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For some artists like Agnes?,from Italy, life and work are intrinsically bound together. “One informs and challenges the other” Agnes? states. Their exhibition Transgenesis marks an important new phase in the artist's life. The performance piece was much more than 'just' 23 days as a half-cephalopod in a North London abandoned leisure centre. Agnes? starts transitioning at the beginning of the installation, “to share with the viewer the vulnerability and ephemerality of our ever-changing bodies.”

Transgenesis discusses the origin of bodily transformation. 'Trans', derives from transition which means change between two states, and 'genesis' means the origin. Agnes? implies that their performance of moving between gender and species transcended the human, explaining, “Whoever entered Transgenesis left their humanness behind and accepted a post-human world; where everything is mutating; where everything is possible”.

Water, the origin of life, is also central in Transgenesis. Growing up on their father’s boat, the sea was always part of Agnes?'s life. From this vast ecosystem, Agnes? chose the octopus to represent in their performance. For them, the octopus is the mistress of transformation, adaptability and fluidity, “they are a great symbol of self-destruction and creation”. Octopi represent them.

More than Agnes?'s personal transition, Transgeneisis is about society mutating into other forms. It addresses a real message about the state of Transness in our current society. Although improvements have been made these past years, it also brings us back to the “burden of patriarchy, machismo [and] discrimination” says the artist. We don’t need to be afraid of the new and more fluid possibilities.

Could you introduce yourself in a few words?
I am Agnes? and I am a trans-species artist.
You recently did an exhibition titled Transgenesis in an abandoned leisure centre in North London. This event attracted a lot of press and visitors. What was the goal of the project?
Transgenesis marked a significant step and transformation in my life. The project announced the birth of Agnes?, a new hybrid creature, half-human half-octopus, that I decided to embody in a long durational performance 8 hours per day for 23 consecutive days. I started transitioning the day I opened the show to feel a real transformation and to share with the viewer the vulnerability and ephemerality of our ever-changing bodies.
The mutation was real and it was happening in front of you. My dysphoria is not only related to my assigned gender, but mostly caused by my assigned species. I do not feel human at all. I feel I am a trans-species creature generated in the sea and now expanding and permeating into other territories.
In Transgenesis you put your body at the centre of the installation. For this exhibition, you were involved physically and symbolically, why was it important for you to be part of the final piece?
During the performance I became an extension of the octopus, constantly holding my breathe until self-destruction. I was stuck, trapped, and chained in a body that didn’t belong to me, a body in between two species, vulnerable yet powerful and proud.
This is how I feel. I have no doors, nor keys. My room is always open, so are my heart and my emotions. 
I needed to share my species dysphoria, my vulnerability and pain. I had to feel the flesh, meat, blood and veins of this new creature. I needed to become the octopus and to undertake a transgenesis myself.
I am in a constant self-transformation and evolution. My work and my life are intrinsically joint, one informs and challenges the other.

The name of your project explains well the essence of your project, it is a dialect between creation and destruction. When you first arrived in London for the exhibition you started taking hormones, why did you choose to express what you were experiencing in private through a public art performance?
Transgenesis is the process of introducing a transgene (altered gene of a specific animal) into the gene of the same or different animal. The result affects the gene changing its functions and morphology. This process of hybridisation and mutation is fascinating to me. While I was researching on gender transition I was also carrying on my ongoing research on the homo aquaticus and the possible interrelations between humans and the sea. It’s been three years now that I have been performing underwater, becoming an aquatic creature, transcending the human species.
Suddenly I felt I had to accomplish a real transformation, performing wasn’t enough. My body needed to change so I started my own transgenesis. I introduce female hormones into my male-at-birth body with a feminizing hormone therapy while I block the production of testosterone with an anti-androgen pill. Oestrogen plays as the transgene that affects significantly the mutation of my traits, my mood, etc. While I became the test subject of my own experiment, I decided to share my experience to the public to create an element of realness and liveness to the performance. A real transformation was taking place, but also a new relationship with the spectator, a relationship made of sounds, touches, senses, other ways of communicating.
Whoever entered Transgenesis left their ‘humanness’ behind and accepted a post-human world; where everything is mutating; where everything is possible.
Gender has been at the core of public debate for a few years now, and a lot of work needs to be done on the matter. Do you feel society has evolved in this regard? And what do you think needs to be improved?
I think in the past few years Transness has become more socially accepted thanks to the popularisation of drag queens and TV series with transgender main characters. It is more ‘normalised’ in our current generation but still needs lot of work in terms of legal processes, medical viability, public fundings, etc. Trans people are constantly in danger because their identity is not recognised. This also causes a strong violence towards trans bodies who do not ‘pass’ or match the social standards of a feminine or masculine gender identity.
There’s fear of [certain ways of] being trans so there’s a predilection on choosing hormone therapy and genitals operations. I am in the process of changing identity on my passport and my lawyer told me that in Italy it is a requirement to have breast surgery to be accepted as a woman. I find this extremely shocking and problematic. Apparently they check levels of your hormones so if you do not match their standards you can’t be recognised as a woman. It is deeply problematic and there is a lot to talk about it. Transness brings with it the burden of patriarchy, machismo, discrimination and so on.
I speak from a lucky and privileged position as I was able to access hormone therapy privately so I started easily and quickly. Normally you would have to go through a psychological process that I find very intimidating and you would have to wait for the therapist to certify an agreement with your gender identity. Afterwards you would have to wait and wait until they gave you the hormones. In many countries hormones aren’t free at all and transitioning becomes inaccessible.
I believe there’s still lot of progress to do.

