Geraldine Goat – The Hard Way To Enlightenment

By Katrina Palmer, 9 May 2012
Image: All images Stephan Dillemuth, The Hard Way to Enlightenment, Transmission Gallery, Glasgow 28 September 2010 – 9 October 2010

Stephan Dillemuth's film installation, The Hard Way to Enlightenment, deployed a live goat in an immanent critique of privatisation and its implications for art, research and education. Geraldine has since slipped her collar to appear in this short story by Katrina Palmer satirising the apparently limitless masochism of the contemporary artist



The management of goats has seen a rise in disbudding – the removal of horn buds shortly after birth. The buds can be cut out of a kid’s head by knife, but are more commonly cauterised with hot irons. This procedure is not always conclusive. If the horn-producing cells aren’t completely destroyed, the buds can grow back. Damaged bud cells can result in irregularities in any subsequent horn. As one of Geraldine’s horns re-emerged, it was evidently afflicted in this manner, instead of developing with a backwards curl, it had a deviant curving forwards aspect. From its tip, the rigid crescentiform was set on a brutal trajectory, advancing as it was towards the front of Geraldine’s skull, bound to make contact at a point just above her eye. The rate of the horn’s growth was slow but constant, roughly equivalent to the progress of human hair, or a fingernail.



With joy and terror mingled, in these past weeks, Geraldine tried to consider the potential benefits of a wayward horn and its impending threat to her cranium. Her instinct was to see it as material for her work. As she never let her being-as-goat constrain her life options, she was an artist, and for the most part used her own body as sculptural material. Since leaving art school, she gained a reputation for live streamed performances, including She-Goats Have Beards – a month-long webcast that focused on Geraldine’s shaven muzzle, until her natural beard grew back to its full unkempt length. So, with the perilous nature of her condition now apparent, it seemed only natural to exploit it as artwork – a duration piece in which the progress of the horn was the subject of scrutiny via a live webcast. This would be a solo performance, from an undisclosed location. Geraldine named her new work The Hard Way to Enlightenment, as last year she had a role in a film of the same name by Stephan Dillemuth. His film featured a goat (that is, Geraldine) and a man (the artist who talks, paints and eats) accompanied by a voiceover lecture on the dangers of corporatisation and the need for advanced art education to be self-directed and bohemian. Geraldine was sympathetic to Dillemuth’s narration, seeing the increasingly streamlined and controlled characteristics of educational establishments as counteractive to the creation of good artwork. Nevertheless, she was disappointed that her role in the film was merely symbolic.



By now, if Geraldine looked upwards she could just see the tip of the horn making its approach over her eyebrow, so she chose to spend time looking down. When the tip of the horn first touched the dense hair of her fur, the pressure was so slight that she hardly noticed. A few days later, as the sharp point of the horn depressed her skin, she felt it as nothing more than the irritation of an insistent finger tapping on her forehead. The pressure grew and her skin stretched, accompanied by a prickly stinging sensation. More days passed before the feeling became truly uncomfortable and even then, when the epidermis split, there was no real pain as such, it was more of a continuous ache, and being a stalwart goat, she could tolerate it. Despite the slow pace of its progress, in the last week of December the horn made a significant and troubling move from the outside of her head, inward, casually passing through tender sebaceous glands and pulsing blood vessels. Geraldine bore the adversity well, but as the month closed her skull finally succumbed to the pressure. A crack appeared, and now the pain kicked in.



Geraldine found ways of managing her pain. She discovered distraction was the most effective means of counteracting trauma, and attempted to impose some methodological structure on her days, dividing her time between composition (re-positioning herself in front of the camera), dissemination (maintaining her blog) and contextualisation (researching on the net and reading emails sent in by her audience). One viewer wrote to Geraldine with a supportive message, insisting that penetrating head injuries aren’t necessarily fatal, citing the case of Phineas P. Gage who survived after an explosion sent a 3foot iron through his head. By all accounts it went straight into his cheekbone, clean through his skull and landed some 25 meters away. There were reports of adverse changes to his personality, memory loss, impaired conversational skills, inappropriate sexual activity, hypomania, impulsiveness, depression, increased levels of frustration and so on, but he lived. Others wrote more critically, suggesting she was bound to die for a work that was nothing more than the performance of the social and formal knowledge imposed on her at art school. She didn’t reply.



The horn plunged deeper, dislodging brain matter from the frontal lobe and sending her on an hallucinatory trip. Weak from the pain and loss of vital fluids, she couldn’t keep a hold of herself in her imaginings. She saw herself all coated in layers of fresh blood on top of dried, idly sucking on a juicy tomato and wondering about who she really was. Although Geraldine was never under the delusion of being human, she now began to think that she might be something other than a goat. From the arrangement of her anatomy she was fairly sure she wasn’t a dog, but she thought she could easily be a rarer variety sheep or a small deer, in the same way that something at first sight might appear to be a spider, but could then turn out to be a crab; or what looks like a vegetable might really be a fruit. She became convinced that the sense of doubt about who she really was, was a direct result of her participation in Dillemuth’s film. In her traumatised mind, it was Dillemuth who typecast her and undermined her potential to be anything beyond an institutionalised goat. It was his work that was explicitly and predominantly about the pseudo-libertine crude control mechanisms of art schools, and this only served to reconfirm the power of those conditions, because it allowed them to consume his creative output, and her own.



