"[Animals] are all beasts of burden, in a sense, made to carry some portion of our thoughts."
– Henry David Thoreau, Walden
– Henry David Thoreau, Walden
"Animals are good to think with."
– Clause-Levi Strauss, paraphrased translation from The Savage Man
"The cultural marginalisation of animals is, of course, a
more complex process than their physical marginalisation.
The animals of the mind cannot be so easily dispersed."
– John Berger, Why Look at Animals?
Continuing a body of work that began near the end of last semester, Charlotte creates assemblages of printed pelts on black paper coupled with flat, grey silhouettes representing human characteristics, to create human-animal hybrid creatures. In contrast to last semester’s work, the animals that took on human characteristics are now absent from this arrangement, representing a darker shift in tone from the more awkward, whimsical animal creatures we saw before.
The conceptual use of the human-animal transformation, detailed more thoroughly in Charlotte’s statement (attached), brings to mind Ovid’s collection of myths Metamorphoses, as well as Kafka’s Gregor Samsa of The Metamorphosis, who wakes to find himself transformed into a monsterous insect-like vermin, later shunned by his family upon discovery. Using Charlotte’s statement as an introduction to the work, I approached this series as seeking to create an anology between the negative cultural associations of mental illness and the societal implications of humans taking on untamed, animalistic behavior.
Immediately striking to the viewer is the stark visual quality of the inked animal pelts, which act as a matrix in these monotype prints. Visually, these prints are aesthetically pleasing to the viewer and are akin to a photorealistic medium like a photocopy. Coupled with silhouettes that allow for anonymity amongst human characteristics, this pairing creates a blunt contrast between the photorealistic qualities of the fur and the flatness of the grey human-outlines.
The size of the work represents a curious mingling of human-animal scale, while the animal characteristics are life-size, the transformation into human form illustrates shrunken human limbs, contributing to the sense of a mutated creature. Also successful within this body of work is the sense of movement conveyed through the animal pelts themselves. The animated quality composed by Charlotte at the press shows careful consideration for motion and depth.
The significance of the muted palette of black and grey is not immediately apparent, and at times feels like an arbitrary aesthetic choice. Although the use of grey does helps differentiate from associations of traditional silhouette imagery, exploration into expanding the color palette could benefit the progression of the work.
Currently, abrupt shifts between animal and human characteristics, which is made more apparent by the aforementioned contrast between black paper that represents animals, and the grey paper that represents humans, create discontinuity conceptually from the idea of a human-animal hybrid. The work would benefit from a smoother and more integrated transition between human and animal characteristics to better convey the sense of a hybrid creature to the viewer.
The arrangement as presented here in the studio is also conveying a sense tentative uncertainty on part of the artist at this stage of the work. Although a small mock-up previews the work within a larger exhibition space, this particular arrangement shows a lack of interaction between the creatures. The metaphor for mental illness is also not yet immediately apparent through the works at this stage, and overall the work lacks specificity in this regard. Although a label reading “sexual predator” hints at a tentative title for one creature, it could be helpful to extend this practice to the rest of the work. This label is also important because it helps reinforce arguments made in the artist’s statement, and serves as an introduction to language from the animal kingdom being applied to societal standards.
Artists working with Animal Imagery + Symbolism:
|Jane Alexander, Infantry, 2008|
|Cai Guo-Qiang, Head On, 2006|
|Wangechi Mutu, Moth Girls, 2010|
|Matthew Barney, Still from Cremaster 3, 2002|
UPDATE: A chapter from John Berger's "About Looking" entitled, "Why Look at Animals?" might be relevant to your research. This piece by Berger's talks about the marginalization of animals, especially in the contexts of the public zoo. The chapter is available in PDF form here: