Petr Davydtchenko

"I live like a token in the crypto-ecosystem. Decentralised, semi-autonomous and not governed by past hierarchies." Petr Davydtchenko

This image depicts Petr Davydtchenko's archival freezer from Go and Stop Progress. In it, you can see different boxes labelled "Fox Soup", "Pit Bull", "Fox Head", "Badger (fresh)", "Cat".

This image depicts an animal that Petr Davydtchenko found on the road during Go and Stop Progress. It is a dead fox's mouth, with sharp teeth and gums visible.
This image depicts an animal that Petr Davydtchenko found on the road during Go and Stop Progress. The image is the head of a dead hunting bird on a tarmac background.


Roadkill — a Symbol of Our Relational Reality? 

By Dr. Aneliya Bakalova 

Clinical psychologist and forensic psychotherapist-in-training, working for the NHS 

Petr Davydtchenko makes a clear statement about the personal  philosophy that underpins his experimental lifestyle: “I look to  find a parallel system, to see if it’s possible to exit the current  capitalist system” (‘Meet the artist starting a roadkill-to-table  revolution’, 2019). He openly rejects “modernity”, with its  inherent social, political and moral codes and hierarchies, and  endeavours to pursue “a semi-autonomous and non-governed  way of life” (‘It’s not about shock value’, 2019). His opposition to  what he calls “modernity” is most strikingly expressed though  his choice of food: roadkill and whatever nature has “discarded”.  It’s interesting to notice our immediate visceral response to this  “alternative” way of living: shock, disgust; yet not too far behind  this comes the question about the relationship we – the “modern”  members of society – have to food. 

Feeding and being fed – a triangular relationship Davydtchenko’s three-year experimentation with this lifestyle  places his relationship with the food he eats in order to survive at  centre stage. He feeds himself with roadkill, roadkill supplied by  the modern world.  

Our first contact with food, is always mediated by another –  first the Mother, whose womb is the environment within which  

the foetus develops, the environment that feeds the unborn  through its umbilical cord. Then it is the mother’s breast,  whether in literal terms, or through the hand that holds the milk  bottle or feeds the baby food in any other form. The point is that  feeding always involves an interaction with another. States of  hunger evoke very powerful emotional responses in babies,  which are “detoxified” (Bion, 1965) or “contained” by the [m] other gradually; these exchanges form a crucial part of the  foundations of human personality and the way the individual  will come to interact with the world around them, human- and  other-than.  

In a “good-enough” relationship to the breast/mother/caring  environment, the infant gradually shifts from the pleasure principle  (i.e. the absolute need to have all its needs gratified as soon as  they arise – including the need to be fed), to the reality principle  (i.e. learning how to tolerate the state of frustration and accept  the limitations of the external environment, inherent to which is  an appreciation that the environment is external and separate to  the infant) (Winnicott, 1953). 

Further, the baby learns how to regulate its emotions through  them being met and responded to by the mother (it internalises  the soothing and nurturing function of the mother), and learns  to trust that its needs, for food included, would be reliably met  even if it has to wait and tolerate moments of frustration. This set  of relational transactions inevitably involves food as a currency  of sort, something that can be experienced as rewarding and  nurturing, but that can also be used as punishment, withheld,  presented in an unsatisfying form or, in extreme cases, used in  cruel and abusive ways.  

Who is the feeding other in Davydtchenko’s practice? I will now  explore the symbolic meaning of the act of the artist feeding  himself, and the role of the “other”, by looking at the triangular  relationship between the artist, his food, and the “modern” society  that “produces” the roadkill. 

Ingesting what is killed off, left behind 

Davydtchenko does not simply give up food supplied through  capitalist systems of production and distribution (buying food  with money, whether in a market, supermarket, a restaurant  or street vendor). There is more than one alternative to being a  consumer in the global food market. He could have started growing  food himself, he could have hunted, or he could have gleaned –  a practice well-known in France, and depicted in Agnes Varda’s  documentary “The Gleaners and I” (2000).  

Instead, Davydtchenko makes a deliberate choice to make roadkill  his main diet. This involves cycling for many kilometres every day,  in search for roadkill corpses; collecting the corpses and engaging  in an often-arduous process of checking the meat for disease,  storing the meat, skinning and dismembering it, when it’s time to  cook, and finally – preparing a meal and eating it. 

