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Beyond Human and Animal: Adrian Pepe's Entangled Matters of Care
NCO 063

N: Hi Adrian !! Can you give us a glimpse into your daily routine and how you balance your creative work with other aspects of your life?

A: My creative work is intertwined with my personal life, a two-way feedback loop, one part informing the other. As a way of granting structure to my day-to-day, I perform rituals that allow for a pause within what seems like utter chaos. I do my best at embracing this chaos by practicing recursion and repetition in my work, manipulating tangible forms. Outside of the workspaces, I do breathing meditation, movement practices like yoga and swimming, and slow meal preparations. There is also a sort of seasonality to my days at the moment, as I follow the sheep shearing seasons in the Spring and Summer of every year.

Generally speaking, life seems to manifest as a sort of seesaw, balancing between chaos and order, hot and cold.

N: Your artistic practice is centered around fibers and textiles, particularly wool. Beyond the physical materials, is there a specific theme, characteristic, or abstract concept that consistently appears across your work?

A: A mentor recently said to me, "The past is the future," a statement that stuck with me until today.

My work is largely a deep-dive investigation of past moments and actions, re-enacting histories and rituals through the body. From this perspective, the importance of craft and artistry lies in a bodily engagement with matter as it is sourced and transformed. It awakens a primal, dormant instinct of a more tangible understanding of bodies in nature, an ancestral memory of simplicity in complexity. In textile artistry, the act of granting structure to raw fiber connects the artisan to a wider ecosystem, as the soil births the grass that nourishes the sheep that grows the wool. It is an intentional thread weaving humans to earth through millennia-old choreography. Thus, a renewed responsibility is forged as relational ties are internalized as muscle memory.

Through my practice, I'd like for people to reconnect to a sense of primalism, a return to the origins, revisiting an ancestral knowledge-base.

N: We're intrigued by your latest piece, Shedding. Can you share the creative process behind it, and discuss whether incorporating performance art is a direction you're considering for your future work?

A: My work has a performative quality to it as it revisits ages-old bodily gestures involved in the preparation, making, and embellishing of textile pieces. This gestural dance is performed to further investigate the relationship between human and sheep, humanity and ritual; a somatic exploration of the complex relationships, transforming movement into symbol, process into ritual. In the future, I intend to further explore this topic.

For my latest performance "Shedding," a life-sized cast made of felted sheep wool was created through a participatory process in which the wool was laid and assembled directly onto my body, consequently wetted and felted by the hands of others.

Felt is an ancient task entailing the compression and entangling of animal fibers through friction, moisture, and heat—it is considered the oldest form of textile making. Through this communal ritual, intimate association transpires between bodies, both human and other-than-human, as the biomass of the sheep becomes formed into an impression of a human body, raveling and unraveling conceptions of self and other, life and death.

This particular intervention extends to a personal act of self-actualization. The white wool envelopes my body in the form of a cocoon which consequently sheds, mimicking nature's performativity of transformation.

N: Your piece Sheddings delves into the idea of rebirth, which also appears in your project "Entangled Matters," where you repurpose wool, a material strongly affected by the evolution of market policies in Lebanon. In the context of living in Beirut, how does the notion of "crisis" and subsequent rebirth or transformation inform your artistic practice?

A: Living in Lebanon does have a significant impact on my practice as the work is deeply-seated in the notion of place; it becomes a tool for exploration which results in a growing registry of objects, capturing my findings, interpretations, and misinterpretations, understandings and misunderstandings, as I layer self to place.

Over the past several years, Lebanon has been in a constant state of confrontation, turmoil, and regeneration, following the recent Beirut port-explosion and presently experiencing one of the worst economic crises in the world. So much has been lost, and what is left is a raw sense of humanity, transcending class, religion, race, ethnicity, and gender. Having the opportunity to leave, I decided to stay. In deciding to stay, I understood the sense of shared responsibility and commitment I felt toward the region, its people, and its history.

N: In Entangled Matters, you also explore the notion of humanizing animals and animalizing humans. As society moves towards greater compassion for animals and environmental stewardship, how do you reconcile this with all the age-old cultural and traditional practices that are often intertwined with the use of animal-based materials?

A: The extended co-history between early humans and animals speaks to an intricate multidimensional relationship, allowing both entities to proliferate as a single unit. In the case of sheep husbandry in its traditional form, the shepherd tends to the sheep which, in turn, tends to the shepherd, and by default, sustains the localities they together inhabit in motion.

Here, the shepherd and the sheep create a morphology of care that materializes in space through artifact and ritual, binding human, animal, and land in a dialectical interconnectedness.

The work invites a broader reflection on the qualitative aspects of our entanglements with other-than-human entities, no longer perceiving them as resources to be managed. As we return toward a deeper understanding of the natural world, our existence becomes increasingly animistic.

N: Does fashion influence your work in any way? If so, how do you draw inspiration from the world of fashion in your creations?

A: As a cloth-wearer, it's difficult to escape the influence of fashion. Fashion, as clothes, is a significant part of my ongoing investigations into textile considering the first garments were made of animal or plant fibers and/or animal skins. An interesting excerpt hinting at the first garment can be found within the Biblical fables, Book of Genesis 3:21, where it is mentioned that God produced coats of skins for the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, after they consumed the forbidden fruit. I find these small excerpts very intriguing and inspiring as one can interpret them endlessly.

N: Lastly, can you share three things that are absolutely essential to your life?

A: Connection, Alignment, and Self-care.

All images courtesy of Adrian Pepe

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