Jacques de Vaucanson was a French inventor in the 18th century, and he was known for automata that mimicked biological vital functions of living creatures. The Digesting Duck he created in 1739 is largely considered to be his masterpiece. This mechanical duck could flap its wings, drink water, eat grains, digest food through its internal organs and then defecate. The Digesting Duck caused quite a sensation at that time in Europe, and the “fraud” wasn’t exposed till a century later when it was realized that Vaucanson had placed bread crumbs to create the illusion that the duck was digesting.
Referencing this historical recount, the artist created two contemporary digesting ducks. The kinetic installations are seen shaking their heads and flapping their wings, while narrating contemporary medical studies on the human microbiome, which is an aggregate of microorganisms that resides in the guts and forms a symbiotic relationship with its host through an extended evolutionary process. It is intricately connected to the human eating habits, emotions, and health conditions. Studies on the human microbiome have led to the medical approach of seeing the stomach and bowels as a mechanical system: Through probiotics and medical procedures, humans are able to reinforce and “upgrade” the microbiome residing in their digestive system.
The materials used in this artwork were acquired from certified taxidermists and the specimens used were birds that have died of natural causes or roadkill.
Commissioned by the Compton Verney Art Gallery (UK).