Elinor O’Donovan

The Immeasurable Grief of the Prawn   
GeneratorProjects, Dundee, UK   

Photos: Nicola Rubczak, Pete McConville, Elinor O’Donovan.
‘The Immeasurable Grief of the Prawn’ is an exhibition based around a film of the same title, and a collection of works exploring the notion of approximate knowledge, or bad knowledge: the kind that is dodgy, and poorly-retained. It’s the kind which is lodged at the back of your brain for years, jogged only by something someone says and you go “oh yeah I think I heard that before”.

It began in May last year, when I made dinner for my housemate Charlotte and myself. It was a prawn curry, as I had forgotten that Charlotte is a vegetarian. She was nice about it. “I eat prawns sometimes”, she said, and we got on with our meal.

Charlotte isn’t the first vegetarian I’ve met who eats prawns sometimes; something about them not being “as bad” to eat as other creatures. I’ve heard it said that they don’t have brains, or nervous systems, or whatever it is that animals have that make them feel pain, therefore whatever offence might be committed by killing and eating something that would know about it would be committed, but to a more palatable degree.

A few days later, I was invited by Generator to work on a solo exhibition for July 2023 and I thought of the prawns. I began to question: what if the prawns don’t have brains or nervous systems but they’re intelligent in ways that people aren’t able to imagine? What if the prawns are a hive-mind, one omniscient being? How would such an all-knowing prawn entity feel every time a prawn is eaten by a vegetarian who says it’s not so bad to eat them?

I feel it’s important to mention here that I haven’t fact-checked anything. I never looked up to see whether or not prawns have brains or nervous systems*, I started working with the knowledge (or lack thereof) that I had. The super-intelligent prawn that I began to imagine is still just as plausible a reality to me as the prawn that’s kind-of more-okay to eat because it can’t feel pain.

The film, ‘The Immeasurable Grief of the Prawn’ is, appropriately, the first film I have ever made and is therefore an approximation of what I know a film should be like based on other films I’ve seen. It explores the various ways that knowledge is formed, through conversation with others (from elegant dinner tables to the pub corners where “shite talk” proliferates), through consuming various media, or from experience. It considers the decay of such knowledge, through poor memory, or where knowledge is skewed by jokes.

The accompanying exhibition at Generator is a bad museum of approximate knowledge. Its artefacts include drawings, digital collages, found objects, paintings and post-it notes drawn by friends in pubs. Each is presented without context or explanation, a tribute to the plausibility of a super-intelligent prawn who gets it, even if we don’t.

*At this stage, I do not want to know whether or not prawns have brains and nervous systems. Do NOT tell me. I’m serious.

elinor.odonovan (at) hotmail.com