Sven Druehl ::: Biography


According to some partly optimistic prognosis and scientific research results in biology and genetic engineering, we are entering an era of free combining of diverse living beings and direct blending of species: mice with human ears (thus far their ears are located on their backs), sheep-goats (sheep and goat hybrid), cow-dogs, etc. Anything seems possible, and of late even the creation of new, unthinkable superspecies. What only recently seemed to exist in the domain of legend and science fiction, now appears as just another version of ancient images encountered in all highly developed cultures that had tried to understand the strange and the incredible through the creation of a hybrid creature, or in better words, chimera. Currently, however, for the first time in history such hybrids ceased to be just figments of artistic imagination - they are produced by a real artistic act of natural scientists. A human or animal body and especially any hybrid produced thereof becomes a product of a new economically regulated biological and social force.

"Probably we shall evidence the creation of countless new chimera animals, including human-animal hybrids. For instance, a chimpanzee-human hybrid may soon become a reality. Human-animal hybrids may be widely used as laboratory animals in medical research work or as donors for organ transplant. Artificial production of clones, chimeras and transgenic animals could stop destructive abuse in the above spheres and start positive global biotechnological transformation." [1]

Only time will tell what will be sacrificed to human omnipotence mania - let's put any moral implications aside for a while - and what will remains unfulfilled.

This on-line version of the book "Biomediale. Contemporary Society and Genomic Culture" is not full. The unabridged edition can be purchased in printed form as anthology. Requests should be sent to: (full information) or in written form: 236000, Russia, Kaliningrad, 18, Marx str., The National Publishing House “Yantarny Skaz”. Phone requests: Kaliningrad +7(0112)216251, Saint-Petersburg +7(812)3885881, Moscow +7(095)2867666. On-line bookshop (in Russian): Full reference to this book: "Biomediale. Contemporary Society and Genomic Culture". Edited and curated by Dmitry Bulatov. The National Centre for Contemporary art (Kaliningrad branch, Russia), The National Publishing House “Yantarny Skaz”: Kaliningrad, 2004. ISBN 5-7406-0853-7

Further on, we shall apply the word "chimera" to all kinds of zoomorph creatures non-existent in nature. Chimeras combine qualities of different living organisms, natural objects (leaves, branches, etc.) in some new shape and form an organic substance, i.e. viable type (omitting so called "monsters" with their abnormalities, as well as human-machine hybrids from fantastic cyborg films). Chimerical junctions include hybrids of different people, human - animal, animal - animal, and animal - plant fusion, e.g. flying mammals, a man with an animal head or extremities - plants or their fragments. Anyway, the selection of such "component parts" is rather limited, as the form is always a figment of human imagination filtered by empirical reality and natural observations. Therefore, the main models are constantly recurring, and variants are limited to combinations (they may be called almost rational) of human bodies, different animals and plant organs. This fantastic fusion, however, is always abnormal. [3]

Chimera. Etruscan Art. 5 BC.

Further examination of certain motifs and contexts where chimeras have different qualities and roles provides evidence of the initial ambivalence of these creatures. Antique, Middle Age and New art often used the same language of forms, but their intentions were sometimes completely different. For instance, antique samples created to avert evil (apotropaic) are similar to modern creations used to ridicule modern reality. However, notwithstanding seemingly opposing functions, each case has several secondary aspects. Apotropaic motifs of antique gemmas are filled with allusions related to ancient understanding of the "reverse world" existing in broad comic context temporarily filtering social and world order. It is also important to warn against the mistake of interpreting modern comic fantastic constructions as magic amulets. Conceptual models as well as their possible interpretations are just as diverse as chimeras themselves and their combinations.

Fairy Entities. Apse fresco in St. Jacob in Castelac.

1. Mythological Images and Fantastic People
Mythological hybrids refer to the most well known forms of hybrid creatures. In great numbers centaurs, satyrs, and sphinxes decorate vases and vessels of Ancient Greece and Rome; they serve as sources of inspiration to artists, sculptors and graphic artists from ancient times. They can be found even in contemporary art works, e.g. Satyrs in films by Matthew Barney or sculptured Sirens by Kiki Smith.
To get at least some impression of the possibilities of combination, let us examine the structure of a few mythological constructions.

Basilisk: body of a cock, tail of a snake, sometimes a lion's head
Chimera: a lion in the fore, a goat in the middle and a dragon behind
Gryphon: a lion's body and a bird's head (winged or wingless)
Harpy: a woman's head and breasts, a bird's body, and a lion's paws
Centaur: a human body in front, the body and hind legs of a horse
Pegasus: a winged horse
Satyr: a man's body, a horse's tail and ears and sometimes hind legs
Siren: a bird's body, (a fish's body), a woman's head and breasts
Sphinx: a lion's body and human head, sometimes winged.

Historical changes in the above mythological creatures' semantics are really notable: positive could become negative and vice versa; they could change their composition and abilities; sometimes in the course of development their semantic field grew so broad that it gained contradictory characteristics. Say, Basilisk was regarded as a symbol of intrepidness, sin and even the sign of the antichrist. [4] Pegasus, the winged horse, depending on the context and environment, was interpreted as a symbol of eloquence, poetry, inspiration on the one hand, and courage and military art on the other hand, i.e. either it inspires creative spirit, or guarantees victory. [5] Chimera, our conceptual common noun, originally symbolized three parts of a holy year (a lion as a symbol of spring, a goat as a symbol of summer, and a dragon as a symbol of winter), later in the Romance period, Chimera personified dark and demonic forces, and finally, in Symbolism it became an allegory of the surreal and fantastic. [6]
Besides, in antique mythology there are composite creatures that are hybrids for only a certain period of time or under certain circumstances as Odysseus' companions turned by Circe into swine; they are sometimes represented as men with the head of a pig in vase painting. Some artistic representations are purely humorous, in other words, hybrid creatures were purposefully used to ridicule opponents - notably, the terracotta statuette of Athena with a pig's head or the prominent pompeian mural painting of Aeneas's flight from Troy. Aeneas, his father Anchises, and his son Ascanius are represented with a dog's head. In ancient culture dogs were regarded as foul animals; Romans called all flatterers and sycophants "dogs." Thus, the heroic story of Aeneas, because of this hybrid form, is put into a comic context and a very symbolic one, taking into account that many Romans (including Julius Caesar and Augustus) were proud to claim their descent from Aeneas, a hero notable for his valor. [7] Another ancient hybrid representation unambiguously put into comic context is a mock statuette of Hercules. This bronze figure of about 5 cm tall shows a thin and exhausted man with a club in his hands raised to strike. Notably, he is going to strike a hydra coming out of his genitals with many phalluses instead of her traditional heads. According to Amelung, this queer creature is a comical symbol of man's hopeless struggle with lust and at the same time, a parody on Hercules: meaning his second Labour - the slaying of the nine-headed Hydra. [8]
Most ancient representations of human-animal hybrids (as a rule they have a human body and an animal head) are human substitutes, i.e. parodies on human beings, their deeds and characters. [9] They became the cornerstone of the use of hybrids in modern times, say, as a political cartoon or satire.

