Diana Policarpo “Les filets d’hyphes” at Crac Occitanie, Sète

“Les filets d’hyphes (Nets of Hyphae)” interweaves several stories and representations linked to the use, at the edge of modern medicine, of plants, fungi and bacteria by women and minorities, as a form of alternative knowledge and technology giving access to one’s own body. With a collection of videos, sound pieces and silkscreen prints on fabric, Diana Policarpo explores the history of Claviceps purpurea, also known as ergot of rye, a fungus that lives as a parasite on grasses, and was the cause of St. Anthony’s Fire disease in the Middle Ages. Ingestion of this fungus, present in the rye used for making bread, provoked burns and hallucinations.

Ergot of rye was traditionally used in small doses by women to facilitate childbirth or abortions, or to treat post-partum bleeding. This curative knowledge practiced by healers and midwives was broadly wiped out by the hegemonic narratives produced by modern science, making way for obstetric medicine as a patriarchal tool for the control and reproduction of bodies. Albert Hoffmann’s discovery of LSD in the 1930s and the synthesis of ergot in the laboratory ended up rendering invisible a completely different epistemology, the oral history not only of the transformation and alchemical processes of this parasite, but also of interspecies relations that feminist activists are attempting to find again and revive in artisanal workshops dedicated to gender hacking and DIY gynaecology.

The exhibition “Les filets d’hyphes (Nets of Hyphae)” by Diana Policarpo at the Crac Occitatnie is an extension—a parasite!—of “Minuit (Meia-Noite),” 4th Coimbra Biennial 2021–22, as part of the France-Portugal Season. In constructing this biennial, guest curators Filipa Oliveira and Elfi Turpin were inspired by a colony of bats living in the Biblioteca Joanina in Coimbra. This 18th century library—a treasure of the University of Coimbra—was erected as an imperialist gesture aiming to encapsulate European knowledge and support the colonial project. This fortress of knowledge (and power) is also the refuge of a small colony of nocturnal animals: bats, which found an ideal habitat in the library’s ecological conditions. The insects and worms that live in the 55,000 books feed the bats, while the nocturnal silence gives them unlimited freedom. Night is when they come out of their hiding place and get work, hunting bibliophile insects and protecting the books from a slow destruction.

Elfi Turpin & Filipa Oliveira

at Crac Occitanie , Sète
until July 31, 2022

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