foaming at the mouth with convulsing heads and trembling limbs, found their way onto television screens worldwide. Footage of the slaughterhouses where animals were killed and processed into fodder for animal feed was broadcast, as was the mass culling and incineration of infected cattle. In Rama’s imagination it was the hysterical proximity between human and animal – the mutation of an animal disease and its infection of human beings – that made it such a perfect last subject.
Painted on a US mail bag, Rama’s jumbled cow-parts are pitched against an object tied to the systems of mass commerce. This artefact of human industry thus serves to reinforce the socio-economic petri-dish – i.e. the livestock industry – that cultivated and brought the BSE crisis into being. It also serves to underline the imminence of animal-to-human cross-contagion owing to the perversion of natural laws. In these works Rama ominously suggests that disastrous biological consequences are in the mail for humankind.
On the other hand, Rama revels in the liberation of a fragmented and dismembered post-human body. The bodily forms on view in the Mucca Pazza, at once animal and human, male and female, healthy and ill, overturn the established symbolism of limiting symbolic binaries. Herein, Rama bestows a new imagistic identity onto the psychoanalytical concept of ‘hysteria’ that is appropriate for the twenty-first-century. Curator and art historian Beatriz Preciado explains this in further detail: “In Carol Rama, the mad cow is the post-human figure of hysteria. Just as disciplinary modernity made the female body hysterical, in the late twentieth-century pharmacopornographic societies it is the animal that is constructed as hysterical. The trembles of the cows shaking their large udders, filmed in European slaughterhouses, are like the hysterical spasms photographed in the Salpêtrière by Charcot’s photographic team” (Beatriz Preciado, ‘The Phantom Limb. Carol Rama and the History of Art’, in: ibid., p. 33). The early psychoanalytical symbiosis of unchecked femininity and rampant sexuality in a diagnosis of hysteria underwent dramatic metamorphosis in Rama’s imagination. Akin to Louise Bourgeois, who substituted the hysterical female body for male in works such as The Arch of Hysteria (1993), Rama replaces the dangerous female eroticism of the hysterical body with a display of diseased animal meat as an object of sexual desire. Overturning normative fictions of desire, corporeality, gender, and sexuality, Carol Rama’s Mucca Pazza usher in a radical animalism that liberates from taboo and forges a new symbolic realm in which to represent embodied existence. As Rama has proclaimed: “The mad cow is me, and this has given me a joy, an extraordinary joy” (Carol Rama in conversation with Corrado Levi and Fillipo Fossati, September 1996, published in: ibid., p. 227).
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