This on-line version of the book "Biomediale. Contemporary Society and Genomic Culture" is not full. The unabridged edition can be purchased in printed form as anthology. Requests should be sent to: (full information) or in written form: 236000, Russia, Kaliningrad, 18, Marx str., The National Publishing House “Yantarny Skaz”. Phone requests: Kaliningrad +7(0112)216251, Saint-Petersburg +7(812)3885881, Moscow +7(095)2867666. On-line bookshop (in Russian): Full reference to this book: "Biomediale. Contemporary Society and Genomic Culture". Edited and curated by Dmitry Bulatov. The National Centre for Contemporary art (Kaliningrad branch, Russia), The National Publishing House “Yantarny Skaz”: Kaliningrad, 2004. ISBN 5-7406-0853-7

Neither hybrids canonized in mythology, nor undefined composite creatures were interpreted as pure figments of the imagination or traditional symbolic fabulous beings. Rather, they were thought as really existing. Clearly, even in ancient times there were rational philosophic schools that gave allegoric interpretation to myths and mythological monsters and produced philosophic models to explain the origin of such monsters, but ordinary people denied their skepticism. The majority of ancient people firmly believed in these hybrids. [12] Medieval people went even further, because they had special reasoning:

"The medieval conscience refused to differentiate between the fantastic figments of the imagination and the real creations of nature, as on the one hand, such a difference is not evident in the Bible, and on the other hand, the popular opinion interpreted the essence of a subject from its name. Words name real things. The Dragon, therefore designated the real doubtless existing dragon, and the "Cynocephali" were the real dog-headed men." [13]

Chimeras were real, because they had a name and could be clearly described. So if something can be named, it exists in the world, and not as some abstract idea, but in reality and tangibly.
This explains ancient and medieval belief in monstrous and weird peoples - acephalas (headless), two-headed, cyclops, sciapodes, gatocephaloi (cat-headed), etc. In their medieval encyclopedic writings, geographic works, cosmologies and traveling diaries Isidor of Seville, Albert the Great, Marco Polo, as well as Jean de Mandeville have listed and described a great number of such peoples inhabiting unknown lands. Among the best-known literary sources of information about these peoples are the celebrated Odyssee by Homer, Historia by Herodotus, and Historia Naturalis by Pliny. Wondrous animals and humans mentioned in these writings appear again later in the original reference book of fiction by Solinus (3rd century AD). Physiologus, a Greek work on animals (2nd century AD) is worth mentioning too, as it allegedly became a notable source for chimerical images of the Gothic and Romance periods. [14] Medieval bestiaries, i.e. well illustrated pseudo-scientific books, list and describe animals, hybrid creatures, and wondrous peoples as equal objects without any qualifying commentaries. Radical changes, however, started to take place in the 14th century, when a firm belief in such creatures finally gave rise to the first attempts at their moral and didactic interpretation. [15]

Top: Satyr and Sphinx. Red-figure crater from Paestum, 330 BC.
Bottom: Aeneas Parody. Wall painting.

Not only many books of the time were a source of knowledge about various types of chimerical creatures, but also arts and crafts, murals, carpets, mosaics, frescoes and armory. The Middle Ages show special affection for ancient grylloi in gemmas and seals, as well as in architectural decorations. Romance and Gothic decorative sculpture represented a lot more monstrosities as it followed the traditions of ornate ancient sanctuaries that had included lions' and gorgons' heads in decoration of ledges and columns already at that time. But it was only Roman and Gothic churches with their facades, window frames, waterspouts, consoles, frieze, cornices, etc., that finally became saturated with all the possible and impossible sorts of demonic hybrids. These creatures are so numerous that they really give some kind of terrifying impression. This is the world of struggle between good and evil, so evil is always represented here visually to let parishioners see and realize the constant temptation of sin they experience all the time. Hybrid creatures are quite a suitable contrast to the holy instructions of God. Chimeras are placed in the margins of the church on purpose. They should both frighten and warn believers, urging them to behave like Christians, to save their souls from evil and demonic traps (a visual catechism calling for repentance). [16] Many details of architectural decoration can be interpreted as symbols and put into ritual context. The most illuminating example thereof is the so-called gargoyle, a decorative end of waterspouts, mostly belonging to the Gothic period:

"Water spouting is similar to the ritual of spitting which in the Middle Ages was performed against the Devil, as well as defecation. Luther is known to praise defecation as the best way to deflect the devil, and that is the reason why all waterspouts are made in the form of an anus." [17]

It would, however, be a mistake to think that all hybrids had a symbolic meaning and represented demons. One should not underestimate the tendency to use these ornaments purely decoratively. This stable trend has become real fashion - the grotesque as decoration.

Agostino Veneziano. Italian Grotesque. 16th century.

2. The grotesque and other products of the imagination
The term grotesque is used to designate the combination of seemingly incompatible things; it is the mixture of ornamental decoration with fantastic combined creatures from the context of European mural painting, graphics and tapestry from the Renaissance to the middle of the 17th century. The grotesque, with its specific and unique language (syntax) is a shining example of filtering the comic into fine arts; it repeatedly pushes beyond the holy Renaissance maxims, such as the central perspective law, the laws of geometry, the study of perspective; frequent excesses therein were comic, but interpreted as the freedom of artistic expression. In modern language the word "grotesque" means something funny and absurd. At the end of the 15th century, however, la grottesca was used first of all to designate ancient decorations found at that time during excavations. [18] These decorations involve a lot of convolute or unfolded shoots and branches of plants with animals, humans and hybrids "growing" out of their leaves. This decorative trend was reborn, came into fashion and went through a lot of transformations in innumerable composite decorative artworks, from the famous Rafael's loggia (1516-1520) to mass graphic publishing products of Italy, France, Netherlands and Germany. The grotesque of the New Times is open to influence from Christian, mythological, pagan, erotic, profane contexts, and even obscenities; it reflects the whole range of medieval perception full of monstrosity, extravagance and fantasy. [19]

Francois Desprez. Illustrations for Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel, 1565.

The full disregard of the difference between plants and animals, as well as the law of static in pictures and plastic representations could be explained by the transformed, almost comic outlook (Weltanschauung) which utilized grotesque as its form of expression. [20]

"In our opinion, it is so important because under the guise of antiquity one grasps a stylistic principle which is opposite to what is simultaneously proved and demanded by the classic canon. Its originality could be stated by two laws: <…>: the denial of space and the mixing of genres, the weightlessness of forms and shameless increase of the hybrids number. Originally it is a vertical world entirely formed by a graphic performance without any solidity or weight, an amalgam of austerity and instability, resembling a dream. In this miraculously broken down vacuum there appear half-vegetable half-animal forms, and nameless creatures; they unite according to a lovely or forced movement of an ornament. Here an ambivalent feeling of freedom emerges from the real length with its weight power and from the order in this world which determines the difference between one creature and another." [21]

The ambivalent nature of the grotesque is expressed by the different insights into it, from the purely decorative to the supernatural. Unusual ornaments have always had both supporters and opponents; art critics' interpretations vary from "buffoon" and "funny" to "exquisite" and "lovely." [22] But not only the New Time showed its distrust of the revived genre. In the antique world there had been theorists who raised ideological objections. For example, the Roman architect Vitruvius wrote in his celebrated treatise De architectura (On Architecture) (in the chapter on wall painting):

Top: Hybrid Creatures on antique gemmas.
Bottom: Grotesque, 1637.

"Motifs borrowed by our forefathers from real life are rejected by today's corrupted taste, since modern people prefer to expose monstrous creatures on plastered surfaces for universal viewing than present natural objects. Thus, it is customary to erect some kind of reed stalks instead of columns and instead of sharp-cornered roofs to build curved ones ending up with curly leafs and soft scrolls; <…> further on we see flowers growing out of the stalks with half-figures - some human-headed, some animal headed - peeping out of each bell.
But such things do not exist in nature, it cannot give birth to them, and they had not existed before. This is where our new degenerate taste trend has brought us; the result is that owing to the foolishness of bad advisors feelings have closed to the genuine essence of art <…>. And even if people today do see these delusions with their own eyes, they do not denounce these dreadful things, but enjoy viewing them, without thinking whether such things could exist in reality or not. The degenerate taste of imbecile teachers of art is not any more capable of determining what could be amalgamated with the virtue and essence of artistic creation. Since the paintings that do not correspond to nature deserve no recognition and praise and even if they are beautifully done in terms of technical artistic skill, a favorable verdict should not be pronounced until it becomes absolutely clear that they have reproduced the models borrowed from nature without breaching the truth of nature." [23]

Gabriel Bodenehr, Jr. Monsieur de l'Yrognerie, abt 1700.

Here a principal dispute starts relative to one motif widespread in Roman art of the Flavius epoch: whether the main objective of art is to imitate reality or to produce deceptive illusions. This dispute is stirred up again at the peak of the grotesque period, in 1500-1650. Two incompatible opposites in art critics' debates are the principles of realism, ratio, on the one hand, and artistic freedom, fantasy, on the other. May an artist create fictitious creatures composed of other creatures' parts, chimeras, or should he reproduce only real ones? Do chimeras exist only because they can be imagined? The grotesque opponents refer to the above mentioned Vitruvius' opinion, while the grotesque supporters appeal to the authority of Roman poet Horace (65-8 BC), who in his celebrated The Epistles to the Pisos, (subsequently known as Ars Poetica) stands up for the freedom of art. According to Horace, a poet, as well as a painter, is given the greatest imaginable freedom. The epistles, however, are quite problematic in relation to grotesque with its multiple hybrids, because Horace makes the demand of serious painting to refuse representing hybrids, as they are groundless like feverish dreams, and, therefore, ridiculous. [24] The pros and cons… About one hundred years before the climax of the dispute on grotesque the Italian painter Cennino Cennini advocated imagination in his writing Il Libro dell' arte (The Craftsman's Handbook, 1437), because a painter created things no one had ever seen, to demonstrate that the nonexistent could have existed. Thus the problematic demand of Horace is called into question. The theorists' dispute is therefore endless. The opposing parties are uncompromising in their confrontation. The positions meet head-on. Hence, it makes it possible to conclude that the grotesque was a polarizing force and a too bold artistic statement (and not just an ornamental method) visualizing the pleasure taken in works of art, the pleasure that pushes beyond the reality and the conventionalities of art… In the 16th century grotesques were ubiquitous, the population was almost overwhelmed with all kinds of grotesque motifs in any decorative piece - walls and vaults, printed graphics and ceramics, arms and tapestry, wall paper, etc. Clearly, this caused deep aversion to those contemporaries who followed Renaissance principles:

Hieronymus Bosch. The Doomsday, abt 1504, fragment.