Moreover, Davydtchenko takes photos of the roadkill he finds, and  documents the location of each find; he later also records the recipes  he uses when cooking the meat, and refines his cooking skills by  being taught by experienced chefs. The process of documentation,  particularly of the corpses as found on the road, strangely resembles  forensic photographic evidence. The artist shows little to no emotion  when talking about this practice – it is turned into a routine devoid  of sentiment, one that resembles being in an boot camp.  

This emotional detachment from the roadkill Davydtchenko eats  contrasts sharply the visceral feelings evoked in most of us when  we hear about the project: shock, disgust, repulsion. The image  of a local kid looking for its lost cat, only to find it in the artist’s  freezer, is particularly emotive. The artist goes as far as stating  that his ultimate goal is to open a roadkill restaurant and achieve  “three Michelin stars for cooking donkey penis” (‘It’s not about  shock value’, 2019). 

The relationship between the artist and his food thus remains  obscure. This invites the audience to interpret his “art” in  multiple ways – as an appropriation of the same relational values  characteristic of capitalist societies– in order to expose their  absurdity; or as a complete rejection of those values and exposure  of the damage caused by “progress” – ingesting what has been  rejected and discarded.  

“Eating kittens and raw rats” is presented as a central part of the  artist’s alternative way of living, one that is meant as a counter culture, counter-life-style to “modernity” and the Western idea of  “progress”. What is the symbolic meaning of the act and products of  roadkill, and how is the artist appropriating this to express his own  socio-political position in relation to modern capitalist societies and  the notion of “progress”? I will now turn to exploring the relationship  between “modernity” and “roadkill” in order to address this question. 

The feeding other: “modernity” and roadkill 

One of the first videos I saw from the archive was of a Pitbull corpse  on the road, run over by cars, every few seconds. The bloody flesh,  hit and run over repeatedly, was difficult to watch for longer than  a few moments.  


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This, as well as the “crime-scene-like” collage of run-over animal  corpses on Davydtchenko’s wall, triggered questions about how we  understand “violence” and “aggression”. One can hardly ignore the  presence of the word “kill” in Davydtchenko’s main diet.  

The term “roadkill” sounds strikingly unspecific and technical.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines roadkill as: “Animals killed  on the road by vehicles” (Dictionaries, 2010). It refers to a group of  animals, who, based on the location might include anything from  domestic pets (cats and dogs), to domesticated cattle, and wildlife.  By denoting a heterogeneous group of animals with one term,  “roadkill”, we create an emotional detachment and disinterest in  what the killing of these animals means: both sentimentally, as  well as with regards to their place in the ecosystem. 

Furthermore, the accidental running over of animals in not a  criminal act. In a recent review of the US environmental history  of roadkill, Gary Kroll notes that “road-killed animals are  simultaneously one of the most common ways that Americans  encounter wildlife and one of the most unexamined phenomena  by scholars” (Kroll, 2015). The author notes that “early roadkill  mitigation techniques” focused on making the roads as uninviting  to animal mobility as possible”; this later shifted to designing  “permeable highways” which allow for animal mobility and aim  to minimize “the impact of habitat fragmentation” (ibid). Kroll  further quotes statistics about the number of deer killed by road  traffic in the US every year (one-two million), and the estimated  cost of such collisions (over 8 billion USD according to a 2008  study). The author proceeds his exploration of the American  

history of roadkill, but surprisingly sates early in his text that the  focus will not be on how humans have “changed their attitudes  toward animals as a result of their daily commutes and annual  vacations”, due to the “methodological obstacles” involved in  exploring this question (ibid). I invite the reader to consider the  relationship we, “modern citizens” of the developed world, have  to the roadkill animals. 

The act of “killing” when human beings are concerned, carries  varying degrees of intentionality. Hence the use of different words  to denote a death caused by another, where such intentionality is  judged to be absent. In such cases we talk about manslaughter:  “The crime of killing a human being without malice aforethought,  or in circumstances not amounting to murder” (Dictionaries, 2010). 

The act of roadkill, it could be argued, also lacks “malice  aforethought”. It is something that just happens, a by-product of  modern life, an unfortunate coincidence. What can we learn about  our individual and collective nature, by looking at the phenomenon  of “roadkill”?  

