The Animal Gaze Returned

The Animal Gaze 2008 Archive

For cost reasons, all the content from the web pages for the 2008 event (symposium and exhibition) are now stored on one page here (below).

Some of the proceedings of The Animal Gaze 2008 symposium are now published in the Journal of Visual Arts Practice 9.1 as of January 2011. The papers given by Giovanni Aloi (The Death of the Animal), Emily Brady (Animals in Environmental Art: Relationship and Aesthetic Regard), Ron Broglio (A Left-handed Primer for approaching Animal Art), Matthew Fuller (Art for Animals), Rikke Hansen (Animal Skins in Contemporary Art) and David Wood (Mirror Infractions in the Yucatan) appear in article format there, plus an introduction by Rosemarie McGoldrick.

The Animal Gaze 2008 Statement

Over the last 50 years, the representation of animals in contemporary art has shifted from traditional schemata into new modes. From Kounellis' Untitled (12 Horses) in 1969 and Beuys' coyote action I Like America and America Likes Me in 1974 to Damien Hirst's preserved animal vitrines and Eduardo Kac's transgenic green-fluorescent rabbit Alba, non-human animals have come to bear new meanings in Western culture.

These strands in fine art run parallel to new thinking about animals. From the Anglosphere, Peter Singer's utilitarianism and Donna Haraway's post-humanism are alive in politics in the shape of animal rights and ethical issues around genetic engineering. From Continental thinking, Jacques Derrida's swansong ruminations on the abyss between animals and humans and Deleuze and Guattari's ‘becoming-animal’ thrive in universities and art schools worldwide. As the global ecology movement has grown, so has awareness of anthropocentrism (a development sometimes decried now as anti-humanist).

Academics, too, have developed a flourishing field in the humanities called animal/human studies, a field that ranges across literature, philosophy and history to sociology, semiotics and geography. The study of animals in each discipline is used as a locus to question and inform theory, stance and argument. This was precisely the aim of The Animal Gaze.

The Animal Gaze was an event developed from practice-led university research in fine art. The intention was academic: to exhibit and examine new ways in which animals appear in contemporary art and the contingent ethics and aesthetics to which such practice may be subject.

The curatorial policy of The Animal Gaze was to avoid representations of animals which regularly appear elsewhere in the visual culture of our own species: ie, no animals as decoration, nor status symbols and vehicles for ancient mythology or totemic ritual. Any objects of affective or pathetic fallacy on display here were unconventional. Much was omitted - general animal portraiture and wildlife studies, anthropomorphs, regular animal/human hybrids and ironies around stuffed toys – questions already asked and answered over the years.

Instead, The Animal Gaze showed stances outside anthropocentrism, deconstructions of species taxonomy, constructions of the idea of difference and documentation of the consequences of indifference. At the same time, these works about animals and humans perhaps confirmed a trend discernible in recent art - an ascendancy of meaning or ambiguity over ineffability and surface, a move away from the gigantic, as well as more evidence of the profile afforded now to artist collaboration and cross-disciplinary research.

Exhibition: Nov 18 - Dec 12, 2008

The first stage of The Animal Gaze exhibition was held at Unit 2 Gallery, London E1 (directly opposite the Whitechapel Gallery), Unit 6 and Metropolitan Works (Commercial Road) from Nov 18th to Dec 12th 2008. In January 2009 the show tours to the Centre for Contemporary Art and the Natural World at Exeter, Plymouth City Museum & Gallery, Plymouth Arts Centre, Plymouth College of Art & Design and the Roland Levinsky Gallery, University of Plymouth.

This group show included work from over 40 artists, invited to submit via a process of curatorial research and from a general call

Participating Artists in the 2008 show in London and its 2009 tour to Plymouth & Exeter

Daniel Andersson (FIN)
Angela Bartram
Sarah Beddington
Catherine Bell (AUS)
Suky Best
Stephanie Black
Andrew Bracey
Mary Britton Clouse (USA)
Rich Broomhall
Chloe Brown
Paul Bush
Mircea Cantor (ROM)
Marcus Coates
Nicky Coutts
Roz Cran

Matilda Downs
Roswitha von der Driesch & Jens-Uwe Dyffort (GER)
Tessa Farmer
Kate Foster
Hayden Fowler (NZ)
Kathy High (USA)
Kate James (AUS)
Jacob Cartwright & Nick Jordan
Cathryn Jiggens
Jo Longhurst
Kate MccGwire

Rosemarie McGoldrick
Aurelia Mihai (ROM)
Daniel Mijic (GER)
Roz Mortimer
Melody Owen (USA)
Nicola Oxley
Kate Potter
Barbara Rauch
Andrea Roe
Claire Rousell
Clara Rueprich (GER)
Helen Sear
Miranda Whall
Martin White

Symposium: Nov 20-21, 2008

The Animal Gaze: Contemporary Art & Animal/Human Studies was a two-day  (Nov 20-21, 2008) symposium held at Sir John Cass Department of Art, Media & Design (London Metropolitan University). Invited speakers were artists, curators, academics and art historians with a special interest in the representation of animals in art today.

Speakers included: Steve Baker, Emeritus Professor of Art History, University of Central Lancashire;
Rikke Hansen, Researcher at Tate Britain; Snæbjörnsdóttir/Wilson, Artist Collaboration; Clive Adams, Director, Centre for Contemporary Art & the Natural World, Exeter; Ron Broglio, Professor of Literature, Georgia Institute of Technology, USA; Jo Longhurst, Artist; Matthew Poole, Programme Director, Centre for Curatorial Studies, University of Essex; Dr Hilda Kean, Tutor in History and Acting Dean, Ruskin College, Oxford; David Wood, Centennial Professor of Philosophy, Vanderbilt University, USA; Emily Brady, Senior Lecturer in Human Geography, University of Edinburgh; Matthew Fuller, David Gee Reader in Digital Media, Goldsmiths; Marcus Coates, Artist; Giovanni Aloi, Lecturer in History of Art and Media Studies at Queen Mary, University of London and the Open University and Editor of Antennae, the Journal of Nature in Visual Culture; Dario Martinelli, Docent of Semiotics and Musicology, Helsinki. Rosemarie McGoldrick of London Metropolitan University chaired an hour-long session of delegate questions, and Professor Kate Soper of the Institute for the Study of European Transformations at London Metropolitan University provided the concluding overview.

Abstracts for The Animal Gaze: Contemporary Art & Animal/Human Studies

Steve Baker
Emeritus Professor of Art History, University of Central Lancashire
'Self-portrait with human, or: What might Derrida's 'being-huddled-together' look like?'

In the course of his lengthy and famous reflection on the relation (both philosophical and quotidian) of humans and other animals, Jacques Derrida spoke of 'a certain order of the being-huddled-together'. Since many contemporary artists, including many of those represented in The Animal Gaze, have staged confrontations, inversions, juxtapositions, figurings and disfigurings, alignments and alliances of the human and the animal in their work, can any provisional observations be made about what that 'order of the being-huddled-together' (if it is indeed an order) might look like, and why?

Focusing on a small but varied group of specific artworks, some of which are included in the exhibition (for example work by Mary Britton Clouse and by Catherine Bell), and others of which are not (such as a non-existent work by Eduardo Kac), this paper will raise questions about certain dimensions of the huddling-together of artists and animals, and of animals and audiences. Since one characteristic of recent animal art is artists' preparedness to admit to not always knowing quite what it is that they’re doing (or not knowing quite what their viewers may do) alongside animals, the paper will reflect on how artists constitute themselves and the animals with whom they work. It will also consider whether Marco Evaristti - recently described as 'the most provocative artist of the decade' - is right to see the roles (and gazes) available to the viewers of such art as restricted to those of 'the idiot, the voyeur, the moralist'.


'Pests, Pets and Prey – Uncertainty in the City'
Contemporary artists test the borders in urban, human/animal relations

Long ago, settlements and therefore latterly, cities were predicated on the concept of refuge and a physical division of culture and nature. Clearly such division has proved increasingly porous as more and more animals and birds consider concentrations of human population an attraction rather than a deterrent because of the opportunities such culture provides in terms of habitat and feeding. For some, the presence of these creatures – pigeons, starlings, rats, mice, foxes and insects is a threat of some kind, a kind of leakage and therefore a representation of the fragility of our insulation from the ‘wild’, the unpredictability and ‘chaos’ of ‘nature’. This art project, a work in progress, explores specific perceptions and limits of tolerance and ‘animal infringement’ in the city of Lancaster, building a picture of local human behaviour towards animals and the environment – of tolerance and intolerance, of fear and loathing, affection, conflict, pathos and admiration. What’s conspicuously at play is a continual conflict over territory.

