This workshop was the finale in what we have been leading up to as a group. I felt really excited beforehand as I always enjoy the workshops we do as a group, particularly when they are student led. We all began as usual, with our Joel Sartore endangered animals as our background images. I have enjoyed this all though the semester, choosing which animal I am identifying with that week. As you can see from my screenshot below, I have chosen a panda, who looks rather cheeky lying down. I love the way some people fade into the background, such as Richard and Anna who have both literally become their animal.
Nidhi began the workshop, instructing us to watch a guided meditation video. This always puts me in a better frame of mind for the workshops, calming down any nerves and opening my imagination up. After this was the enjoyable part, where Richard got us all up for an animal theatre based workshop. Having a love for drama and theatre in the past, I knew I would enjoy this part of the workshop. I felt the workshop was primarily centred around the idea that we should have empathy for animals in captivity. This was achieved through doing ‘human’ movements, and then repeating the same movement as though we were an animal.
We each embodied the animal we had previously imagined in the workshops. Mine was Alexandros Kreatura, an animal who had the ability to defend all animal kind against human threat. Examples of the movements we had to do were, waking up in the morning as both human and then animal, running as both human and animal, and relaxing as both human and animal. I found these exercises really fun, and they opened my mind up to the differences you would not have previously thought of between humans and animals. For example, when waking up in the morning, it can take me at least 15 minutes before I get up or even stretch, whereas animals are immediately alert and get up once awake.
The second part of the workshop was a creative reflection on the first part. This was guided by Nidhi. She began by asking us to describe how we felt during the human movements, and how we felt during the animal movements. We discussed in depth the movements we did when we were embodying animals in captivity. This was particularly important as many people think zoo animals are happy, when the opposite may indeed be true. I do not think zoos are completely bad – many do fantastic work for animals and only temporarily keep them in captivity before release into the wild. I think the education they do is also incredibly beneficial for both children and adults. However, many zoos are too small and focused more on profit than animal welfare.
Performing as a captive animal, I felt trapped, insignificant, powerless, bored and afraid. I looked around my room and wondered what my life would be like if I could never go any further than those four walls. When I was performing as an animal in the wild, I felt empowered. I felt strong, capable and adventurous.
The workshop concluded with depicting these emotions in any way we wished. I chose to do this in a visual form, other forms which people explored were sound and animation. I started by drawing my movements across the floor of my room, when I was embodying an animal in the wild. These were long swooping movements, crossing around the room, tiptoeing, dancing, jumping. The lines of my journey crossed over one another. I then drew on a separate piece of paper how I felt embodying a captive animal. I did not want to make this too obvious, such as an elephant form, as my imaginary animal changed their appearance often. I modelled the character off The Scream. Arms clutched around the face in fright and shock, with an air of desperation, with deep black lines resembling the cage bars in front of the face.
As the two drawings were separate at this stage, I wanted to create a final outcome from the two. I decided to scan in the papers and overlay them together using Photoshop. It represents the way that the animal was once free, and could wander wherever he desired, but is now encaged and has only his memories. We see the memories faded, as they become ever more distant. I edited the image using a cold blue filter, as I think it gives a horror inspired atmosphere. It does not seem to be recognised enough that what happens to animals without their consent, is a human’s nightmare. Trapped with no end in sight, stared at on a daily basis and scared with nowhere to hide sounds completely like something out of a horror movie. But it is many animals reality.
Update on Project
This week I have been continuing to make my turtles. The photographs below depict the various stages I have experimented with when making my turtle. The white one is my first attempt; although beautiful it used several masks to make and was quite a complex design. It also seems very far removed from the original mask due to its white colour. The one on the right side is my second attempt; it uses one mask to make, but does not make use of the wire for structure and the shell detail embroidery is too indistinct. The one on the left is my finished design. It is bold and clearly resembles the fact it was made from a disposable mask. The thick stitching adds detail to the shell of the turtle, resulting in character and it uses the wire from the mask for structure.
I have also been reflecting on where my project is heading. In Week Nine we submit a proposal form for the Spring Show. I discussed my ideas for what to do with Miranda in a recent tutorial. I have decided to have two elements for the show, the first will be a pre-recorded video of the turtles, perhaps an installation piece? I will also do a three part live demonstration/workshop throughout the show. This will incorporate the stages of making the turtle – 1) cutting, 2) stitching and 3) stuffing. It will perhaps take 5 10mins each, and I could discuss political/environmental information whilst instructing.
I am also considering other elements of my project which I could submit as part of my assessment. It may be nice to physically leave the turtles where I found the masks, with labels on the turtles describing why they are there and information on how to donate money to help save the sea. Miranda has suggested I research this further, and perhaps contact a charity with this in mind.
