The Living Ground project is an ongoing collaboration with Deanna Pizzitelli



“Human is only a part of who we are.’’ - Gregory Bateson

Western societies tend to perceive the boundary of the self as the boundary of a body enclosed in skin: a self-governing thing, rather than one part of a larger system. As a Canadian-Slovak couple and artist duo, we are questioning this boundary in a collection of photographs, texts and sculptural objects called The Living Ground. We define The Living Ground as the unacknowledged or intangible relationships that allow selfhood to form. This includes, but is not limited to, our relationship with sky and space, animal and bacteria, Internet, collective memory.

Sometimes we fail to acknowledge The Living Ground because our experience of it is uncomfortable. This experience can be abject: the diseased body, the writhing maggot. It can be erotic: orgasm, or voyeurism. Indeed, our brand of research involves taking microscopic looks at our subjects, in order to confront the essential nature of living systems: consumption and excretion, inclusion and separation, need.

According to Gregory Bateson, anthropologist and cyberneticist, a living system is not restricted by consciousness, but includes that which consciousness responds to. He gives the example of a blind man, walking on the street with his stick. Where does his ‘self’ end: at the hand, stick, or pavement? When we identify the boundary of an organism, we must consider the relationships that determine its identity.

Identity, after all, is a mechanism that situates us in the world, and recent generations are anxious over it. We are disembodied: lacking in touch, overwhelmed by information, and psychologically separate from those things we are beholden to – climates, insects. Our detachment opens the environment up to exploitation, and individuals to blame. How, then, do we justify selfhood? Should it be asserted? Is it meaningful? Beyond the time established by human consciousness, there is geologic time: the continents do not think of us when they shift.

This work also challenges portraiture as a genre that values specificity and singularity. Identity is a collage of overlaying relationships, layers in an ever-changing body. Our images, constellations of many subjects, are building a complete portrait of a person, as far as one is possible.

Our own relationship inspired this project. Together we travelled through North America and Europe. We built intimacy through movement: in the Albanian mountains, in a Bratislava apartment. These works and their groupings map our personal-professional collaboration. We look to each other to assess how to then look at the world. Indeed, this is the definition of collaboration, of social living.

Our existence is not limited to what we understand about it. And yet the need for identity – the telling of our stories – seems innate. In our own struggle for selfhood, we are creating an atlas for human identity, meaning and even doubt. Our essential question is this: how do we make room for selfhood in a world that may not require it?