By Emily Sparkes

 October 18, 2016


When I was invited to Frieze as part of the Artists’ and Curators’ Development Programme by the New Art Gallery Walsall and New Art West Midlands, I hadn’t been since 2011. Back then I was a wide-eyed first year art student. “Look at all this crazy art!?” I said. Oh, how we laughed. Since then I have completed two degrees and committed myself to a practice-based PhD, barricading myself in the School of Art in a fortress made of dense philosophy books stuck together with post-it notes. My understanding of art and of the art world has developed somewhat, although I’m still painting, which is usually ditched within that crucial first year of art school when one realises the potential for doing highly experimental performance pieces and using expanding foam. But I am a painter at heart. I have also acquired a goat.[1]


Frieze attracts a very respectable 60,000 visitors a year, presumably all human, and now perhaps it’s first goat. But our entry to the fair was smooth, since we’d arrived relatively early, and as it turns out, virtual goats enter free. Would a goat even be called out at an art fair with so many other strange things going on? This year’s strange goings-on included actors playing American cops, a mime-waiter, a crammed fake atelier at Hauser & Wirth and a chintzy socio-political installation in the Portaloos. So no one seemed to bother with Goatfried Leibniz (yes, isn’t it a charming name) as we mooched around the tent, holding our free copy of Frieze Week and trying our best to look legit.


Our visit to Frieze reminds me of Mark Tansey’s painting The Innocent Eye Test and Arthur C. Danto’s critique of the painting from his book Beyond the Brillo Box (1992):


The Innocent Eye Test is a wry and witty painting by the American artist Mark Tansey, which depicts, in mock seriousness, a scientific experiment which could easily have taken place. A cow has been led into a picture gallery in which we see two identifiable paintings - Paulus Potter’s The Young Bull of 1647 and one of Monet’s grain-stack paintings of the 1890s. Tansey’s painting, which looks as if it was painted in perhaps 1910, was in fact done in 1981. So the time of the execution and the time in the execution tend to put the viewer’s eye to a test, and there is a sly question as to whether it is Tansey’s painting itself or what his painting depicts that is the innocent eye test.[2]

In this fictional circumstance, Tansey and Danto ask whether the cow is seeing other cows or just “flat stains of colour”. Danto, fixated with the differences between ‘artifice’ and ‘reality’, decides that perhaps an animal is capable of being responsive, the ‘innocent’ eye seeing Potter’s cow as a cow, just as it sees the cow in a field. However Tansey’s cow is incapable of seeing the painting as art since that kind of ‘pictorial competence is not a perceptual skill wired in but a matter of being located, as animals are not, in culture and history’[3]. To put this idea to the test I pointed Goatfried in the direction of Damian Hirst’s Black Sheep (2007). Would the goat consider it an art piece or just see a sheep? Do different styles and mediums demand different responses, as with the cow observing Potter and Monet: ‘is the cow indifferent to these differences? Would she salivate before the grain stack as she grows vaginally humid in tribute to the bull?’[4] Heaven forbid would Goatfried pursue the pickled corpse? I worried that this was all rather upsetting for him, but he soon moved on, perhaps feeling despondent with Hirst’s gross over-commercialization of his own practice. However, the most interesting question for me is whether Goatfried, if he were in fact sentient, would be able to see anything at all…


Using virtual (as opposed to augmented) reality software is somewhat of a vanishing act; once using the headset you are unable to see your own body around you. VR promises to engross users and elicit visceral and emotional responses: one is able to move and perform actions as a mind without a body in endless environments. As an augmented creature, Goatfried is also removed from our reality, accessed only through an application and represented in the photo above. So although we can see Goatfried through the medium of my iPhone, our physical world is uninhabitable for him without technology, his body belongs to a different dimension that is not directly perceptible. Jon Rafman’s Transdimensional Serpent (2016), at the Seventeen booth at Frieze, is a virtual reality video art installation that takes fairgoers into a world constructed by the artist. Hypothetically, would Goatfried be plunged into an immersive environment of sounds and visions, as the difference between the red pill and the blue pill, able to see himself and the world around him for the first time? Unfortunately I couldn’t quite figure out how to get the headset on him.


