The lecture today felt like a journey into all things Animal. I always enjoy these lectures, finding that they make me reconsider things I thought I already knew very well, and giving inspiration for things I could try out for myself. The journey I found myself on was totally overwhelming in all ways fathomable; at times it was peaceful, then chaotic, then beautiful then shocking. I felt uncomfortable, intrigued, happy and vulnerable. A key element which stood out to me throughout the whole lecture was the idea of Perception, and the concepts of boundaries and territories. This felt like something which many of the artists in the lecture seemed to respond to and experiment with – changing perceptions between human and animal.
The lecture was split into two parts. The first part was where we watched the film Becoming Animal released in 2018. We were instructed to either buy the film in advance and watch it by ourselves, or watch it together as a group over a livestream. I decided I would buy the film, as it looked so beautiful I did not want it to be disrupted by any lagging. I would like to post excerpts of the film which really resonated with me, but I do not think I would be allowed due to Copyright, so I will post stills from the film which have been released. I took notes during the film, letting my subconscious dictate what I was writing or drawing. At times I felt this distracted me from the film, so I tried not to focus too much on this.
Watching the film was a remarkable experience. It felt meditative, with soothing voices discussing elements of philosophy against the stunning landscape. Shots of Animal life were intertwined with Nature – indeed, at times it felt there was no distinction between Animal and Nature. In the first ten minutes of the film, I felt struck by a sense that the animals had a different time than us humans, or as referred to in the film, ‘two-leggeds’. Shots of the still, peaceful landscape were juxtaposed by scenes of cars driving along a highway, where speed seemed the driving force. It reminded me of the way humans seem to have lost connection with nature.
Language was a theme which was consistently mentioned throughout the film. It made me aware of the way that the World has developed so that we only understand our spoken language, the alphabet and the written word. This has in turn affected the way that we see and perceive, where once we may have understand the cry of an elk, the tweet of a bird or the sensuous flow of a river, we now lump it together as nature sounds. The film made me feel hyperaware that there is no such thing as empty space – everything is dominated by Nature and Animal. Overall I found the film to be entrancing; I was completely drawn into what felt another world (even though it is the one I live in). The beauty and power of Animal made me feel so emotional, and rather sad when the film showed scenes of groups of people pointing and photographing them. Although completely natural, it felt as though they are viewed as an exhibit. It made me question who was the most vulnerable – the bison with its indomitable horns, or the human, with its technology and machinery to destroy.
Part Two of the lecture was equally brilliant, taking the form of words, photography, meditation, video, short documentaries, interviews and sound. My mind felt blown by all of the aspects of Animal, ones I had thought previously and ones I had never even considered. Beginning the journey into Animal, were slides about Spirit Animals. This is the embodiment of your subconscious mind – it cannot be chosen, it picks you. After reflection on this, it became evident that my spirit animal was the owl; described as “The ability to see what others do not see. Capacity to see beyond deceit and masks. Wisdom.” I have always felt an affinity with the owl, drawn to both their physical being and their spiritual nature.
When looking at the notes I made during the Animal journey, it is clear that I have many questions. They are rhetorical however, they cannot be answered as one cannot truly know the answer. For example, I questioned “Are we the trespassers?”, which, of course in a way we are. We evolved from animals and have demolished the natural world with our presence. However some may argue that animals trespass into our world, such as when a fox gets into a domestic garden, or a bear wanders into a house accidentally. There were many questions of this sort floating around my head, which I will make sure to reflect on throughout my project to gain a better understanding of Animal. As some of the videos were short, and some longer, with not much time in between, I found the most effective way of keeping track of my thoughts was to quickly write random words of my response. I will write here about a few artworks which resonated with me.
I was so intrigued by this dance when I first watched it; it was so expressive and emotive. The description given for this dance is ‘The scientist disfigures the life of the animals in order to create a new form for them. Their rage turns against him. Eventually they melt together becoming a unique energy in the universe’. I could see this clearly within the dance; the animal like motions, the fluidity which seemed controlled yet completely random. The writhing shapes of the dancer, the way they tested their feet and kept struggling to get up reminded me of the birth of a baby giraffe, vulnerable yet intrigued to see the world. I’m not sure I would do my own project using expressive animal like dance, but I think it would definitely be a great warm-up exercise before starting work!
These photographs by Miguel Vallinas immediately caught my attention due to their whimsical nature. I love art which has a sense of humour, but also retains some sort of serious undertone. The title of the project, Second Skins, made me think that Vallinas was challenging the human and animal relationship, portraying it to be a lot closer than one may think. In the bizarre photographs, the human head is replaced with an animal head. The figures are dressed beautifully, and look like professional models you may see on a fashion magazine. Interestingly, it seems Vallinas has curated the outfits to match the head of each animal – it is hard to describe how it looks like they match but they do! The human/animal seems to have one cohesive personality, living up to the name of the title, Second Skin.