"The grotesque is highly suspicious, it renders the soul images that may be interpreted only as deceitful, silly, vain, imperfect, incredible, immeasurable, dark and exaggerated. Counter-reformation art does not need ornaments where the spirit strays in oddities." [25]

In spite of this, a genuine style of the subversive and the extravagant appears, without which the art of Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450-1516) would be unthinkable ultimately. His works represent chimerical creatures in great abundance that following generations of painters were unable to repeat. Bosch has transferred chimeras from the periphery of grotesque (almost a trade by that time) to paintings on wood. Henceforth even high art swarms with hybrid creatures; it is fraught with mysterious hints and bold symbols. Bosch is a great mysterious person; almost nothing is known of his life. We do not know where he learnt his trade, what art works he studied, and moreover, what of them influenced him. Considering the historical circumstances of that time (the plague, belief in witchcraft, the Inquisition, etc.), the scale and sharpness of Bosch's work become quite clear. His paintings, however, are difficult to translate; there are numerous interpretations of his works, many of them contradict each other and some today are beneath any criticism. [26] Bosch strikes the imagination with his terrifying nightmares inspired by Christian themes, from The Temptation of St. Anthony to The Doomsday, at the same time surprising the spectator with the most curious and satirical symbols in the history of art. He seems to have known the images of all hybrid creatures since antiquity, just recalling them to arrange and present his own iconography. Bosch's paintings representing the medieval outlook to the maximum extent, including the understanding of demonic forces permeating the medieval conscience, present an extreme and harsh contrast with the masterpieces of such Great Masters as Michelangelo and Da Vinci.

"The demonology of the Middle Ages is still unsurpassed, even provided that skepticism is given much freedom of action. Monsters and demons of Hieronymus Bosch should be interpreted in this area of unresolved doubts. It is quite permissible to invent them. If their reality could be imagined, then transformations and combinations of their parts, as well as grotesque distortions are so much in the realm of understandable reality, that they become inviolable." [27]

Jan Breughel /Velvet/. Juno in Hell, 1598, fragment.

Bosch was certainly not the first painter to represent hybrid creatures in easel painting. In Christian painting there are separate motifs of the kind included in the more general context, e.g. a serpent represented as a pangolin with a woman's head, like in the Fall of Man by Hugo van der Goes (1470), though it is quite uncommon among the iconography of the time. But only in Bosch's paintings hybrids are so numerous that their presence cannot be explained with only an appropriate motif. A certain pleasure taken from inventing these creatures is quite evident here. Bosch's paintings were so popular, that after his death there a lot of imitators appeared, the two best known among them being Jan Mandijn and Peter Huys from Antwerp. Much more interesting, however, were the works of his followers. Among them were such renowned painters as Pieter Breughel the Elder and his son, Jan Breughel. Pieter Breughel's Mad Gretta in its many hymeric details is reminiscent of Bosch's works. In his turn, Breughel the Younger represented a many hybrids in the best Bosch traditions in his series of paintings showing hell (the most representative example is the Juno in Hell). [28] Lucas Cranach (1471-1553) who had depicted an extremely effective hybrid creature in his notable Pope the Donkey (see next section) was so much impressed by Hieronymus Bosch, that in 1520 he made an exact copy of one of his versions of Doomsday preserving the proportions and the size of the original. [29] The most unusual combinations of chimeras dominate the works of all Bosch's followers. Surprisingly enough, such representations of hybrids still sank into oblivion in easel painting right at the highest point of their form development. The grotesque ceases to play any important role after 1650 (except for its direct influence on the arabesque and capriccio from Klinger to Goya), and chimeras find no place in the art of the Enlightenment, until reopened by symbolists and, finally, by surrealists. The rich chimera assortment, however, has not been completely forgotten and thrown away. It found its "new profession" with the spread of the printing press in the 17th and the 18th centuries in extremely popular satirical works, caricatures and political pamphlets.

Lucas Cranach. Pope the Donkey, abt 1496, the woodcut issued from Cranach's workshop after Wenzel von Olmutz's original work.

3. Chimera In Struggle
Ever since the appearance of human and animal hybrid representations, they have been used in the satirical genre either to entertain the public or to mock political opponents, shame corruption, etc. The intentional difference between the actual appearance of a person and its representation has always produced a comical effect. The very idea of comparing a human with an animal goes back to antiquity and can be found in many ancient fables. Different animals, animal-headed people or human-headed animals act like humans and thus substitute a man, and parody and mirror human actions. Thus, a monkey and a donkey are reputedly silly, a fox is sly, a peacock is vain, a pig is untidy, and so on, to the point of turning a common noun into the main characteristic metaphor (for instance, "turkey cock," "snake," etc.). This typology is purposefully used in fine arts as well. Hybrid images carry potential hints that in certain social contexts could be understood by anybody. These hybrids, therefore, are noted for their comparatively simple combinations, thus presenting sharp and clear satirical attacks (see the above mentioned Aeneas with a dog's head).

This on-line version of the book "Biomediale. Contemporary Society and Genomic Culture" is not full. The unabridged edition can be purchased in printed form as anthology. Requests should be sent to: (full information) or in written form: 236000, Russia, Kaliningrad, 18, Marx str., The National Publishing House “Yantarny Skaz”. Phone requests: Kaliningrad +7(0112)216251, Saint-Petersburg +7(812)3885881, Moscow +7(095)2867666. On-line bookshop (in Russian): Full reference to this book: "Biomediale. Contemporary Society and Genomic Culture". Edited and curated by Dmitry Bulatov. The National Centre for Contemporary art (Kaliningrad branch, Russia), The National Publishing House “Yantarny Skaz”: Kaliningrad, 2004. ISBN 5-7406-0853-7

The apex of hybrid caricature are works by Grandville (1766-1854), who came on the heels of the best British artists of the 18th century, Hogarth, Rowlandson and Gillray. Their drawings touch upon both political and important daily issues. Grandville's reputation was established with his human-animal analogies, as he worked through every detail of his hybrids; some of them are very expressive or have recognizable individual traits of the person represented by the hybrid.

Grandville. Political Poultry-Yard, 1831.

Grandville's artistic methods and character may be traced by the example of his satirical work Political Poultry-Yard (1831). The drawing teems with both different hints and unexpected political attacks. The historical subject is the following: after the French Revolution of 1830 the opposition accuses the July Monarchy of corruption. We, therefore, see some of the government members performing some unambiguous actions, and their named animal-headed representations add a certain critical viewpoint. Only Louis-Philippe, king of the French, and Philippe d'Orleans, pretender to the throne, are represented as humans, the rest of the characters are animal-headed. For instance, the Archbishop of Paris de Quelen and the spiritual director of the Queen are both raven-headed and represented in their canonicals, which is a direct hint to the clergy wearing black vestments. Queen Marie-Amelie and her true companion madam Adelaide stroll through the yard as two geese, the president of the council of ministers Perier is shown as a cock, Sebastiani, minister for foreign affairs, is a peacock, the naval minister is a bald-coot, and Mouton, commander of the National Guard, has the head of a guard dog. A sack of gold lies in front of his kennel instead of normal dog's food. The successor to the throne in a tricolor hat hands out purses with gold coins to duck-headed family members. His apron is full of orders, decorations and title letters that hint at too generous rewards criticized by the opposition. [32]
Grandville's masterly transformation of people into half-animals or, in other words, satirical hybridization, is still one of the professional methods of modern artists; it often appears in different qualitative representations in newspapers and magazines. Unfortunately, hybrids had practically no further development in this direction compared to their classic predecessors, and currently the social impact of a drawing is more important than an artist's resourcefulness. Fine arts became the most fruitful genre for chimeras through surrealists who had rediscovered Hieronymus Bosch.

4. Fantastic Creatures of 20th century Art
Modern art of the 20th century concentrates on the themes of humanity, nature, body, art, fragmentation, etc. Chimeras often play different roles in artistic expression. Among others, they are used to present dreams of future humans, and subconscious prototypes, where they symbolize the breakup of a subject or human "I", inconceivable forces of nature (evolution), the victory of nature over the human and vice versa (biotechnology), and sometimes they may be just an integral part of artistic poetic style.
Surrealists widely use diverse chimeras in their works, some as animate nature, like in Dorothea Tanning's Sunflower Landscape representing a humanoid sunflower who walks hand in hand with a girl at night, some as an indivisible human-plant hybrid, like in Remedios Varo's Vegetable Marionettes. It is evident that they fit the program to explore spiritual and psychological depths very well, as they are true prototypal images of the unknown, provoking the visualization of the impossible and the extravagant, they are dreams come true. The most notable are absurd hybrid images by Rene Margittes, this criminal among Surrealists, who uses the tactics of smeared borders, overturns, second meaning, and metamorphosis. In Fellows By Night owls grow from plants and with ironical distortion of the mythological tradition, some strange looking mermaid pushing beyond the traditional female torso with a fish's tail, has female feet and ass connected to a fish's torso and head. These are the "upturned world" images in the full spirit of antiquity.

Grandville. Primadonna, 1838.

Max Ernst has created his alter ego, a fantastic creature Loplop, which sometimes acts as the painter's agent or deputy, as a hybrid of human, vegetable and animal constituents. Leaves grow on the shoulders and hips of a human body with hands and feet, but with a bird's head. [33] In many of his paintings Ernst has hidden diverse human-plant hybrids in thick vegetation. As in the 16th century grotesques, vine branches stretch up ending with human heads, human palms or backs of torsos pop up here and there in the vast landscape, and animal and human bodies appear from leaves (comp. Marlen, 1940-1941, or Orchard Where Chimeras Live, 1936). His fascination with Bosch's monstrosities is so great, that he paints his own version of The Temptation of St. Anthony; he alludes to Bosch's chimeras, but surpasses them in complexity of composition: due to fluid transitions, it is sometimes hard to make out a head, a torso and extremities, so instead of the diversity of bodies there are only one solid body mass. The Toilet of Bride shows Ernst's passion for mythology and occult. The central female figure is dressed in a red feather gown and her head is covered with an owl-like hood; another figure stands naked with her head turned away. To the left, is a green human-bird hybrid in a stylized Renaissance space, to the right is another greenish hybrid looking pregnant with two pairs of breasts and masculine genitals. Hints are all over the place. Such painted puzzles arouse the fantasy of some esoteric interpreters greatly. Choucha, an esoteric researcher, for example, treats the human bird as the reproduction of the Ancient Egyptian Thoth, the predecessor of Hermes Trismegistos in the medieval alchemy. According to Choucha, the picture's name alludes to an alchemic process "undressing of a bride"; the red gown stands for prima materia - primary matter, and the headdress (owl) symbolizes wisdom. And further on:

"The bride is the dark goddess, the destructive and castrating female. The scene is charged with eroticism and violence, with fear and desire hand in hand in this claustrophobic sanctum." [34]

Max Ernst. The Toilet of Bride, 1939.

There is, however, no need to reach that far in deciphering. It is well known that Ernst was fascinated with hybrids' representations and used them to question reality, as well as to expand the multiple identities of things. He has, so to say, reanimated chimeras in art. Since then this motif was never cast into oblivion again, in many respects due to inspiring chimera-images created by Ernst and other Surrealists. This is especially true of fantastic Realism, which, however, brings no new artistic ideas. Much more fruitful and even acute is the dispute of the 1990s about new forms and organisms resulting from natural-science experiments. Many artists have lately asked themselves a question about their aims and functions in this problem area; not only Eduardo Kac attempts to make a desperate breakthrough to link fine arts and biotechnology with his transgenic creative activity. The result: hybrids have gained a high rating with modern artists again. Chimeras sometimes occupy the whole space of a picture; authors, however, are unwilling to give accepted or conventional explanations for such an appearance, like, for example, the artist Edgar A. Eubel. Anthropomorphism is present in almost all of his works, as well as human and animal forms growing together, springing up from emptiness, or combining with architectural or free forms. Some fantastic visions are, however, just trivial historical quotations, e.g. siren sculptures by Kiki Smith, who leaves no possibility of any transformation, and, consequently, any further interpretation, proposing simple illustrative actualization instead. Kiki Smith's Untitled (Roses) is just reminiscence about cultural heritage and its poetic interpretation with a mythological-Christian load: roses growing from a woman's back - must be some complex symbol.

Top: Rene Margitte. Fellows By Night, 1942.
Bottom: Rene Margitte. Collective Invention, 1934.

