The world’s first known neck belongs to the prehistoric walking fish, Tiktaalik roseae, a nine-foot predator with primitive lungs and leg-like fins adapted for life in the shallows, capable of breathing air and struggling out of the slime. Why it left the depths some 375 million years ago, nobody knows. Its ancestors were likely cast out of sea, freaks of nature who lived at the fringes of fish society; sea-rebels who stopped at nothing to get to the land they could only glimpse. To cross the threshold and reach the unknown, they gulped the fresh air. Naturally, they sank out of sight and came to nothing. Their defeat only roused believers, spawned insurgents, and drove descendants to seek the fabled horizon. Working against the system, they met with disaster again and again, until millions of years and countless subtle changes later, they possessed the ability to inhale and exhale, and in time, grew a neck.
In this exhibition, we glimpse the changing environment, the evolving world, and get a blow to the back of the neck. Hanging on the walls are a gang of farm and zoo animals, some with neck problems, others quite free and easy – a dairy cow without a neck grazing on the grass, a chicken without a head still alive and standing, a giraffe with a crooked neck facing backwards, a Galapagos tortoise reaching for a red star dangling from a fishing pole, and pigs swimming in the Bahamas with a rat.
In the middle of the room, hanging from the gallows, are 41 neckties stitched with words like mucus, pus, piss, blood, shit, tears, sweat, bad breath and other bodily secretions and excretions that civilized man and woman find abhorrent and habitually scrub clean to comply with elementary rules of hygiene. In this case, the necktie may signify enslavement or power, status or rules, the phallus or the noose.
Dead From the Neck Up is Jayson Oliveria’s art exhibition at the West Gallery (Gallery 4). It explores the in-between thing that connects the head to the body, and runs from October 30 to November 29, 2014.