XenoEstrogens, installation view at Autocenter, Berlin, 2015.
Photography by Hans-Georg Gaul.

Xenoestrogens @ Autocenter

In her solo show Xenoestrogens, Juliette Bonneviot continues her investigations into the nexus between ecology and gender by engaging with the materiality of things through a focused practice. She makes a speculative exploration of the hidden life and power of the chemical compound xenoestrogen (meaning: foreign estrogen), which looks like and mimics estrogen (or oestrogen).

The exhibition consists of paintings Bonneviot made using her collection of different compounds containing types of xenoestrogens. She begins with the core – the chemical xenoestrogen as a material – and spirals outward into many of its biological, cultural and philosophical implications.

In Bonneviot’s thinking, matter is powerful, active and alive. It is dispersive and it moves constantly. Xenoestrogens are a perfectly concentrated example of this movement. Many are deeply disruptive to living systems, having been linked to birth defects, cancerous growth, hormonal disruption, and abnormalities in animal and human reproductive health.

Xenoestrogens can be organic, or synthetic, or mineral. Synthetic xenoestrogens are perhaps the most infamous, found in birth control pills, silicones, oils and lacquers, coolants and insulating fluids, BPA and pesticides, detergents and plasticizers, linens, lotions, shampoos, beverage cans and lacquers. Organic xenoestrogens are found in plant, animal and human life, often performing valuable biological functions, like curbing population growth.

Bonneviot’s process is studied; she gathers, catalogs, archives and arranges her compounds meticulously. In the process of collecting, Bonneviot drew on philosopher Jane Bennett’s description of hoarding as an intentional kind of work, emerging from one’s own attuned orientation to thing-life.

For these paintings, Bonneviot used a variety of xenoestrogens, including: metalloestrogens, which predate oestrogens (and are sourced from aluminum, lead, copper, chrome, antimony, cadmium); phytoestrogens from plants, (extracted from soy and sesame seeds and flax plants); mycoestrogens (pulled from zearalenone, a fungi in grains); and other artificial xenoestrogens (siphoned from silicone, phthalates, BPA, epoxy resins, additives, aspirin and of course, the pill).

The paintings’ minimalism belies their procedural complexity. They involved experimentation with both traditional and unorthodox materials to find the right range of colors, and the right pairings of surfaces with binders. Her mixtures reveal vivid, saturated pigment groups: reds, yellows, blues, earth-colors and greys. (Red, for example, is sourced from silicone rubber, copper, the cadmium pigments in architectural paints and E127 Erythrosine B, a food coloring).

Testing their resistance and flexibility as mediums, she created a linen fabric support with wood floor lacquers to bind, a support of epoxy resins to bind atop PVC, and, in a final iteration, silicone as both binder and surface.

Natural and industrial production intersect on the canvas; the synthetic is mixed in with mineral and organic. Easy binaries and divisions are muddied, as a result. In this flow from ancient organic compounds into the modern and artificial, the viewer is forced to consider a wide arc of time – from the pre-mammalian era, to the future, in which our offspring will be shaped by chemical actants loose in the world now.

In sourcing these xenohormones from a range of organic and synthetic sources, Bonneviot gestures strongly at the “interstitial field of non-personal, ahuman forces, flows, tendencies and trajectories” that define life, as Bennett writes in her seminal text, Vibrant Matter. The materiality and artistry of xenohormones as they both impress and express is one aspect of Bennett’s “agency of assemblages,” or the “working whole made up, variously, of somatic, technological, cultural, and atmospheric elements.

We’re asked to consider the world from the perspective of the chemical itself – where it was birthed, where it journeyed, and in what form it entered the bloodstream, the water and the technological environment. We are also asked to think on environmental contamination, as volatile xenoestrogens lurk, resilient, in treatment plant runoff and pesticides and waste, eroding hormonal and ecological balance.

Chemicals are always present before us as actants, though not always detectable to the naked eye. They transform our human and animal bodies into spaces of great drama. We’re just a few of many assemblages being wrought and remade in a newly synthetic world.

