Our Palace of Intestines for Stag(e) Hill 2018
Part of Digesting Ritual research event convened by Adam Alston at Ivy Arts Centre, University of Surrey, Guildford 6 July 2018.
Photography by Jolyon Gardner.
‘Our Palace of Intestines’, part of ‘Extispicy in the Everyday’, is a participatory performance that explores the continued fascination with innards and entrails in the human imagination, through the gut, food, commensality (eating together), and the ancient practice of extispicy, divination using the entrails. Extispicy was one of the most omnipresent of divination practices across the ancient world. As well as the liver and other organs, the colon or ‘palace of the intestines’ was also observed (Weidner, 1917).
The performance draws on ideas that our gastrointestinal tract although seems inside our bodies, is actually our exterior, outside the body border. It is the most important site where the ‘external’ world meets our ‘internal body’, which new neuro-gastroenterological research is discovering. ‘Our Palace of Intestines’ enacts ideas of interconnectedness, through the collapsing of human-environment binaries, via a pie, its burial/baking and consumption performed as a ritual on the ‘stage’ of the Stag Hill campus.
At the centre is a sacrificial body, a large raised pie, which is interred and cooked in an earth oven fashioned from a hole excavated on Stag Hill. Recalling Medieval coffyns, pies whose pastry containers were not always eaten, the body is ‘raised’ from its oven/grave, and re-birthed. Following a procession to the Ivy Arts Centre, an extispicy invoked through exercises, in which audience-participants were guided to conjure an experience of their own innards, and the cutting into the pie revealing a labyrinthine sausage, the convolutions of which were inspected. In a commensal act, audience-participants consumed the pie, ingesting its body, engaging in another form of extispicy or examination through the proximal senses of smell, touch and taste.