Weeks passed in strange studio-bound isolation, interrupted only by occasional email contact. A message arrived with a link to a story about the shooting of some of her feral cousins:

The trust said its decision to destroy the herd of British native feral goats was based on ‘animal welfare grounds’ as no other suitable home was available. One local, who asked not to be named, said:

It is absolutely disgusting, the National Trust is supposed to be a conservation group […] They brought those poor animals on to the land and, because they didn’t build adequate fencing, they shot them […] The trust spent three weeks rounding up 15 of the goats before placing them on the grassy slopes surrounding the ruins of nearby Corfe Castle. But when they escaped again, their time was up. The hunt is now on for the last three which will also be shot if no one offers them a home.

This story disturbed Geraldine. She felt all the more determined to pursue her creative vision, unfettered. And after several viewers asked her to comment on the current state of art education, she finally gave a single and obtuse response – a statement made directly to camera:

I, Geraldine Goat, refuse to enter the debate on the value of advanced art education, I choose instead to put my creative energy into producing work. Art education is a head-fuck, what’s new? I always knew it’d be a head-fuck, that’s why I went into it. I like having my head fucked.



It was during this month that Geraldine turned away from the video camera, folded her legs underneath her barrelled torso, tucked her muzzle into her fur and made a brave attempt to sleep. In the years before the horn, when she used to close her eyes, she would gaze at the field of sludgy hues behind her eyelids. She would look into this brown, muddy terrain, and see it inflected with a multitude of tiny pale florets, budding and sprouting to form a landscape alive with efflorescence. Now, however, with the deviant horn invading her head, still growing and drawing its length and strength through her brain, when she closed her eyes and hoped to sleep, she saw the seven vertical, vibrant bands of a television test pattern: grey; yellow; turquoise; green; magenta; red; cyan. Across these solid columns an irregular jagged white lightening flash appeared and disappeared just as suddenly. Repeated white flashes gradually became more dominant, turning the columns of warm colours to white, at which point Geraldine suffered the first of many convulsions. Her audience figures increased.



From beneath her loaded brow, Geraldine sensed her work intensifying along with the increasingly broad diameter of the horn’s arc. The sharp tip had pierced through to the back of her brain and the widest part of the horn entered her frontal lobe. Then, to her surprise, a thick bubbling jet of spume discharged and as the pain reached a peak of an indescribable nature, cutting through her awareness, at this very point when she was preparing herself to lose consciousness, she discovered that she felt more awake than ever. A rapid flux of opening sensations shuddered through her, bright lights and positive exhilaration. Astonished, she wondered if the horn might be functioning as if it was a drill for self-trepanation. With results much like those associated with that peculiar procedure, she’d increased the volume of blood flowing through her brain and released the accumulation of pressure. Meanwhile messages flooded in demanding an end to the barbaric spectacle. Attempts were being made to trace her location. Geraldine began to suspect that for all her efforts to transcend her role in Dillemuth’s film, she was complicit with promoting and glorifying its triumphant procession around the globe. Not only this, but she had now constructed for herself the role of victim of an art education and an association with the neurosurgical, mystical or pathological procedure of self-trepanning couldn’t help. She stamped her hoof on the computer, turning off the video, shutting down the email and terminating her connection with the outside world.



As the horn progressed through her head, Geraldine came to a private appreciation of both its presence inside her and the impressive form it created. It inched forwards and she focused not on the pain but on the sensual sensation of its slow shunting, penetrating movement inside her body. The prick took on the qualities of a fierce stabbing knife in her skull, although every now and then it would hit a nerve that sent an involuntary spasm shuddering through her stomach, down her tail and straight back up her spine, making her neck lose its control and forcing her head to jolt backwards, in a kind of ecstatic animation. With so much additional mass in her cranium, it took tremendous effort to lift the weight of her head upright, but as she did so she felt increasingly powerful. She sat back on her rump and dug her hooves in, aware of the magnificence of her presence: the conceptual and formal circularity of her horn-work; growing out of her head, as it was, and being ingested back into it. She turned the broadcast back on and positioned herself in profile to the video camera. At that moment, the tip of the horn quietly, finally, cropped up and cracked through the top of her head, feeling like the slow motion ping of an exciting idea, and looking like the protracted emergence of some stubborn and hardened seedling out of dry ground.



Katrina Palmer <katrina.palmer AT> locates sculpture in fiction writing, recordings and live readings. Her book The Dark Object (published by Book Works 2010), exploits sculpture’s awkward relationship with conceptualism through the paranoid pseudo-conceptual ideology of a fictional institution. Other work includes: Dubious objects, made up texts, readings and performances at Transmission Gallery Glasgow 2011; mmmm a CD for Art House Foundation 2011; Relief (A Remote Object of Thought) in the Modern British Sculpture catalogue, Royal Academy London 2011; Chair-Bed at Again A Time Machine, with Book Works at Motto Berlin 2011 and Volatile Dispersal Festival of Art Writing, Whitechapel Gallery London 2009.




Stephan Dillemuth, The Hard Way to Enlightenment was at the Transmission Gallery, Glasgow 28 September 2010 – 9 October 2010. The complete video, The Hard Way to Enlightenment: a dramatisation of a lecture on the academy and the corporate public in two parts, can be downloaded from Stephan's website here: