In 2000, Marco Evaristti, a Copenhagen-based and internationally renowned artist and architect, first exhibited ‘Helena’. ‘Helena’ was an art installation featuring ten blenders, each filled with water housing a goldfish, positioned on an ordinary kitchen table. The blenders were visibly connected to a power source, making the rules of the game implicitly set out from the start. Anyone who pressed the ‘on’ button on the blender would result in the liquidising of a live fish.
This work caused unprecedented controversy and still raises questions about the use of animals in contemporary art. It was considered one of the most controversial artwork of the past twenty years involving live animals.
What is the main purpose of the concept of destruction in the arts?
The main purpose of the concept of destruction in the arts is to create value.
While an engineer’s principal objective is to create, artist and researchers have oft reverse this underlying principle and instead explore destruction. Artists explore destruction as a form of raising one’s excitement through irreversible consequences which in turn creates an unusual and personal experience for the participant. The concept of destruction brings about the transience of art. Destruction is able to convert a material value into a social value by generating a conversational artefact that allows the owner to engage with an audience. Thus, destruction inherently not always negative. Destruction could indeed be positive.
We believe that this counter-intuitive insight would not have been possible without reversing the intuitive statement “creation creates value” to the counter-intuitive statement “destruction creates value”.
This is an excerpt from the paper “Destructive Games: Creating Value by Destroying Valuable Physical Objects” by David Eickhoff, Stefanie Mueller, and Patrick Baudisch.
In relation to the concept of destruction to create value, ‘Helena’ applies a similar theory. Marco Evaristti uses the “destruction” of goldfishes to raise awareness on how one acts in regards to one’s sense of morality. There are no rules or instructions at his installation, the blenders are only switched on at a participant’s will, it is entirely up to the participant’s morality to interact with the installation very well knowing that they will probably “destroy” the goldfish.
What effect do irreversible consequences have on the participants of the artwork?
The irreversibility of consequences increases the risk and excitement of the destructive experience. The irreversible consequences make a participant’s decision in “real time” and a crucial factor in the outcome of the destruction process. However, research from the paper “Destructive Games: Creating Value by Destroying Valuable Physical Objects” has revealed that the fascination of destruction itself is not enough to outweigh the loss of the participants. Destruction has to create value that exceeds the value of a participant’s damaged objects in order for them to enjoy the artwork. This can be seen through the game of destructive Tug-of-War.
In ‘Helena’, Marco Evaristti categorised his participants into three groups “The idiot, who pushes the button; the voyeur, who loves to watch; and the moralist, who will judge the action”. Despite the difference in actions, each participant still causes the same results and irreversible consequences which in turn becomes a lasting memory for them which they will share in conversations, be it good or bad.
What value does destruction bring to the artwork?
The interaction of each participant during the destruction experiment inevitably becomes a lasting memory for them and is bound to affect them positively or negatively. Such a unique experience oft turns into a conversational topic, creating a social value out of the destruction. The value of destruction is what it in creates.
Marco Evaristti believed that it was sometimes necessary to sacrifice one means for the sake of another. To him, the lives of the goldfishes were a necessary means to reveal and raise awareness of the social mechanism that he found out of balance.
You can view my presentation through the link below: