News symbiosis between “they and us”
Animals have had a privileged place in art since prehistoric times. The figurative painting is born invoking bison and bovids in cave rites. Recent cave discoveries reveal that dog domestication might have started even before the Neolithic. In sedentary societies, religious celebrations and sacrificial rites take over from the hunting rites, while birds and quadrupeds of all kinds take their place in the divine pantheons of the great cultures.
The only species that the Bible provided with divine “likeness” was the human, although what was really catastrophic for the rest of the animals was the passage from the theocentric culture to the Cartesian anthropocentrism. Descartes deprived them of a soul, reserving it for his fellow humans. By reducing animals to animated mechanisms, without the ability to feel emotions (when they squeak is because their springs are rusted), opened the way for bipedal sadism to roam free.
An execrable idea that of Descartes, and more for many Eastern religions that believe in the transmigration of souls, from one body to another, from a species to another species, in an eternal wheel.
Nekane Aramburu is the curator of an exhibition, They and Us, that does not forget these differences between East and West, because her research starts from a place (a Balearic island) that blends distant cultures. Starting from the Talayotic legacy and the bulls of Costitx, testimony of a cult, the bullfighting, which pervades all Mediterranean cultures, the exhibition starts in the Bronze Age and reaches biotechnological times, going through the going through the loss of ancestral festivals such as pig slaughter (a deep-rooted tradition in the land of “sobrassada”), but above all the show is focusing on the multiple symbioses that from contemporary art have tried to compensate the symbolic split between species.
The sea, origin of life and deathbed, is evoked in works that are distant in time but that reveal the same shadow disrupting the natural balance of things: the scene of a stranded whale in the Esaias van de Velde‘s painting (Amsterdam, s.XVII) is manifested today with a host of ill-fated news about strandings of cetaceans by ingesting tons of plastic. Contemplating this Dutch painting we seem to hear groans of marine animals since very near, in the same room, are registered the voices of whales, dolphins, penguins and jellyfish to which the mediumistic artist Eulàlia Valldosera gave voice in a project (Voice of Penelope) for the First Biennial of Antarctica. She did not make the crossing with the other invited artists, but the voices did “jump” on the boat. Like Penelope, without moving from the place, Valldosera interlaced in a space-time warp different strands of a voice whose echo accompanied the travelers in their contemporary odyssey.
When the extrasensory perceptions or telepathic capacities are not innate (that is, for most of us mortals), the perceptional skills can be achieved through extensions with robotics and telecommunications, as Eduardo Kac demonstrated with his Ornitorrinco in the 90s, inviting Internet users to inhabit the body of a mechanized animal. Kac investigated all kind of telematic communication between species, but also biotechnological mergers, scandalizing public opinion with Alba, his rabbit (fluorescent by injecting jellyfish DNA).
His Lagoogleglifos (2015), algorithmic animations referring to Alba and the uproar created in the media (about ethics, aesthetics, science and legal themes), can be interpreted as a dialogue of the deaf that the artist projected on the roofs of some buildings, including Es Baluard roof.
Some of Joan Jonas’ video performances were developed in many layers, including Organic. Honey’s vertical roll (1973-99), which integrates fable, ritual and female unconscious. This piece denotes her fascination with the Noh theater and its use of masks and the hybridization of identities, between archetypes of femininity and enigmatic alter egos that allow her to leave social determinism behind. During the process, the drawing of her dog head provides the magic intrusion, a subliminal communication with the animal. We remember other of her works when we listen to barks trying to say us something or we see what is seeing the camera hanging from her dog’s paws.
Joseph Beuys also enters a magical-ritual area when he confines himself with a coyote in a gallery (I like America and America likes me 1974) or when, as in the film presented here (Die Eröffnung, 1965), with his face covered with honey and gold leaf (energy power and spiritual symbols) speaks in whispers with a dead hare while cradling her in his arms. The former tried to expiate the blame for the extermination of the American Indians, while the latter defends the animal intuition, a non-intellectualized communication as the only one capable of understanding the creative process.
If Descartes reduced the non-rational animal to the condition of a heartless machine, Rebecca Horn has endowed with a soul all kinds of animated mechanisms. They are desiring machines because their desire is never consumed, most of them are hybrids engaged in an eternal cycle of pleasure and displeasure. Luisa’s Lover (2009), a kinetic mechanism with a butterfly, unites her interest in the metamorphosis and the sense of incompleteness that underlies every sexual encounter.
The scenographic unfolding that Damien Hirst uses to express a similar concern for the cycles of life is entirely different. He is also fascinated with butterflies but with a megalomania that takes him to sacrifice thousands of them to compose gloomy mandalas.
In the field of the fable, the exhibition includes Goya‘s Asnerías, so-called some Caprichos starred by asses, in which the Aragonese genius satirized the wealthy classes, the elite of exploiters, petulant and ignorant aristocrats of eighteenth-century Spain.
Other storytellers and lovers of the allegory are Paloma Pájaro (with her zoosofías tries to put some humility into the cocky Sapiens), Eugenio Ampudia (with his plagues of cockroaches infesting the museums and the dog of Tonetti desecrating with its piss the temple of art) or Marcel.lí Antúnez (an alligator incarnates the figure of Franco in his interactive tribute to the Eskizos, a group of iconoclastic painters at its height when the dictator was still moving his tail)
A fox, to which the fables always have characterized as an astute thief, is now the chosen animal to be infiltrated in a museum at night: captured by the surveillance cameras of the National Gallery of London, we see the fox making its “nocturnal round”. Francis Alÿs provides here several levels of reading: the foxes, wild marauders in the suburbs of London, are alter egos of the Belgian artist, inveterate flaneur moving through the streets of Mexico City, aware of his status as a foreigner in an environment that attracts him, outsider although he tries to acclimatize himself. But that alienated condition allows him to reveal something different from a daily context, breaking some inertias just like the fox does.
The social hyper-control (through the security system of the museum) and the irruption of living nature among so many still life (hunting scenes, among which the fox hunt abounds, are exhibited in the National Gallery) are other issues involved.
Levi Orta and Joana Vasconcelos aim to human excesses, the first bringing the case of a multimillionaire dog (Gunter IV) behind which fraud and tax evasion are hidden (The heir, video installation 2017). Vasconcelos, ridiculing the effort to domesticate the undomesticable, to fight the fear that certain insects or animals awaken in us (Conchita is a ceramic crab wearing crocheted clothes).
Following on the subject of domestication, the zoos bear witness to the solitude of man in the animal universe. John Berger said it: the walkers seek in vain the gaze of the animal behind bars. We look for mutual recognition, but the animals have been immunized against any encounter. They express the look of the absent-minded because in that artificial environment they have assumed an exclusively human attitude: the indifference.
Amparo Garrido visited the zoo in Madrid and recorded the gorillas. The title Do not Say Anything (2006-2009), points perhaps, despite Berger, to the possibility of exchange without words. Or perhaps the misunderstanding that separates species does not diminish the human will to learn from the animal’s gaze (open and deep gaze, according to Rilke). On the other hand, Garrido feminizes the look by juxtaposing her own gaze to that of the gorilla and referencing the work of Carole Jahme Beauties and beasts. This essay discloses the androcentric prejudices projected on the study of the behavior of primates (categorized as alpha males and passive females) after being reviewed by several generations of female primatologists.
In fact, research is not devoid of inventiveness, nor is creation only subjectivity. On several occasions, Juan del Junco has found agreements and disagreements between the figure of the naturalist and the artist. In Ornithological epilogue about what is before, the artist or the ornithologist, he orders sixty photographs of eggs following the golden ratio. Aesthetic criteria, ideal beauty, natural harmony and mystic perfection prevail over the scientific inventory. But going back to the egg and the chicken, what came first creativity or science? We deduce that they need each other.
Marie Voignier‘s video, Les immobiles (2013), leads us through a history of violence with no sign of remorse: a safari guide goes through the pages of a catalog with photos of hunting trophies and heaps of corpses along with smiling settlers while the guide goes on reporting anecdotes with a twinge of nostalgia.
It’s because the man is naturally sadistic. Wolfgang Sofsky has reflected on the infinite forms that the wolf pack takes in contemporary societies. When the homo sapiens stopped living only by hunting he began to hunt his fellows. Societies sacrifice their instinct of violence for the sake of security, murder is banned to guarantee coexistence. But the thirst for blood remains latent, and when it is not channeled through ritualized sacrifice (as Bataille explains) it will do the form through the war and institutionalized violence.
Veru Iché includes in her Diorama di sudorazione fredda (2018) some paragraphs from the Sofsky’s essay (Violence: Terrorism, Genocide, War) together with a bearskin with a taxidermized head, a butcher knife, a locket with animal hair and photographs that reveal mysterious facts.
This Argentine photographer is used to stir our imagination letting us know only some traces of a fragmentary story, traces of an event that the more or less dark mind of each will try to link. On this occasion, this kind of ethnological museum showcase brings up for me terms such as circus show, fraud, mystification, sects, fanaticism, cold sweat and fresh blood.
The greedy twins of Rosalía Banet approach us to another type of human monstrosity. This one is more familiar to us, linked to hyperconsumption and emotional emptiness. Cooks of bittersweet flavors (those of life itself), opened a cannery of body fragments. They themselves are also manufactured products of this cannibal society. Here we see them wearing a dress of meat, a recall to Jana Sterbak’s Vanitas (vanity is useless before the unstoppable process of decomposition).
Those who have felt aversion for the human race have found refuge in their love for other animals. See Schopenhauer honoring canine kindness, or Nietzsche deploring the perversion of our instincts because of false morality. A certain dose of misanthropy is necessary to reconcile us with our animal past and stop being beasts with airs of gods.
Ells i nosaltres
can be visited until 3th of January 2019
in Es Baluard, Museu d’Art Modern i Contemporani de Palma, Mallorca
Curator: Nekane Aramburu