Eleanor Antin’s Blood of a Poet Box.
(Via Brooklyn Museum)
(via Quintus on Flickr)
- Excerpts from Antin’s 1974 “Notes on transformation,” in which she writes:
“I am a post-conceptual artist concerned with the nature of human reality, specifically with the transformational nature of the self. I began with biographical explorations before moving into autobiography. In 1965, I collected blood specimens from 100 poets. The Blood of a Poet Box was intended to suggest relations between a smear of blood on a laboratory slide and a name. I soon discovered that blood isolated from the body is at best merely a metaphor except to certain esoteric specialists like doctors and policemen.”
- Antin interviewed for the Smithsonian Archives of American Art by Judith Olch Richards (2009)
I was substitute teaching at the time and to make some extra money, I took a kindergarten class for a term when their regular teacher got pregnant. I think this was in Bedford Sty. So on Christmas the kids brought me presents. One of them gave me a little Sewing Susan and soon after I saw this green slide box for sale in the window of a science store. It was a little fragile, a little old, something of a ruin, perhaps, and it reminded me of the [Marcel] Duchamp Green Box and so I bought it. Apparently, the new lab slides they were making were too small for this older box, so they don’t quite fit, they’re slightly unstable.
So I had this Sewing Susan and I just bought some antiseptic and cotton and I started – I started with David to see what it would be like to draw blood – eeww, I stuck his finger. It was gross. But he was my guinea pig and I covered the specimen with a slide cover like they do in the lab. And I had my first blood slide.
MS. RICHARDS: But back up for a second. What – how did this idea –
MS. ANTIN: It was related to the movie, [Jean] Cocteau’s Blood of a Poet  and I did like Cocteau’s movies. I was sort of kidding around at first with the idea of the artist’s soul, his life’s blood. So what, who, is a poet? I mean, what could be more basic than blood? Now they’d say DNA, so today you could say my blood box is a treasure trove of poet DNA, kind of ghostly, I guess, since by now, most of them – many of them, not most – are dead. But blood has a poetry to it that DNA doesn’t have.
Actually the people in the early part of the box, the first ones, seem to have less vibrant, less passionate blood. For a while, I still had a little trepidation about doing it, I didn’t want to hurt or scare anyone, so I drew like less blood. So the blood of those poets seem more modest, less passionate. But afterwards, I got into it, no nervousness, boom, my needle hit harder. Result – those poets all look like they’re much more passionate [laughs] because they have thicker, richer blood. And by then the poets were – you know, they were very amiable about it. Everybody knew about the piece by then. It was part of the scene. Obviously I knew a lot of these poets personally but there were a lot of them whom I didn’t know.
[MUCH MORE AT THE LINK]
- The Box described at the Tate website
- Cocteau’s film, from which the project takes its title: Le sang d’un poète (1930, Jean Cocteau)
- A write-up of Antin’s 30-year retrospective by Anne Wagner for Artforum (1999), in which she says, of the box:
“The slides are labeled by date and name of donor; the corpus collects the deposits of a hundred different absent bodies, reducing poetic passion and aliveness to the same rusty trace, yet keying the imagination by the selfsame means”
- Antin featured on Art 21