With the potential for virtual reality increasing, VR systems are being touted as tools for treating post-traumatic stress disorder; fear of public speaking and for training surgeons, astronauts or football players. A seemingly sci-fi but perhaps plausible vision of the future would be that we’d all view the world through the cipher of augmented or virtual reality software, perhaps in the form of glasses, or microchips directly in the eye. This could allow us to see people as their avatars and not as their physical selves, or just as they were when they were young and beautiful. We could inhabit our own individual altered worlds in which things are more colourful, or less logical, with no litter and better weather, or with kaiju stomping about, smashing up the infrastructure. I ask Goatfried, does he not find it fabulous that at some point in the future he could be imbued with artificial intelligence and reacting back to me in VR? With free will, he could roam around at his leisure and I could come find him like Goatémon Go, maybe ride around on his back like Goat Simulator[5]. And then perhaps we won’t have to travel to Frieze at all; I could sit in my bedroom for 4 hours with a VR headset on, load up the Frieze 2023 program and buy virtual artwork to furnish my augmented house. Will I be able to afford art by then? Will there be a discount on virtual art? What is authenticity? This overwhelming new world of potential opportunities comes with its own ethics, new laws and fresh hells. If Donald Trump’s political campaign is anything to go by, we care less and less about facts, content to live in a simulacrum where “the truth” is highly subjective and reality can be bent and twisted to create an environment more palatable. Is Tansey’s cow’s perception of the painting the same as our conception of future virtual / augmented reality, will we be able to tell the difference?


I discussed all this with Goatfried but he just stared back at me. He seemed pretty nonplussed, so I took him for a look around the sculpture park.


In conclusion, most areas of Frieze seem very goat-friendly and the food & drink was excellent. I had the spicy gazpacho pressé, ogleshield churros and gremolata, and Goatfried had the organic Blackcurrant Soda, cauliflower dosa, mango chutney and coconut sambal. 10/10



[Further musings] Some facts about goats that I contest make them excellent art students [6]

·       Goats are social animals, however unlike sheep, which they are closely related to; they are not flock-orientated. 

·       Goats are very intelligent and curious animals. Their inquisitive nature is exemplified in their constant desire to explore and investigate anything unfamiliar that they come across.

·       Goats have excellent coordination. They have great balance and are thus able to survive in precarious areas such as steep mountains. They can even climb trees and some species can jump over 5 feet high.

·       The goat is one of the 12 Chinese zodiac animals. It represents introversion, creativity, shyness and being a perfectionist.

·       The Latin ‘Capra’ is the root of the word ‘capricious’ which means quirky, whimsical, fanciful and apt to change suddenly.

·       Like sheep, a goat’s eye is rectangular rather than round. They have excellent night vision and will often browse during the night.

·       Goats discovered coffee! Apparently in Ethiopia a goatherd saw goats behaving more actively and energetically after eating from a particular bush. He then tried it himself and felt uplifted, awake and full of energy.


[1] See: AugmenteDev (2016). Augment (Version 2.15.4) [Mobile application software]. Retrieved from http://itunes.apple.com

[2] Arthur C. Danto, Beyond the Brillo Box: The Visual Arts in Post-Historical Perspective (Berkeley, London and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1992), 15.

[3] Danto, Beyond the Brillo Box, 21.

[4] Danto, Beyond the Brillo Box, 16.

[5] ‘Goat Simulator is the latest in goat simulation technology, bringing next-gen goat simulation to YOU. You no longer have to fantasize about being a goat; your dreams have finally come true!’
See: Coffee Stain Studios (2016). Goat Simulator (Version 1.8) [Mobile application software]. Retrieved from

[6] See: OneKind. “Goat.” Accessed October 18, 2016. http://www.onekind.org/education/animals_a_z/goat/