Ecologists and eco-psychologists (Dodds, 2011; Totton, 2011)  change the language used to describe the non-human environment,  by abandoning the prefix “non-”, which suggests a hierarchical  relationship, where “human” is superior (the alternative being  the negating “non”). The terms “other-than-human” and “more than-human” are used instead. This subtle change gives away the  different value we attribute to other-than-human forms of life: we  order species hierarchically, and often based on the monetary and/ 

or sentimental worth they carry. For example, the loss of an animal  might be experienced as a loss to humans, if that animal provides  meat classed as “high quality”, or if it provides other materials,  such as milk, fur, skin or fat that can in turn be transformed into  commodities to be sold and profited from; in other cases, such as  pets or game, animals are used to provide company, emotional  comfort and entertainment.  

This way of relating to the animal-, and other-than-human world,  resembles what the psychoanalyst Melanie Klein coined as “part object” relationships (Klein, 2012). She developed this term to  describe the baby’s experience of the mother not as a separate  being in her own right, but as an extension of the baby, a part 

object which is there to provide gratification as and when needed;  conversely, the failure of the part-object to satisfy and gratify is  experienced as a “bad presence” or as a persecution. This way of  relating, characteristic of very young infants (< 6 months old), is  called by Klein the “paranoid-schizoid” position (ibid). In normal  human development, we start to gradually learn that there is a  reality existing outside of us, starting with the realisation that [m] other is separate and that immediate and unlimited gratification is  not possible. The same realisation continues to then extend to the  child’s growing awareness of the wider social environment, and  should ultimately include the other-than-human environment. In  what Klein labels the “depressive” position, we can experience  guilt in relation to our capacity for aggression towards the [m] other; the guilt, when tolerated, can make way for deeper feelings  of concern to emerge, together with the wish for reparation and the  capacity for loving and caring feelings (Klein & Riviere, 1964). This  

can only take place if we are able to tolerate the frustration of our  needs, wishes and desires not being met at all times and at any cost. 

What type of relational dynamics does the phenomenon of roadkill  brings into light? Automobiles are a signifier of modernity; we need  them in order to travel, transport, and often as a display of material  success and social status. Yet, by driving those same vehicles, we  kill. Is this an act of violence towards the other-than-human? And if  so, why are we apparently so emotionally detached from it? 

The psychological process named “disavowal” might help us  answer this question. It was first used by Freud in some of his  key case descriptions such as the “Wolf Man” and his paper  on “Fetishism” (Freud, 1918; Freud, 1928). In using the term  “disavowal” Freud describes “a vertical split of the ego”, resulting  in one part of the mind knowing something, whilst another part of  the mind remaining completely unaware of it, in order to minimise  psychic discomfort, anxiety and even terror.  

Ecopsychologists and psychoanalysts (Dodds, 2011) use the  concept of disavowal to explain why humanity is failing to  acknowledge and respond to the environmental crisis facing us  and threatening our existence. Disavowal reduces anxiety in the  face of real or imagined conflicts and crises, such as the collapse  of the ecological environment. Disavowal can also be what is in  process when we so blatantly turn a blind eye to millions of fellow  human beings suffering, as well as when we refuse to really know  (intellectually as well as emotionally) about mass inequalities,  racism and the various forms of human and animal exploitation,  

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feeding our “modernity”. The problems are not only immense,  they require us looking at our own capacity for destruction, and  facing what might feel like overwhelming levels of guilt and  powerlessness. Turning a blind eye both protects against such  feelings as well as allows the more destructive parts of our nature  to govern our behaviour.  

The psychoanalyst Sally Weintrobe, alongside interdisciplinary  scholars, look further into the ecological collapse we are facing  and the individual and collective processes that allow for the  danger of extinction to remain inadequately responded to, or even  fed into. Weintrobe’s paper titled “Engaging with Climate Change  Means Engaging with Our Human Nature” explores in particular  how neo-liberal ideologies and their realisation in capitalist  societies promote certain types of “attachments” to human, and  

The ecological debt or “karma” each of us accumulates when shopping  for pre-packaged food in supermarket shops is far bigger than that of  Davydtchenko and his roadkill diet. Is this alternative the artist’s way to  take personal responsibility for his relationship with the environment?  Interestingly, I have never heard him talk about this, or link the two.  Or is it a gory and shocking way to force us to look at what we are so  invested not to see? Like a scream right down from the guts of nature.  

Relationship between the artist the “modern” world Davydtchenko states clearly that he would like to develop a way  of existence that is parallel to “modernity”. What makes the  artist so invested in finding “another way” and thus denouncing  “progress”? 

The sociologist Robert Merton (Merton, 1968) suggests that  

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other-than-human others; these attachments are characterised  by feelings of arrogance and entitlement, as well as corporate  greed (Weintrobe, 2010). Weintrobe further states: 

“We are most likely to cut off concern and empathy when we  convince ourselves that we are superior to those we consign  to out-groups that we experience as far away from us; it tends  to make it far easier to exploit our out-groups, both human and  animal, when we see them as inferior to us and therefore not  worthy of our concern” (ibid). 

The capacity for mass destruction in the name of obtaining  political power, and how that relates to our notion of “progress”  was explored by the philosopher and political theorist Hannah  Arendt nearly 50 years ago. In her book “On Violence” she wrote:  

“Not only has the progress of science ceased to coincide with  the progress of mankind (whatever that may mean), but it  could even spell mankind’s end, just as the further progress of  scholarship may well end with the destruction of everything  that made scholarship worth our while.” (Arendt, 1970) 

The question of what we qualify as “progress” or “modernity”  is surely a complex one with no single answer. It is not my aim  to denounce “progress” as something purely bad; what I am  highlighting here, just as Arendt did in her writing on political  violence not long after WWII, is the price we all pay collectively  in the name of progress, and the price that other “non-modern”  social groups, as well as the other-than human environment pay.  Roadkill is one example of the many costs involved. 

marginalised groups take one of three possible positions in response  to the mainstream culture they are being excluded from: 1. Adopting  the same values of financial success as the main culture, but being  denied equal access to education and employment opportunities,  attaining success through illicit means (i.e. crime); 2. Becoming  “rebels” and rejecting the goals of success and conventional  ways of reaching those, by becoming “drop-outs” and creating  alternative ideologies and lifestyles; 3. Becoming “retreatists”,  thus renouncing any wish or hope for success and withdrawing  from society entirely. Davydtchenko could be seen as belonging to  the second group – creating an existence adjacent to “modernity”,  whilst trying to live by his own “philosophies”. 

Davydtchenko’s lifestyle could be seen as further challenging  the “civilized” by tapping into much deeper, unconscious human  anxieties, the ones linked to “… our civilisation’s ambivalent  relationship to the other-than-human world, the ‘primal uncanny’  of nature” (Dodds, 2011, p. 115). His practice could be seen  as reversing what is considered to be at the heart of primitive  anxieties linked to the animal world (being bitten by a horse,  chased by a wolf, “having one’s bowels gnawed by a rat” (ibid, p.  117): he becomes the one who disembodies, skins, ingests. Anne  Smelik, quoted in Dodds (ibid) describes the “true horror of the  male monster” as lying in the alignment with what is considered  counter-phallic, or counter-masculine: “woman, animal and  death”. Davydtchenko’s practice certainly involves a daily  exposure to the latter two, which raises the question whether  he thus challenges and denounces “the male symbolic order”, as  represented in the food-chain hierarchy topped by man, and ruled  now almost universally by corporate empires. 

The wider, ‘holding’ environment 

Davydtchenko’s roadkill lifestyle is far from existing in a  vacuum. He lives at The Foundry, a residential art-production  and exhibition space, occupied by a community of artists, whose  work carries strong socio-political messages. The Foundry itself  is located in a small village in rural South-West France. Local  people appear to not only tolerate but in some cases openly  support The Foundry with its multiple activities, including  Davydtchenko’s way of existence.  

Looking solely at the artist’s survival off roadkill risks that  attention is paid in a sensationist way only to what feels gruesome  and uncanny. Davydtchenko does not reject social relations, he  attempts to redefine the terms of his relations – to his food, and  to the people who choose to support him, without a monetary  exchange forming part of the relationship. Furthermore, his  structured, almost ritualistic daily routine and his immediate  access to natural environments, appear to create a state of “being  in the present”. This resembles much of what forms key part of  third-wave psychotherapies applied in the treatment of trauma and  mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety. Mindfulness and  guided meditation have become part of popular culture in the West,  still often packaged and sold at a price. Ecotherapy, meaning forms  of psychological therapy that involve the exposure to “nature”,  are offered as free treatment in some NHS trusts in the UK. Has  Davydtchenko found a personal way of healing emotional traumas  that we are all vulnerable to, at varying degrees? And how are we  really ought to measure progress: by the degree of expansion and  material growth or by the quality of our relationships – with other  people, as well as with the other-than-human?