In some other cases, however, quite new patterns appear. Paul McCarthy's Spaghetti Man, a creature with a man's body, excessively large plush-hare head and a 40-feet removable penis, is definitely a hybrid from some funny dream. Sexuality, masculinity, role behavior, power structures, social reality and fine arts - all these themes are addressed here, but most important is their dispute, which becomes a separate subject matter. The hybrid is a projection surface for varied multiple identities, chosen and utilized extremely subjectively. McCarthy treats art as an area for ironical desublimination: it goes back to (unsatisfied) sexual instinct; so individuals with enormous green apple-heads (absurd treatment of fantastic ideas of alien peoples) in Apple Heads on Swiss Cheese have abnormally huge genitals. Even the art market is ridiculed, because, in the end result, everything put on a pedestal is art. The pedestal here is just a piece of Swiss cheese, and the sculpture on it is a gesture of artistic impudence. Once again, hybrids act as provocative weapons, their current best enemies being art and social systems.

Kiki Smith. Siren, 2001.

But not every chimerical combination should be immediately treated as highly explosive. Milan Knizak in his series New Paradise has created harmless and even comic hybrid sculptures: he turns a well-known seal into a guinea pig. Misfits by Thomas Gruenfeld belong here too. Although these works are readily exhibited for different reasons and in different events, sometimes as bright illustrations of biotechnological potential, they are hardly more informative than the so-called "wolpertinger", fantastic creatures composed of experimentally prepared parts of animal bodies (hares with a deer's horns, etc.). It should be admitted, that Gruenfeld's sculptures are much more spectacular.

This on-line version of the book "Biomediale. Contemporary Society and Genomic Culture" is not full. The unabridged edition can be purchased in printed form as anthology. Requests should be sent to: (full information) or in written form: 236000, Russia, Kaliningrad, 18, Marx str., The National Publishing House “Yantarny Skaz”. Phone requests: Kaliningrad +7(0112)216251, Saint-Petersburg +7(812)3885881, Moscow +7(095)2867666. On-line bookshop (in Russian): Full reference to this book: "Biomediale. Contemporary Society and Genomic Culture". Edited and curated by Dmitry Bulatov. The National Centre for Contemporary art (Kaliningrad branch, Russia), The National Publishing House “Yantarny Skaz”: Kaliningrad, 2004. ISBN 5-7406-0853-7

"The way this piece (Hybrids) expresses that is that it's creating unnatural nature. It's creating an animal that in parts is recognized as a natural animal and yet, when it's hybridized in its totality, it's completely unnatural." [35]

Paul McCarthy. Spaghetti Man, 1993.

Not all artists, however, creating hybrids deliberately put their activity into this biotechnological context. Some find a subjective treatment of this theme most important. Here art sets its imminent goal, which is located on the other side of didactics or the demonstration of the progress of natural science.
The starting point for Mariel Poppe, the Berlin artist, is, for instance, not traditional fairy tale animals and chimeras, but much more natural plant hybrids, as well as related literary motifs and language inaccuracies, like in the case of sea animals crinoidea, which are commonly referred to as plants - sea anemones, as they really look like flowers. Mariel Poppe relates them to Borametz, a character of J.L. Borges' book who was a plant in essence, but looked like an animal. Based on the sea anemone and Borametz, the artist has created a lot of sculptures. Her cycle Of Floweranimals and Animalflowers presents different intermediate stages between an animal, a man and a plant: flowers look like jellyfish with their feelers, worms have suckers reminiscent of flowers, flower petals appear to be human hands, etc. The Borametz representation is specially worked through and given as a wall projection of a drawing presenting a sheep growing out of a tree knot and eating leaves from that same tree; then it turns into a sculpture of a weasel's or rat's body, with one human leg and three hands. The indefinite, the intermediate, something incomplete - are the best periphrases for the inconsistency of being. Poppe is interested only in the poetic dimension of her hybrids; she takes no part in debates about cloning, genetic engineering, and embryo protection. She, therefore, does not work with biologists and geneticists to make her hybrids "conceivable" to the maximum extent. Her creative activity includes no feasible visualization; instead:


"Inspired with Linnaeus' writing on flowers' love life (1736), the artist uses modern technology in creating her images to demonstrate the impact of these images which is completely different from our habitual treatment of the world: beauty, poetry, fantasy and erotica occupy the viewer's attention <…>". [36]

Corinna Holthusen's works also revolve around beauty and poetry. In her digital photomontages she never explicates what exists, but creates what could exist. This traditional for this artistic approach corresponds to the outlook of the above mentioned Cennino Cennini, medieval Italian painter and thinker.
But this pictorial representation is quite unusual, as photos could hardly be surpassed in terms of illusion. The beetle-human hybrid looks real, visual combinations or overlapping of different motifs are so precise in detail that we are happy to believe in the reality of what we see in the picture.
Finally, there is the sphere of interspecific chimeras - human-human hybrids - that may be interpreted as the most expressive scenario of human fears of the future. Humans become experimental materials on the way from fragmentary to multiple bodies. Compared to multivariate, speculative and controversial works by Jake and Dino Chapman with multiple interconnected bodies, heads and genitals in all possible and impossible places, other artists' works seem just innocent jokes. The Chapman Brothers make us guess about the rich possibilities of genetic engineering; and, like Sutton, they use the mathematical principle: body parts with different cultural meaning (anus, penis, vagina as tabooed, body, head and the rest as neutral) comprise material for endless variations and combinations of bodies, as well as pure creative hybrid fantasies. All "models" are not clones, but biologically unique living beings. The Chapman Brothers never focus on bodily deformities, they aim at the aesthetics of the stupefying which is opposed to the aesthetics of the shock. [37] It is strange that presenting visualizations of the future, they combine these visual images with such traditional genres as sculpture and drawing.
Photos by Inez van Lamsweerde treat the human-human hybrid theme less controversially, but much more subtly. In Final Fantasy children have grown-up faces, in The Forest men are depicted with sleek faces and well cared-for hands. Lamsweerde, like Holthusen, works with digital photo to create hybrids that confuse viewers. She also uses one of the versions of the Paitbox program. Originally, The Forest consisted of four photographs, each of them represented one man in a yellow shirt almost in one and the same position - reclining, leaning on his elbow. The artist also shot four women in the same position, but from these pictures she took only women's hands, which she had set into the men's pictures. Individuality steps into the background, everything revolves around a man-in-general. Inez van Lamsweerde defines the main idea of the project as follows:

"I wanted to convey a very personal view of men: the fear of a man and the secure feeling next to him are very close, men are both attractive and repulsive." [38]

Thomas Gruenfeld. Misfit, 1997.