Discussing publicly your transition could be a way to process such an intense procedure. Did your art help to process this experience?
Talking publicly about my transition is helping me to be accepted the way I am, and as I am constantly changing, I like to keep talking about it. My intention is to normalise a topic that has always been a taboo. People in Italy are scared of the word ‘trans’ - so I was, and so was my family.
Trans is a word full of strong and powerful meanings. It symbolises a certain fluidity that must be accepted and embodied in order to face the looming mutations of humanity and its coalition with nature and technology. Transness encapsulates the infinite potentialities of our bodies; it represents our vulnerability and ephemerality; it reminds us that we are constantly changing and evolving; that we are not static beings but liquid elements flowing between places, crossing oceans with no clear direction.
You lived on a boat with your father for a long time while growing up, water has been part of your life since the beginning. Would you say that this aspect of your life has deeply influenced your last installation Transgenesis?
My aquatic childhood has definitely influenced my research as an artist. I grew up in the sea, my father is a sailor and he brought me everywhere he could. Water was my habitat. I always felt at ease in the sea, protected like my mother’s womb. When I dive underwater, I feel like a foetus in the womb. I like to recreate that situation for my body because it connects me with my origins, and it allows me to consider the potentialities that my bodily possesses.
I see the underwater world as a great potential for human dwelling and transspecies generations. I believe we will create new forms of contact with underwater organisms and become part of their habitat, in the future.
For this exhibition, you take the form of a massive octopus. Why did you choose this species from all the others?
The octopus is a symbol that represents me more than any other. Is the mistress of transformation, adaptability and fluidity. They are a great symbol of self-destruction and creation. They have the ability of self-amputating a tentacle when in danger and the power of re-growing it. Their nervous system isn’t like ours; it is way more decentralised and horizontal. They don’t have a nucleus or centre whereas there is an intrinsic system of nerves that go along their eight tentacles, each of them can chose by their own but still remains unified. It is a process of coalition and symbiosis.
Reading Donna Haraway was very inspiring. [Her chapter and idea of] 'Tentacular Thinking’ is an embodiment of the octopus not in the way we move or behave but in the way we think. Thinking like the octopus is a way of not knowing limits and embracing a fluid system of thoughts and interrelations.
A self-destroying hormone was detected in certain female octopi that makes them develop a suicidal instinct at the end of their life. This self-destruction allows the new offspring to grow strong and healthy. In fact, the female octopus anchors herself on top of their eggs and does not move until she dies.
During Transgenesis I felt like the female octopus, the great mother of all, with the power of self-destruction and rebirth. I felt connected to her, so I decided to become her.

In an interview you said that “It was important to me to play with space, to consider the actual space as a body in itself.” Could you go further in this idea of taking possession of the space as an extension of one’s body?
The idea of embodiment has always been at the core of my practice. My installations and performances are often site-specific, which means that are made for a specific place and cannot be replicated somewhere else. In almost all of my works the space comes first and the work is a response to it. Therefore, the space is often the starting point.
In the process of creation, my work has to adjust and fit to the space. Having a very fluid practice, I can shape the work according to different situations. I have no rules when I create. It’s like the octopus, again, who can adjust to the dynamics of other spaces. As the octopus becomes part of the rock in which it is hiding, my work takes the shape of the exhibition space, fusing together as an extension. While I become my work, I become the space around me. The spectator activates the same mechanism of embodiment. We are all in symbiosis.
What’s your next move going to be?
Enjoying my transition, the blossoming of my second puberty. I am changing at a fast speed, my process of thinking is different, and I am afraid of going back to my studio. I see everything differently. I need a change. This is why I am moving to Barcelona to develop a very special project. It’s going to be a long-term project, probably 5 years long or more...


Words
Koura-Rosy Kane
Portrait
Henri Kisielewski
Photos
Arturo Passacantando, Giorgio Benni and Stephen White & Co

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