During our research we’ve observed ambivalence and contradictory vested interests in relation to a wide range of creatures. We have been working closely with the Pest Control Department, a division of the Council Environmental Agency in addition to individuals whose relationships to specific animals are indicative of considerable and sustained focus. Most significant is the mixture of responses, the paradoxical nature of human attitudes towards agents of ‘the wild’‚ and the implicit cohesion-in-tension of the human/nature paradigm. Is this paradoxical intertwining of detached fascination on the one hand and neurotic repulsion on the other, the inevitable architecture of an irredeemable conflict? And in the final analysis, might this irreconcilability hinge on our own ambivalence to the animal within us?

Ron Broglio
Professor of Literature, Georgia Institute of Technology, USA
'A Left-handed Primer for Approaching Animal Art'

Several unique concepts arise from artists' engagement with animals and from audiences' and critics' encounters with such art. This oblique primer will introduce and explore select concepts including surface, animal phenomenology, cross-species contact zones, and fragility—concepts developed specifically around work by artists in the Animal Gaze exhibition.

Animals are said to live on the surface. What is meant by this phrase throughout centuries to our present day is that animals do not have the depths and privileged interiority found in humans. We distinguish our selves from animals by our high degree of self-consciousness and ability for recursive thinking. A range of contemporary animal art allows us to imagine an inversion and twisting free from such privileging of human interiority. By inversion, art poses the question of how animal surfaces are productive and how such production differs from reason and meaning located in privileged human interiority. While traditionally surfaces are less constructive than depths, a recent re-valuation of surface in art and philosophy has re-invigorated the site of animal surfaces. Secondly, through such difference in surface and depth comes a twisting free in which artists ask what unknown interiorities and depths manifest themselves on the surface of the animal body. In other words, what is an animal phenomenology and how could we ever approach it? A friction and productive site opens where the human world bumps up against the opaque and tenacious world of animals. In this contact zone, animals mark and re-mark upon our imposition into their worlds. As artists enter into such a space and develop a cross-species pidgin language, they help us to think not of our sovereignty but of human fragility as a mode of engagement with animals.

Matthew Fuller
David Gee Reader in Digital Media, Goldsmiths
'Art for Animals'

Art for animals intends to address the ecology of capacities for perceptions, sensation, thought and reflexivity of animals. In cultural theory, the capacity for art is part of the rather mobile boundary line that performs the task of annihilating the animal in human and in demarcating the human from animality. The purpose of this paper is not so much to legislate upon the placing of this line, but rather to suggest that the sensual and cultural capacities of various kinds of being, whether ordered into species or not can be explored and to follow a few ways in which this has been done by a number of artists working in various ecological and technical settings. Some of this work is rightfully absurdist, whimsical, self-trivialising. But all of it moves towards setting up actual, multi-scalar and imaginal relations with animals that involve a testing of shared and distinct capacities of reflexive perception.

Matthew Poole
Programme Director, Centre for Curatorial Studies, University of Essex
'Conditions of Solidarity and Justice - Does the conceiving of ethics separate humans from other animals?

Traditionally, ethics is conceived of as the representation and projection of collective beliefs and ideals. It is believed that the ability to ask the question of 'what we ought to do' both defines and binds us as human beings and differentiates us from other animals. However, a key problem for ethics in general, considered as a priori directives, is that the future or consideration of it is only ever imaginary. Proposing that the future is not a material context from which to rigorously make judgements, and thus not a place where justice can exist or be proposed, this paper will consider the hard-materialism of a neo-pragmatist conception of ethics, that rejects a priori ethical demands to explore whether solidarity and justice and such concepts that define 'humanity' are actually detrimental to our co-existence with other animals.

Rikke Hansen
Researcher at Tate Britain
'Animal Skins in Contemporary Art'

Recent accessibility to biotechnology has given rise to ‘bio art’, an art form which operates within the process of life itself on a genetic or transgenic level. Works include Eduardo Kac’s GFP Bunny, 2000, a genetically modified fluorescent rabbit, and Marta de Menezes manipulated butterflies, 1999. Simultaneously, artists have begun to use dead animals in their work, with duo Snaebjornsdottir/Wilson tracing the cultural afterlife of stuffed polar bears (Nanoq, 2004), and Andrea Roe creating automata from animal skin and motors (e.g. Seagull, 2004). These trends: ‘animal life’ and ‘animal death’ at first seem diametrically opposed; however, this paper argues that they cannot be separated. Together, they represent a preoccupation with the appearance of animals in contemporary society. Where bio art seemingly moves ‘beyond the surface’ to manipulate life, it also collapses the surface-depth distinction by working within the realm of appearances, i.e. it is the skin of Kac’s rabbit which glows and the wing colouration of de Menezes’ butterflies that has been altered. The use of taxidermy in art similarly investigates appearances, with skin being a metaphor for the separation of human and non-human animals. Writing about objects rather than animals, Didier Anzieu suggests that there is something pathological about the projection of skin onto non-human entities, about the need to reify those skins. It is a projection that stands, for him, as testament to the unfinished formation of human subjects who, in order to confirm the coherency of their subjecthood, must continually reaffirm their own skin-borders. This paper examines the animalisation of the skin-border, with skin - the use of skin, the showing of non-human animal skin - playing a vital role in the complex interrelation of zoe, ‘natural life’, and bios, ‘political life’, and addresses, more specifically, how these issues have been taken up by contemporary artists.

Emily Brady
Senior Lecturer in Human Geography, University of Edinburgh
‘Animals in Environmental, Land and Eco-Art’

Earth, wood, stone, water, plants, light and other organic and inorganic natural matter and processes have provided the material for works falling into the amorphous range of contemporary art forms described as land, environmental, land and ecological art. Insects and other tiny non-human creatures have often played some role in these works, either intentionally or only incidentally. Larger non-human creatures – amphibians, reptiles, birds, fish and mammals – have played a much smaller role. In this presentation, I outline the different ways animals (broadly understood) have featured in these art forms and what sorts of human-nonhuman relationships these interventions with nature express or embody. Given these relationships, I critically explore just how we might square such interventions with attitudes of care and respect for nature. Introducing animals into artistic practice brings with it a set of worries and tensions. Alongside encouraging engagement and intimacy with creatures other than ourselves, problems of aestheticizing, sentimentalizing, trivializing, manipulating and just plain ‘interfering’ trouble our artistic interactions with animals. How do artistic expressions and interests regard and show regard for animals? These questions are addressed through a range of artists and works, including art and ecological restoration/species reclamation; trans-species art; activist/performance art in environments; and art in wildlife conservation.

Dario Martinelli
Associate Professor, University of Helsinki
'3 Steps Towards Art'
Semiotically Investigating Animal Aesthetics

The aim of this paper is to propose a theoretical model for analysing the question of aesthetic behaviour in animals (including humans). The hypothesis is that aesthetics can be explained starting from the development of lying and playing abilities. In other words, is there any kind of continuum among these three aspects?

Possible answers to such questions concern the perceptive dimension (i.e., the role of the receiver of the fictional/playful/aesthetic message) and the articulation of the message (i.e., the role of the sender of the fictional/playful/aesthetic message). In particular, this latter demands explanation in terms of the messages’ interaction (are there fictional/playful components in aesthetics? Are there fictional/aesthetic components in playing? etc.), and their reciprocal necessity (can aesthetics transcend playful/fictional components? Can lying transcend playful/aesthetic components? etc.).

The analysis departs from the concepts of lying, playing and aesthetics, and finally illustrates the suggested connection according to a Peircean framework (with a special emphasis on the concepts of firstness, secondness and thirdness).

Giovanni Aloi
Lecturer in History of Art and Media Studies at Queen Mary, University of London and the Open University; Editor of Antennae, the Journal of Nature in Visual Culture
'The Death of the Animal'

Do works of art involving the killing of animals speak about animality or more about the artist who stages the killing? Where do we draw a line? In 2006, the seminal book 'Killing Animals', written by 'The Animal Studies Group', explored the ways in which societies past and present manage the concept of animal killings in various cultural arenas. In the essay, 'Animal Death in Contemporary Art' Steve Baker poses a key question: "Can contemporary art productively address the killing of animals?" 'The Death of the Animal' focuses on contemporary art practice involving the killing of animals in the exhibiting space in order to answer, at least in part, Steve Baker's original question.

Clive Adams
Director & Curator, Centre for Contemporary Art & the Natural World
‘Fat Cats and Poodles – Projecting on the Natural World'

Our sentiments towards animals have been frequently focussed by the arts, from Later Palaeolithic cave paintings, medieval 'bestiaries', Old Testament stories and the origins of the 'pastoral' tradition, the allegories of Aesop and Orwell, to the teachings of Descartes, Darwin and Dawkins.

This paper explores the tendency in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries for human thought to project upon the natural world - particularly animals - values derived from human society and then to serve them up as a reinforcement of human order; how the distinction of man from the beasts helped to justify the subjugation of other races, women, and the poor. The re-emergence of animal analogies can then be traced in the urban 'jungles' of the 1970s; how the market used lions, tigers and eagles to glorify the 'natural' qualities of speed, power and competition. Clive will conclude by talking about animal imagery in the work of Franz Marc and Constantin Brancusi, live animals in the performance and installation work of Beuys and Kounellis, dead animals in the work of Hirst, and technologies which help us to envision new feelings and connections within our own and other species.

Dr Hilda Kean
Tutor in History and Acting Dean, Ruskin College, University of Oxford
'Recent Animal Memorials'

Recent public sculptures of ‘real’ animals in London have been naturalistic presentations. The aim in the examples of Sam and Humphrey, two cat statues located in or near Queen’s Square, is to remember a recently dead human. The sculptures of Hodge, Dr Johnson’s Cat, or the unnamed pet cat of Dr Salter’s daughter by the river in Rotherhithe are intended to create new interest in important figures from an earlier age. The form of a cat depicted on their own suggests the importance of the animal, however, the absent human is present in different ways. This suggests that rather than the statues being sculptures which value the cultural role of these cats in fact they have become representations of humans.

This particular problem is found most sharply in the new memorial to animals in war in Park Lane, London. While humans are totally absent and many different types of animals are depicted, representing different roles throughout at least the last century, the very form of the memorial suggests that this is a pastiche of a First World War memorial to the fallen – human – dead.

Program Schedule (downloadable pdf here)

DAY 1 - Thursday, 20th November

9.00 - 9.30 Registration

9.35 Introduction by Rosemarie McGoldrick

9.40 - 11.00 Session 1 Chair & Discussant: Bob and Roberta Smith

Steve Baker
Emeritus Professor of Art History, University of Central Lancashire
Keynote address: Self-portrait with human, or: What might Derrida's 'being-huddled-together' look like?

Rikke Hansen
Researcher at Tate Britain
Presentation: Animal Skins in Contemporary Art

11.00 - 11.30 Coffee

11.30 - 12.45 Session 2 Chair & Discussant: Roz Mortimer

Artist Collaboration
Presentation: Pests, Pets and Prey – Uncertainty in the City

Clive Adams
Director, Centre for Contemporary Art & the Natural World, Exeter
Presentation: Fat Cats and Poodles – Projecting on the Natural World

12.45 Buffet Lunch

14.00 - 15.30 Session 3 Chair & Discussant: Ben Cain

Ron Broglio
Professor of Literature, Georgia Institute of Technology, USA
Presentation: A Left-handed Primer for Approaching Animal Art

Jo Longhurst
Presentation: What a dog might tell us: on looking and being looked at

15.30 - 16:00 Tea

16:00 to 17:30 Session 4 Chair & Discussant: Nico de Oliveira

Matthew Poole
Programme Director, Centre for Curatorial Studies, University of Essex
Presentation: Conditions of Solidarity and Justice - Does the conceiving of ethics separate humans from other animals?

Dr Hilda Kean
Tutor in History and Acting Dean, Ruskin College, Oxford
Presentation: Recent Animal Memorials

18:00 PRIVATE VIEW of The Animal Gaze show at Unit 2 & Unit 6

DAY 1 - Friday, 21st November

9.00 – 9.30 convene

9.35 - 11.00 Session 5 Chair & Discussant: Professor Kate Soper

David Wood
Centennial Professor of Philosophy, Vanderbilt University, USA
Presentation: Mirror Infractions in the Yucatan - why should flies be without art?

Emily Brady
Senior Lecturer in Human Geography, University of Edinburgh
Presentation: Animals in Environmental, Land and Eco-art

11.00-11.30 Coffee

11.30 – 13.00 Session 6 Chair & Discussant: Suky Best

Matthew Fuller
David Gee Reader in Digital Media, Goldsmiths
Presentation: Art for Animals

Marcus Coates
The artist in conversation with Ron Broglio

13.00-14.00 Buffet Lunch

14.00 - 15.30 Session 7 Chair & Discussant: Dr Paul Cobley

Giovanni Aloi
Lecturer in History of Art and Media Studies at Queen Mary, University of London and the Open University; Editor of Antennae, the Journal of Nature in Visual Culture.
Presentation: The Death of the Animal

Dario Martinelli
Docent of Semiotics and Musicology, Helsinki
Video Presentation: 3 Steps Towards Art: Semiotically Investigating Animal Aesthetics

15.30 - 16:00 Tea

16:00 - 17:00 Session 8 Chair & Convenor: Rosemarie McGoldrick

An hour’s session devoted to delegate participation. Delegates were invited to pose general questions arising out of the symposium’s proceedings.

17:00 Professor Kate Soper
Institute for the Study of European Transformations, London Metropolitan University
Conclusion and thanks

The Animal Gaze Returned is proud to partner Minding Animals 2012 and Interactive Futures '11: Animal Influences.