This raises associations with the well-known theme of the androgyne that was reanimated in the 1990s. But now the construction gains major importance. The visualization of mental conditions: hybrids act as metaphors of simultaneous representation of the internal and the external. Photographic psychogrammes.
Compared to that, three joined bodies by Christian Marclay seem very simple, almost Dada collages. But because of LP covers encoded with visual pop-culture icons, they push beyond a simple pile of body parts. The choice of an LP cover in accordance with a certain musical tradition, style, and fashion forms multiple meanings, an associative field, and, so to say, musical choreography of a plain hybrid creature, because, like an acoustic DJ's sample, a photo fragment in visual arts is both an information carrier and aesthetics element. You are what you listen to. Hybrids here are not immersed in the context of art history, they are related to quite a different context. And this only proves that not only the joint natural science and fine-art dispute leads to the creation of such representations.

Corinna Holthusen. Pregnancy From a Beetle, 1997, Courtesy Galerie Burkhard Eikelmann, Duesseldorf

And the last example from contemporary art is the visualization of an artistic approach to genetic engineering utopias. It is a queer, fairy-tale world as an artistic project directed against the sobering reality of laboratories. Julia Kissina, like Lamsweerde and Holthusen, uses photographs as carrier of information, but without further digital computer processing of a picture. She never fixes a picture with an illusionist or post factum manipulation. Moreover, Kissina changes and transforms objects (models). They are dramatized genetic fantasies. Their artificial and "make-up" nature is soon revealed, because Kissina uncovers her game: depicted enlarged body parts are absolutely imperfect, exposing the principle of alienation immediately. Her chimeras, therefore, never claim to be realistic. Kissina photographs boys and girls on a background of some artificial kitsch landscape. The surroundings remind one of a magical forest full of strange creatures looking like fairies with three legs or four arms. Though these excessive extremities are just artificial rags. Many of these sham victims of genetic engineering have bumps, but they are not the result of genetic injections, but simple Ping-Pong balls, which are clearly seen through pantyhose. This is a very simple design, but it leaves a strangely distorted, even monstrous impression, as if taken from low technologies departments of international bio-concerns Monsanto and Aventis.

Mariel Poppe. Borametz-II, 1999.

A note to sum up: social demands generated by the revolutionary development of reproductive medicine and genetic engineering are at the same time a challenge to many artists who take this challenge differently. It is quite evident that hybrids are especially suitable for discussion and the processing of modern biotechnological formal and creative possibilities. It is not, however, chimeras' representation that changes in the first place, but the use of certain media, the perfection of transformations and the discussion of created images. Hardly any modern artist would seriously turn to demonology to make his creatures legitimate; apotropaic elements also step aside. Instead, many prefer to discuss future forms of life, the way they will look, the dangers of new technologies and the right aesthetic approach to them. But still these works carry the ancient fear of everything alien. Chimeras were traditionally created to frighten, but at the same time they inspired delight, like grotesques in their time. Our time has brought nothing new in this respect. Since the border between the natural and the artistic, as well as between humans, animals and plants is almost non-existent from the genetic standpoint, the body will soon become obsolete, according to the Australian artist Stelarc who maintained that only a few years ago (in the context of human-machine hybrid). The fact that an important role in this process of dilution or separation will belong to the outlooks of futuristic body models - hence, chimeras as well - is presumably related to our traditional understanding of identity in accordance with the rule of the rational spirit in a (human) body, and never of the spirit in a multiple hybrid body. What could strange hybrids of the Chapman Brothers think about? Who could a pregnant creature created by Holthusen in his Pregnancy From a Beetle give birth to? Let us wait; a new chimera generation is sure to come.

Translated from the Russian by Julia Shpakova.

