BILLY APPLE® is N=One
As Billy Apple I have continued to use my identity as art object
and my life processes as art work
The exhibition Billy Apple® is N=One has its origins in a ground-breaking body of work produced and exhibited in 1970 in New York; and his controversial 1974 survey exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery, London, From Barrie Bates to Billy Apple 1960-1974. The exhibition and accompanying publication included Apple’s Body Activities and Excretery Wipings, process works made up of tissues and cotton buds stained with his bodily fluids. Following public complaints to the Department of the Environment, which were handled by the Obscenity Wing of the Metropolitan Police, the exhibition was closed down for three days. After difficult discussions, this group of work was censored by the British Arts Council, the very first time that they had done so. Apple insisted on being photographed as he removed the rows of tissues taped to the gallery walls.
Apple was 36 years old when he collected and collated Excretory Wipings May 18-October 21, 1970 from his first defecation of the day. It was exhibited in New York’s burgeoning conceptual art scene in the not-for-profit space, APPLE, 161 West 23rd Street. Generations later, Christina Barton curated it into Billy Apple: New York 1969–1973 at Adam Art Gallery, Victoria University of Wellington in 2009.
The work that was so controversial in the 1970s has now been incorporated into a scientific project at the University of Auckland’s Liggins Institute. The artist is collaborating with the scientists researching the Microbiome, a collective of microbes (microbial genomes) that inhabit the human digestive tract. Apple’s toilet tissues are of use because, as was his conceptual practice, he recorded the time and date on each; and they have been left largely undisturbed.
When Apple mentioned his collection of toilet tissues to Dr Justin O’Sullivan, Associate Professor at the Liggins Institute, the molecular biologist knew it presented a very unusual opportunity. “To put it quite bluntly, no one keeps poo, right. [But] for us, samples that are 46 years old are amazing. It’s almost a time capsule from way back.” By taking fecal samples from the toilet tissues, they have been able to compare Apple’s contemporary microbiome with the bacteria inhabiting his gut forty-six years earlier. Before the collaboration the longest study of gut microbiota had spanned six years by researchers from the University of Washington.
The findings of the research carried out by O’Sullivan and his colleague Thilini Jayasinghe substantiate growing evidence that a core part of our bacteria population remains stable as we age and that some of the bacteria are actively selected by our genes. This means that advances in personalized medicine may have to consider not only our individual genes, but also our unique microbiome – the population of microbes that live in and on us – and how the two interact. As O’Sullivan says: “We used to think of our resident bacteria as hitchhikers, foreign bodies along for the ride. Scientists now realize that these microscopic creatures interact in many intricate and mysterious ways with our body systems and play a crucial role in our health, well-being and development.”
Apple has used the research outcomes to produce the centre piece of the exhibition at Starkwhite – a new diptych titled Billy Apple® is N=1 where N is the research sample size. The study has been formally written up as Long-term Stability in the Gut Microbiome over 46 years in the Life of Billy Apple® and published in a refereed medical journal, Human Microbiome Journal as well as being presented at the international Queenstown Molecular Biology Research Week. Apple has also gifted a version of his art works to the Liggins Institute.
It is important to emphasise that Billy Apple’s art/science collaborations are open ended and ongoing. And there are other works such as his Wellness series and his Art Transactions with surgeons, dentist, optometrist and so forth that document the nature of the human condition. These late works are the products of an octogenarian who uses his life-processes as subject and object of his art practice unveiling both the aging process for us as well as the new field of genomic research. We can’t underestimate the generosity with which Apple makes his tissue available to the research community and his private details public for us.
Mary Morrison has collaborated with Apple and prepared an essay to assist with making the science intelligible to an art audience. She has become an integral part of Apple’s team and is well placed to both commentate and contribute to Apple’s late projects. Morrison holds post graduate qualifications in Fine Arts (UoA), an MA (VU) and has worked in NZ, the USA and UK as a critical care nurse. Her thesis, Posthuman Pathology: A Postmodern Art Project Located in Critical Care used the concept of cyborg or cybernetic organisms as a means, amongst other things, to investigate the culture of hi-tech medicine. She hooked a humanoid robot up to life-support in the Middlemore ICU giving it the parameters of life and presented both a paper and scientific poster at the 8th World Congress of Intensive and Critical Care Medicine.
In a new essay published on the occasion of this exhibition, Anthony Byrt will discuss Apple’s bodily works in relation to the artist’s origins as a “living, breathing brand” in November 1962. Byrt will argue that, from the very start, Apple’s work has been deeply concerned with the connections between our identities and our physicality in a technological age, and the ways in which “self” is constructed not out of a Freudian, interior subconscious, but in relation to external objects and the forces of mass communication. Drawing on the research he has done for his forthcoming book on the creation of Billy Apple in London in 1962, Byrt will explore some of the deep thinking that led up to Apple’s arrival, and to so much of the work he’s made since: particularly the influences of the existentialist psychoanalyst RD Laing, media theorist Marshall McLuhan, novelist Norman Mailer, and the dual revolutions Apple witnessed firsthand in New York in the early sixties – in jazz music, and Madison Avenue advertising.
Billy Apple created a new identity as an art brand in 1962, by changing his name after graduating from London’s Royal College of Art as one of the original pop generation. He moved to New York in 1964, where he was a key figure in the development of conceptual art. Apple’s diverse practice has covered many fields but it is his exploration of new technologies and media that has led Apple to work collaboratively with scientists and medical professionals since the sixties. Apple lives and works in Auckland, New Zealand.
