2018 – The mysterious settlement of sheep at Melle – Hajo Eickhoff

The mysterious settlement of sheep at Melle

On value, politics and art



The terms pecunia and pecus are etymologically linked and a central concern of du vertige de la contingence, a work by artist Gloria Zein for the 2018 biennale at Melle. Pecunia means money and wealth, pecus means sheep and cattle. Thus, the sheep is not any animal. On the contrary, pecus is the base for cattle, the original word for wealth. Therefore, sheep are considered valuable – they are currency and sacrificial animal, wool provider, food producer and food.

When sheep are at stake, the subject of value is addressed. The word sheep evokes flock and consequently sedentism. Settlement let to the formation of spaces that organize the life of individuals and communities. Spaces allow for the community to manage itself physically and mentally.

Interior, surrounding and symbolic space – three types of space, in which man develops his values gradually. Value is the result of appropriation – of grasping and capturing: Man appropriates models of behaviour, food and durable goods to process them physically as well as mentally.

Value is what man considers desirable. It has content, quality and is subject to particular attention. Values are ideas and patterns of action, dogma and modes of thought, according to which humans want to live. Concerning conduct, we talk about moral and social values, concerning goods about quality and sustainability. As value emerges from communication, it expresses interpersonal qualities and political statements.

Values are attractions. Be it food or clean air (interior), things and landscape (surrounding space) or interesting ideas (symbolic space), value emerges from the need of survival or from the conditions of a good life. Value hints to perfection. It offers sense and orientation, showing itself as the good (morals), the true (logic), love (sociality), quality (technology), transcendence (art) and beauty (aesthetics). In this sense, value is metronome and guide for individuals and communities. It provides stability, security and perspectives for the future.

Congenitally, an infant creates values. By tasting, it avoids bitterness, saltiness and the sour, which could harm its development and health. It prefers the sweet, which provides the energy necessary for its upbringing. The infant develops an intuition for incorporable substances. Value results from avoiding danger and from force building. Incorporable substances can be savoured. They are delicious, precious and not accidentally tasty.

Within the surrounding space, his habitat, man creates values, too. These are highly estimated spaces that guarantee life by providing clean air and good soil as well as a manageable flora and fauna. Sedentism brings a fundamental type of surrounding. Humans halt, overcome their existence as hunters and gatherers and occupy a piece of ground. Land emerges, humans settle. By cutting their own house from the large house, the oikos, men create their own, human world.

The new space is manageable. As a landlord, man gains territorial power, which results in ardent streams of value-adding. He starts to produce food, an infinite number of goods and items of luxury.

Likewise, man creates value within the symbolic, mental space. His life is not based on material needs alone. With their new mode of living, humans start to reflect their relationship to nature. They question their own existence. Thus, natural theories, philosophic reflections as well as questions about technology and the human psyche are born. As a natural and cultural being, man’s mental, cultural and social desiderata are imperative needs. Value is formed within social interaction and relies on the individual as much as on cultural concepts. Cultural values such as technology, science or art essentially drive the development of societies and civilizations.

With their sense of appropriation, the settled invent money and its value. This value is not so much determined by the material such as gold or silver, but per agreement and the faith in currency – be it coin or credit note, the oldest document of humanity. One believes that man will use the credit for something sensible or good ­– therefore credible also means believable.

When value hints at the good and true, at love, quality, transcendence and beauty, the ideal personal and collective life is concerned. However, this can only be achieved within an ideal world community. For this course, humans have to become active within their symbolic space: creative and morally reliable regarding their beliefs, senses, actions and attitude.

Within societies that pay homage to rational modes of living, art creates particular forms of culture and value. It offers awareness and orientation. Hence, in view of myth and money, sacrifice and perception, Faire partir l’ombre du vertige de la contingence by Gloria Zein is a felicitous harmony. While, from the beginning of sedentism, domestic animals are born directly into the trap or compound (as in Faire partir l’ombre), Zein’s sculpture du vertige de la contingence presents a cage enclosing an abstract, human like torso in its centre: Impulsively, the sheep of Melle have gathered around the object, identified it as their place and legitimately appropriated the artwork for their own use.


Hajo Eickhoff, 2018