I have been out again this week collecting masks around my local area. I wonder if I will continue to do this once I have submitted my project? I would like it to continue, I think it should have an afterlife and continue to influence and educate people. Perhaps I could achieve this through creating a separate webpage with all of my photographs on. There have been moments, visible in these photographs, where an animal has entered into the frame with the mask visible. For example, these ducks near the masks on the canal. The photograph of the mask in the sand was taken on a beach where just steps away was a huge colony of seals. What if one of those seals mistook the mask for food, or one of the ducks got their foot tangled in it? This project is important as it not only serves to educate people to not use or drop the masks in the first place, but to actively remove the danger from the environment by collecting and disposing of them properly.
Although I have by now collected enough masks for my project as I move into Week Nine, I will continue to collect masks. As I have explained above, I feel it is now my duty. If everyone collected one piece of rubbish whilst on a walk, there would be infinitely cleaner streets. It is also a fascinating material to create from; a personal interest of mine is upcycling unwanted things. There is so much potential to be found if you look hard enough and open your mind to the possibilities.
“Over time however, I realised that both the environmental issues and art were so deep inside of me that I couldn´t ignore it anymore. I decided that art could help me put up with the pressure and feel like I was doing something…. Art would allow me to do something but it wouldn’t consume me as much. It’s the only way I found to deal with this global insanity without completely losing it myself.” – Swaantje Güntzel
I felt inspired the moment I first saw a piece of Güntzel’s work. I feel strong ties between my own concepts and projects, and hers. We are both interdisciplinary artists, with a passion for educating and doing something about plastic pollution. Notably, Güntzel mentioned in an interview that she does not want to solely raise awareness of the environmental problems she tackles, but to actually make a change. She defends this choice by saying that she believes each of us is aware of the problem of plastic pollution and agree that it does not belong in the environment, yet not much has actually changed. I find that I do agree with this. I see many people who talk about the problem, yet continue to wear disposable masks as they are comfortable, or purchase plastic bottles of water as they have forgot their own reusable one. I have talked before about the way people tend to avoid responsibility, passing the blame onto others instead of tackling it themselves.
I have included a selection of Güntzel’s work below; the ones which really stood out to me. It is clear she works across a huge range of disciplines, such as installation, photography, sound, sculpture and performance. This is key to her practice as she exploits every means possible to her to get her message across. Interestingly, her work is more often than not inspired by serious scientific research, having studied Anthropology at University. This may surprise people, given the whimsical nature of several of her works.
The following statement is taken from her website: “She exposes the inconsistencies of our actions and the hypocrisy of our value system, drawing attention to the unthinking exploitation of the environment in the industrialized global economy”. This is indeed highly visible in her work, perhaps evident in the piece SEESTÜCK (Seascape) II, where she sits in a gallery surrounded by plastic bottles that have been collected at the River Elbe and other waters in Hamburg. It is a photograph loaded with irony; we admire the sea and its natural beauty but do not do anything about saving it. It is as though we forget that it is choking with plastic, that the wildlife within it are dying every day from it. We as humans have such a disturbing relationship with nature; we rely on it yet destroy it at the same time.
There is a seriousness to Güntzel’s work which is both upsetting and strangely comforting at the same time. For example, with her project Microplastics (visible in both the second and third photographs), she is actively clearing the mess instead of just photographing and leaving it behind. She cleared 1 squaremeter at Playa de Montaña Bermeja in Lanzarote of microplastics, counting 1370 pieces. It gives me hope that more people are doing the same – there are huge communities in the world, as well as scientists who are trying to stop plastic pollution and climate change.
Another work I would like to briefly mention, as it does not relate to my process of working this Semester but summarises my concept, is Discounter Still Life. Based of an original iconic still life, Güntzel has re-arranged the original and adapted it in a contemporary approach, using food which depicts the consumerism obsessed behaviour today. Although an unsettling critique of modern life, it is important as it makes one aware that what we think is normal and accepted, is actually rather strange. We rely on goods being transported around the world, we buy whatever we want whenever we want it, and often have no awareness of the hidden, dire consequences of such actions. The photograph depicts fruits which come from countries far away, goods wrapped in unnecessary amounts of plastic, fish which has been farmed instead of naturally caught. It makes me feel uncomfortable as I am a consumer myself, but also makes me want to change. I find myself making more of an effort day after day to buy goods without plastic and find more sustainable ways of living. There are no excuses really, and Güntzel forces us to wake up to that.
Image Credits from L-R:
PLASTISPHERE Portrait. Scheibe & Güntzel.
MICROPLASTICS II, 2016. Diasec, 120 x 80 cm
Microplastics/1 squaremeter = 1370. 2016, Performance
SEESTÜCK (Seascape) II, Hamburger Kunsthalle. 2020, Diasec, 80 x 120 cm
Discounter Still Life, 2013. Diasec, 66.7 x 100 cm. Based on the painting Still Life with Ham, Lobster and Fruits by Davidsz. de Heem (1653)
PLASTIFIED/Vortex II. 2016, Intervention