In 1962 Billy Apple took the radical step of changing his name to establish a new identity as an art brand. In this self-branding manoeuvre he became the art object and removed the arbitrary division between art and life thus claiming his life activities as art. To this day Apple draws his inspiration from reality and the world we live in. His incredible six-decade art career began at London’s Royal College of Art amidst the pioneers of pop art. Moving to New York, he exhibited in the legendary 1964 American Supermarket at the Bianchini Gallery before going on to become a key figure in the development of conceptual art having opened APPLE, a not-for-profit space (1969 -1973). As director of 112 Greene Street Gallery in 1975 he gave Ana Mendieta her first New York show. In the 80s his text-based works drew attention to relations between artist, dealer and collector and were called “Pop Conceptual” by Leo Castelli, arguably the first use of the term. He became a registered trademark in 2007, formalizing his art brand status and his interest in intellectual property. He is now collaborating with scientists on a variety of projects that range from biomedicine to marine geology. Billy Apple ONZM received an ICON AWARD from the Arts Foundation of New Zealand in 2018.
Recent solo exhibitions
Billy Apple: 2 Gallery Abstracts, Mokopōpaki, Auckland, 15 March – 20 April 2019; Basic Needs by Billy Apple®, Mutterzunge: Afterword curated by Misal Adnan Yildiz, Copyright, Berlin, 6 December 2018 -10 January 2019; The Artist Has to Live Like Everybody Else 1961–2018, The Mayor Gallery, London, 12 September to 2 November 2018; Billy Apple: Piripoho, Mokopōpaki, Auckland, 4 July – 11 August 2018; Billy Apple®: Six Decades 1962-2018, Rossi & Rossi, Hong Kong, 9 June – 28 July 2018; From the (Commissioning Collector’s Name) Collection, Projects curated by Gabriela Salgado and Francis McWhannell, Auckland Art Fair, 23-27 May 2018; From the Billy Apple Collection, Hamish McKay, Wellington, 11 May – 2 June 2018; Mutterzunge: Seeing and Hearing, curated by Adnan Yildiz, Apartment Project, Berlin, 30 March – 5 May 2018; The Politics of Space, curated by Sarah McClintock, The Suter Art Gallery, Nelson, 7 April – 3 June 2018; Billy Apple®: Trademark Registration, Te Tuhi Billboards, Pakuranga 10 March –22 July 2018; Billy Apple: Further Alterations, curated By Wystan Curnow, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth, 18 November 2017 – 11 February 2018
Recent group exhibitions
Last Look Before BREXIT, PIASA Paris 29 March-30 April 2019; We’re Not Too Big Too Care, curated by Lisa Beauchamp, Gus Fisher Gallery, University of Auckland, 6 April – 15 June 2019; House of the Sleeping Beauties, curated by Darren Leak, S/2 Sotheby’s London 14 February – 28 March 2019; The Avant Garde in Auckland: 1971–79, curated by Natasha Conlon, Auckland Art Gallery, Auckland, 8 December 2018 – 31 March 2019; Portraits by Billy Apple® and Michael Zavros, presented by Starkwhite at Art Los Angeles Contemporary 13-17 February 2019; The Real Thing: Pop and Minimal Art, Scottish National Galleries of Modern Art, Edinburgh 1 November – 2 June 2019; Mutterzunge: Afterword curated by Misal Adnan Yildiz, Copyright, Berlin, 6 December 2018 – 20 January 2019; Billy Apple® (Yellow) Youth Suicide Jake Miller Foundation at Annette Presley’s residence 15 November 2018; Constellations: Highlights from the Nations Collection of Modern Art: Cindy Sherman Room, Tate Liverpool, November 2016 – June 2019; Camera Pop: La fotografia nella Pop Art di Warhol, Schifano & Co, Camera/ Centro Italiano per la Fotografia, Torino, 21 September to 13 January 2019; Art For Scape: Scape Public Art 20th Anniversary Fundraiser, Pah Homestead, Auckland, Friday 27 April 2018; Group Exhibition, Starkwhite, Auckland 17 April – 12 May 2018; Billy’s Apple, Dowse Art Museum, Lower Hutt, 10 March – 27 May 2018; The Mayor Gallery, Stand 451 at TEFAF Maastricht 2018, Maastricht 10 – 18 March 2018
Billy Apple’s work is held in public collections such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit; The Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia; Pasadena Museum of Modern Art, Pasadena; Boise Art Museum, Idaho; the Corning Museum of Glass, New York; the Tate Britain and Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art as well as the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne and Wesfarmers Arts, Perth.
His work is represented in major New Zealand art institutions, such as Te Papa Tongarewa, Museum of New Zealand, Wellington; National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Matauranga O Aotearoa; Auckland Art Gallery, Toi o Tamaki, Auckland; Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth and the Dunedin public Art Gallery; in corporate collections such as the Bank of New Zealand, Fay Richwhite, Fletcher Challenge, Price Waterhouse Coopers and Minter Ellison Rudd Watts; and in public collections such as Victoria University of Wellington and the Auckland City Council. It also is held in the private collections of prominent art patrons such as the Earl of Plymouth, UK; Leonard Lauder, New York; Charles Diker, New York, Richard Solomon, New York; E J Power, London and, within New Zealand, Jenny Gibbs, Kevin Roberts, Chartwell and Jim Fraser.