[1]. Rifkin, J. Das biotechnische Zeitalter. Munchen, 1998, S.25.
[2]. This notion seems appropriate, because, on the one hand, it is related to recombinant "chimerical" DNA received in genetic laboratories, and on the other hand, it has a figurative meaning "a fabrication of the mind."
[3]. See similar argumentation of recurring forms of demons, monsters and fairy-tale characters in Wunderlich, W. Damonen, Monster, Fabelwesen. St. Gallen, 1999, S.14.
[4]. Sammer, M. "Basilisk regulus", in: Wunderlich (Hrsg.): a.a.O., S.135-160.
[5]. Brink, C., Hornbostel, W. Pegasus und die Kunste, Munchen, 1993.
[6]. von Ranke-Graves, R. Griechische Mythologie. Reinbeck, 1999, S.115; Lurker, M. (Hrsg.) Worterbuch der Symbolik. Stuttgart, 1988, S.125.
[7]. McDermott, W. The Ape in Antiqiuty. Baltimore, 1938, S.278-280.
[8]. Amelung, W. Auch ein Kampf mit der Hydra. Wien, 1909, S.183-185.
[9]. Cebe, J.-P. La caricature et la parodie dans le monde romain antique des origines a Juvenal. Paris, 1966, S.359-360.
[10]. Mode, H. Fabeltiere und Damonen in der Kunst. Stuttgart, 1974, S.54-55.
[11]. Binsfeld, W. Grylloi. Koln, 1956, S.13-14.
[12]. Baur, O. Bestiarium Humanum. Munchen, 1974, S.17.
[13]. Wunderlich: a.a.O., S.16.
[14]. See: Pochat, G. Das Fremde im Millelalter. Wurzburg, 1997, S.37-48.; Kasper, F. "Die Suche nach dem Monster am Rande der Welt," in: Gaida, K. (Hrsg.) Erdrandbewohner. Koln, 1995, S.71-81.
[15]. Houwen, L. "Bestiarien," in: Wunderlich (Hrsg.): a.a.O., S.70.
[16]. Dinzelbacher, P. Monster und Damonen am Kirchenbau, in: Wunderlich (Hrsg.): a.a.O.: S.104.
[17]. Dinzelbacher: a.a.O., S.119.
[18]. The word la grottesca is derived from grotta referring to the place where first grotesques were found. In 1480 they were discovered during excavations of Roman houses in underground halls of the so called "Golden House" (domus aurea) of Nero. Chastel, A. Die Groteske. Berlin, 1997, S.17.
[19]. Warnke, C/-P. Die ornamentale Groteske in Deutschland 1500-1650. Berlin, 1979, S.79-85.
[20]. Kayser, W. Das Groteske. Oldenburg, 1961, S.20-22.
[21]. Chastel: a.a.O., S.19-23.
[22]. Giorgio Vasari, see: Chastel: a.a.O., S.32-42.
[23]. Vitruvius, M. Zehn Bucher uber Architektur. Baden-Baden, 1974 (ubersetzt von Jakob Prestel), 7. Buch, 5. Kapitel, S.363-365.
[24]. Warnke, M. "Chimaren der Phantasie," in: Brink/ Hornbostel (Hrsg.): a.a.O., S. 61; Kanz, R. "Capricco und Groteske," in: Mai, E., Rees, J. (Hrsg.) Kunstform Capricco. Koln ,1997, S.14-16.
[25]. Chastel: a.a.O., S.71.
[26]. Absurd, esoteric, psychological, and other ideological interpretations of Bosch's creative activity are explained by Wintermeier. See: Wintermeier, W. Hieronimus Bosch - das phantastische Werk. Hildesheim, 1983, S.23-26.
[27]. Wintermeier: a.a.O., S.13.
[28]. Breughel - Brueghel, Ausstellungskatalog Villa Hugel Essen. Lingen, 1997, S.24, S.172.
[39]. Bax, D. Hieronimus Bosch and Lucas Cranach - Two Last Judgment triptychs, Amsterdam/New York, 1983, S.11-18.
[30]. Pilz, Georg (Hrsg.) Ein Sack voll Ablass. Bildsatiren der Reformationszeit. Berlin, 1983, S.5-14.
[31]. Baur: a.a.O., S.32-33.
[32]. Detailed information can be found in: Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe (Hrsg.) J.J.Grandville. Karikatur und Zeichnung. Ostfildern, 2000, S.132-133.
[33]. See: Chadwick, W. Myth in Surrealist Painting. Pennsylvania, 1980, S.87-96.; Trier, E. Schriften zu Max Ernst. Koln, 1993, S.45-65.
[34]. Choucha, N. Surrealism & the Occult, 1991, S.120.
[35]. Eva Sutton interview:
[36]. Bott, G., Broska, M. (Hrsg.) Post naturam - nach der Natur. Bielefeld, 1998, S.20-21.
[37]. Maloney, M. "The Chapman Brothers - When will I be Famous," in: Flash Art International, Vol. XXIX, Nr. 186, Jan-Feb 1996, pp.64-67.
[38]. Inez van Lamsweerde interview with Yvette Brackman, in: Deichtorhallen Hamburg (Hrsg.) Inez van Lamsweerde "Photographs". Munchen, 1999, S.3.


How to purchase this book



I. LABORATORY: science and technology

Svetlana Borinskaya. Genomics and Biotechnology: Science at the Beginning of the Third Millennium.

Mikhail Gelfand. Computational Genomics: from the Wet Lab to Computer and Back.

Irina Grigorjan, Vsevolod Makeev. Biochips and Industrial Biology.

Valery Shumakov, Alexander Tonevitsky. Xenotransplantation as a Scientific and Ethic Problem.

Abraham Iojrish. Legal Aspects of Gene Engineering.

Pavel Tishchenko. Genomics: New Science in the New Cultural Situation.
II. FORUM: society and genomic culture

Eugene Thacker. Darwin's Waiting Room.

Critical Art Ensemble. The Promissory Rhetoric of Biotechnology in the Public Sphere.

SubRosa. Sex and Gender in the Biotech Century.

Ricardo Dominguez. Nano-Fest Destiny 3.0: Fragments from the Post-Biotech Era.

Birgit Richard. Clones and Doppelgangers. Multiplications and Reproductions of the Self in Film.

Sven Druehl. Chimaera Phylogeny: From Antiquity to the Present.
III. TOPOLOGY: from biopolitics to bioaesthetics

Boris Groys. Art in the Age of Biopolitics.

Stephen Wilson. Art and Science as Cultural Acts.

Melentie Pandilovski. On the Phenomenology of Consciousness, Technology, and Genetic Culture.

Roy Ascott. Interactive Art: Doorway to the Post-Biological Culture.
IV. INTERACTION CODE: artificial life

Mark Bedau. Artificial Life Illuminates Human Hyper-creativity.

Louis Bec. Artificial Life under Tension.

Alan Dorin. Virtual Animals in Virtual Environments.

Christa Sommerer, Laurent Mignonneau. The Application of Artificial Life to Interactive Computer Installations.
V. MODERN THEATRE: ars genetica

George Gessert. A History of Art Involving DNA.

Kathleen Rogers. The Imagination of Matter.

Brandon Ballengee. The Origins of Artificial Selection.

Marta de Menezes. The Laboratory as an Art Studio.

Adam Zaretsky. Workhorse Zoo Art and Bioethics Quiz.
VI. IMAGE TECHNOLOGY: ars chimaera

Joe Davis. Monsters, Maps, Signals and Codes.

David Kremers. The Delbruck Paradox. Version 3.0.

Eduardo Kac. GFP Bunny.

Dmitry Bulatov. Ars Chimaera.

Valery Podoroga. Rene Descartes and Ars Chimaera.
VII. METABOLA: tissue culture and art

Ionat Zurr. Complicating Notions of Life - Semi-Living Entities.

Oron Catts. Fragments of Designed Life - the Wet Palette of Tissue Engineering.

Dmitry Prigov. Speaking of Unutterable.

Wet art gallery





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