This installation transformed a 600m2 hall into a giant aviary. The artist Boursier-Mougenot then placed 44 finch couples, to reside in the hall over the Winter. Dotted around the hall are guitars and basses, and walkways snaking around the room for humans to enter through and observe. What struck me most about this installation was the deep sense of co-habituation, and respect for each other from both humans and animals. This is something I think all humans need reminding of regularly; we have always lived alongside animals, we need to continue that respect and care for one another. I will be exploring this themes in more context in my project. Each time the finches land on a string from an instrument, it makes a sound. This is combined with the footsteps of the human visitors to the hall, and the chirping from the birds, making a never-ending concert. I think what is exciting about this work is the way that the human visitors also have an effect on the music – where they walk will provoke a movement from the birds nearby, making a consequent noise from an instrument. It is a unique situation which would never be repeated in exactly the same way again.
This is a series of photographs by Keith Arnatt, titled Walking the Dog. I was attracted to these photos for a) being an avid dog lover with three dogs of my own, and b) the repetitive nature of the collection of 40 photographs appealed to me, becoming a study of humans and animals relationship to the camera. Although I do not think this was intended by Arnatt, something which stands out to me with the photographs is the way that the human and the dog in each photograph appear to have similar characteristics to each other. This is something which is often joked about, that humans tend to look like their dogs, but I think in this series of photographs it is rather clear. For example, the elderly lady with the white curled hair is rather similar to what looks like a well-groomed white poodle, whereas the man and his rottweiler both have the same defensive frown on their faces and a similar sturdy stance.
I think this was my favourite work from the lecture; it is a film depicting what happened when Alÿs released a fox into the National Portrait Gallery in London in the middle of the night. The gallery’s CCTV system follows the fox around, allowing us as the viewer to watch an animal, completely unaware of our, or the CCTV camera’s presence, wander around a new space. The space seems irrelevant to the fox, but as the viewer it made me aware of how bizarre we have made the world we live in. Our lives are controlled by completely invented structures and rules for us to follow. The art gallery, with its collection of millions of pounds worth of paintings, becomes silly when the fox, with its lack of reasoning, language or introspection, dismisses each painting whilst meandering through the space. There was a sense of crossed boundaries when viewing the fox walk through this very human space, where no animals are usually welcome. This is bizarre when you think about it – the fox seems like a trespasser in our world, but it really is us who are the trespassers. We have created these spaces where animals would have once roamed free, and shut them out, forcing them to move.
My tutorial was a great opportunity to discuss where I would like to head in this semester, and reflect on last semester too. I knew that I would like to keep with raising awareness of the way that we were damaging the environment – having a political agenda seems to be apparent throughout all of my work at University so far, so it seems a good idea to continue this thread for my final project. When I had heard the theme was ‘Animal’ I was excited as I could focus on the way that the climate crisis is affecting animals directly, something I was previously interested in exploring.
I first discussed an idea I had thought about, that we are becoming more like animals. We seem to be becoming less civilised, less educated, doing things such as throwing rubbish away onto the floor. Miranda made me question things such as; When were we as a species more civilized? When did we have more personal pride? Are we moving to a more irresponsible mentality? I think that this throw away culture that we are now living in has come about through capitalism and over-consumption. We have so much stuff now; we can access anything we want straight away. For example, the other day I ordered something online in the morning, and it was delivered to my house by the evening. Miranda told me something interesting but deeply saddening – we have now generated the same amount of inorganic matter as there is organic matter on the earth. I would like to explore these concepts further; Miranda has advised me to research into the class systems and social history to understand why humanity has become this way. There now seems to be little responsibility in the community, or to our community, for anything, let alone a communal respect for the planet. This seems to be fuelled by the impenetrable systems we live with, where there is no-one to complain to, or speak to, as everything has become too big and bureaucratic.
My idea for my project is similar in a way to my last – I want to continue collecting rubbish off the streets, and use it in a way to raise awareness of various environmental effects. At the moment, I am thinking of creating animal shapes, such as a turtle, a bird or a hedgehog, out of wire. My concept is to use the rubbish that I will collect and weave it through the wire – representing the way that the animals which we pretend to respect and love will eventually succumb to the environmental crisis caused by humans.
These wire animals will hopefully become sculptures – I could push this further and make animation videos to share with the public, raising awareness further.
Collecting materials, rubbish which others have thrown away onto the street, is an interesting concept. Miranda has advised me to investigate this further, by following which things get recycled and also things that don’t. The rubbish that people do throw onto the street, instead of into bins, become material escapees or refugees – they are lost outside the system. I need to understand what the system exactly is – where does our rubbish go to? What is better – ending up in the sea or in landfill? What causes the bigger environmental crisis? How can we actually do right by our world?
Artist Research – Angela Haseltine Pozzi