Nora N. Khan

Earth-Coloured Xenoestrogens, 2015

  • • Flaxseeds and sesame seeds. These plants produce a xenohormone, as a defense against the overpopulation of herbivorous animals.
  • • Zearalenone is a mycoestrogen. This is a mushroom that lives in seeds; it can permeate the human skin.
  • • Copper and copper ions destroy chemical structures with ease.
  • • Chromium, a pigment used for glass, glazes and paint. It retains its strength at high temperature.
  • • Phthalates, plasticizers are here present in wood floor lacquer.
  • • Linen comes from the flax plant. It is one of the preferred traditional supports for oil painting.
    180 x 120 cm
180 x 120 cm.

Blue Xenoestrogens, 2015

  • • Cobalt has been used since ancient times in paint and decorative objects.
  • • Copper is present here in the form of a pesticide.
  • • Silicone rubber does not stick to many substrates but adheres very well to others. It is flame-retardant.
  • • Aluminium is lightweight and resistant to corrosion.Flaxseeds and sesame seeds. These plants produce a xenohormone, as a defense against the overpopulation of herbivorous animals.
180 x 120 cm.

Black Xenoestrogens, 2015

  • • Tin is malleable and resists corrosion from water. It is used as a protective coat for other metals. Without tin, PVC would rapidly degrade under heat, light, and atmospheric oxygen.
  • • Chromium.
  • • Bisphenol A (epoxy resin). It is found in the coating of food cans.
  • • PVC pipe is nearly totally resistant to biological attacks.
180 x 120 cm.

Yellow Xenoestrogens, 2015

  • • Soya Beans. Soya plants produce a chemical compound similar to estrogen to control the fertility of mammals. This Xenoestrogen disrupts the mechanism of their estrogen-binding receptors.
  • • Antimony is a useful alloy with lead to increase its hardness and strength.
  • • Cadmium is used in batteries and has reportedly been found in wonton soup in Chinese street food.
  • • Phthalates (in wood floor lacquer) are easily released in the environment. Indoor air concentrations are found to be higher than outdoor air concentrations.
  • • Linen canvas.
180 x 120 cm.

Deep Grey Xenoestrogens, 2015

  • • Aluminum.
  • • E320 BHA antioxidant found in food.
  • • E310 propyl gallate antioxidant found in food.
  • • Oestradiol contraceptive pills.
  • • Aspirin can suppress the production of prostaglandins, a hormone responsible for sensitizing spinal neurons to pain.
  • • Zearalenone fungi. Mushrooms are biologically and genetically closer to animals than to plants.
  • • Chromium.
  • • Silicone rubber. Silicones are present on us, such as our personal care products and also in us like the oil from the most deep-fried fast food.
180 x 120 cm.

Red Xenoestrogens, 2015

  • • Cadmium pigments have highly superior lightfastness. Mostly found in plastic colouring and architectural paints, they have remained incredibly vibrant through the ages in classical paintings.
  • • E127 Erythrosine B is a beautiful red food colouring.
  • • Copper and copper ions destroy chemical structures with ease.
  • • Bisphenol A. Before its current use to make plastic, it was developed in the early 1930s as an artificial estrogen intended to be used in fertility treatments.
  • • PVC. This present type of PVC was made softer and more flexible by the addition of phthalates.
180 x 120 cm.

Grey Xenoestrogens, 2015

  • • Lead is known for its powerful opaque whiteness. It was the principal white pigment used in classical oil painting and later in architectural paint.
  • • Oestradiol contraceptive pills.
  • • E320, E310.
  • • Aspirin.
  • • Aluminum is the most abundant metal in the Earth’s crust.
  • • Chromium.
  • • PVC is the third-most widely used plastic polymer.
  • • BPA, here present in epoxy resin, makes plastic hard and unbreakable, while remaining soft and flexible.
180 x 120 cm.

PET Woman #4, 2015
PET plastic sheet ♳, PET bottle. ♳ 75 x 48 x 26 cm

PET Woman #5, 2015
PET plastic sheet ♳ 60 x 48 x 26 cm