Emma Brassington

Emmajanebrassington at gmail dot com

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Animality Exhbition, November 2016, Marian Goodman, London

02/21/2014

 

Animality brings together a collection of over 70 artists with a variety of animal guests. Life size portraits, raven headed men, a glimpse into a mouses home. A hall of wonders provokes audiences to consider their relationships to non-human others.

 

Chitchatting of the gossiping birds, reminiscent of a playground bliss entered my ears upon entering Mariana Goodman's gallery, London. However, unlike the overpower sounds of the playground, one had to strain to here their song over the 'one o'clock two o'clock' loop of Jordon Wolfson's perfect love. An video piece staged at the back of the gallery with a cartoon bird ritualistically counting time, waiting for a lover. Its low sounding loop cutting through the gallery and overpowering the sound of its neighbouring birds.

 

Upon entering, the eye notices a steep divide: bleak black and white visions permeate the right side of the gallery, Balthasar's great photograph where only small red childlike animal foot prints break the rule. The Enormous black and white photograph of the textured elephant dominates the space.

 

After examining the photographs my attention was pulled in by Elmgreen and Dragset’s Dawn: a white stature of a boy staring at a slug. The two characters juxtaposed, following the boys gaze toward the slug we wonder what this boy has in mind. This wonderment indicates the tension held between the two subjects: Large curious human vis a vis the small onward looking slug.

When I was a wee lass, I remember rummaging around in my grandmothers jungle like garden armed with the salt in hand ready to protect the tomatoes from those nasty pests. The slugs were helpless and me, I couldn't comprehend that burning alive by salt might not be on the 'top ten things to do list of a slug. Indeed, what would it like to be a slug? Following the gaze of the slug would mean getting down low and following its line of sight along to the skirting boards in the distance on the furthest wall. Would it even be possible to fathom what was on the mind of the slug? Nagel' essay on what its like to be a bat comes to mind. The statue of the young boy and slug presents us with a very direct relational situation which provokes us to think about one subject in relation to the other. Indeed the human-animal relationship in somewhat complicated and at times outright abusive. I wonder, how exactly can art serve to raise issues surorunding human-animal relationships and to what extent do we humans consider our selves different from the animal.

 

The work's supporting read:  the work 'encourages audiences to question the function of art' especially within the context of the white gallery space. Whilst I enjoyed this piece for the questions I found myself asking, I felt the piece failed to make me consider the politics of the gallery.

 

 

 

Alternatively, Carsten Hollers's untitles Octopus did do such a thing. Whilst notices around the white cube reminded audiences not to touch the art, Holler's playful and colourful Octopus originally constructed for a children's playground challenged the galleries authority: the large pink blob splurges all over the floor obstructing my way, the bold stark colour makes for a very child-friendly atmosphere. Indeed the artist originally constructed the piece as for a children's playground, so why on earth can it now be no longer touched. The piece functions depending on it's context from the profanity of the playground to the sacred space of the white cube. The piece superficially poses as having a child friendly nature yet in reality, the valuable art embodies the stern authority and political superiority of the white cube.

 

The range of work, displayed across the two floors of the gallery space staggered the mind. Upstairs a large white camel dominates the space and makes you chuckle as you follow his nose poking curiously at the eye of a giant needle, conjuring the well known parable. 

 

 

 

Like under a spell, my attention lingered on Wael Shawky's Marionettes. Marionettes interest me as their animate quality resonates even when they're not in use. 

 

Unlike the spell binding puppets, I quickly glanced over the many, illustrative watercolours of animals. Perhaps there simple representational content would appeal more to the historian than me. Alternatively, Hiroshi Sugimoto's photogrpaphs of New York Natural History Museum Dioramas spoke volumes to the history of animal subjugation. (For more information my essay here)

 

Also referencing the entrenched history of animal subjugation, artists such as Yinka Shonibare, Annette Messenger and Adrian Villar Rojas embraced the traditional art of taxidermy within their work. The taxidermy animal exists to rienforce notions of human superiority and power.

 

Notions of superiority and power underlie most discussions of human and animal relationships and the exhibit does well well to introduce the audience to the historical traditions that guide and inform artist's engagement with animals. 

 

 

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