Animal Incarnations

August 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

It isn’t uncommon knowledge that I’m interested in animals as well as our relationships to them. I’m especially interested in how we articulate human experience by using animals as a psychological and metaphysical template in creating a narrative. When Tracey Williams, gallery manager for the Papakura Art Gallery asked me if I would be interested in contributing a work for an upcoming exhibition, I jumped at the chance.

Artists exhibiting are: Joanna Braithwaite, Bonnie Crickett, John Eaden, Katrina Edwards, Joanna Fieldes, Andrea Gaskin, Michael Harrison, Evelyn Kawiti, Gregor Kregar, Hye Rim Lee, Jeff Lockhart, Peter Madden, Emma McLellan, Richard Orjis, Hamish Palmer, Niamh Peren, Aleksandra Petrovic and Grant Whibley

Internationally and nationally established New Zealand artists, and emerging artists and those with connections to Papakura, were invited to submit work for Animal Incarnations, which references – both literally and laterally – animalia. The exhibition serves as an allegorical body: with one arm reaching out to directly acknowledge its location, a localised response and bequest to the interests of the rural communities connected to the gallery; and the other arm simultaneously extended toward recent international exhibitions, events and publications examining notions of animal aesthetics in relation to economics, spirituality and human nature – as well as the relationship between the human animal and other animals.

Based on this brief that Tracey outlined in the proposal, I set about trying to decide and edit which of my works would be best suited for this. Despite working on several works which I initially thought would be suitable, I changed my mind and started re-evaluating what I wanted to show as well as why. The issue with showing multiple works lies in being mindful of the relationships that already exist inherently within each work; which can either add to the overall appreciation and interpretation of the work, or become jarring, incongruous and subtract every layer of meaning that you’re trying to build.

I eventually settled on four works that suited the brief for the exhibition, could co-exist next to each other and add to the inherent narrative of the work as a whole.

Untitled (Theme Song) (2011), pen, ink and pencil on paper, 330mm H x 250mm W (unframed)

Untitled (Drama School) (2010), pen, ink and pencil on paper, 250mm H x 330mm W (unframed)

Untitled (Scaring, Lulling, Making Mock) (2008), pen, ink and pencil on paper, 250mm H x 200mm W (unframed)

Untitled (The Argument) (2008), pen, ink and pencil on paper, 250mm H x 200mm W (unframed)

It is a scene repeated all over the world; tales are recited , through a variety of mediums, which feature one similarity; the relationship between humans and animals. In folklore from all corners of the world, animals are human beings transformed, changed into an alternate state as a means of conveying an underlying ideology. Human beings are shown to possess natures that are more akin with our common perception of wild beasts, creating monsters of all shapes and sizes; as well as noble heroes who possess the attributes of, again, what is our common perception of our most beautiful, pure, brave and wise of the animal kingdom.

My drawings are an exploration into this storytelling motif. The drawing featuring a couple on a music box, a paradoxical Adam and Eve; who, instead of embracing the animals around them, have taken to beheading them. The heads lie scattered around them, like detritus of voyages of discovery, where animals were slaughtered for the purposes of science. The couple’s own denouement could be seen as more of a literal lack, not just of the single most important form of identification as members of the human race, but also of a lack of any feasible direction. For all we know, they could just be toys in a music box, spinning round and round without any control of their actions. Maybe the scattered heads lie in wait; to be picked up and worn by one of the couple, like a mask, a metaphor, an identity of some kind. Or, perhaps a punishment, to borrow from Greek storytelling.

The idea of donning an animal head, or inventing an animal costume is also key in rituals and festivals all over the world. Centuries later, even in the farthest corner in the world from where Aristotle attributed human personality traits, values, attitudes and emotions to animals in his fables; New Zealand fauna are personified and described in a manner similar to how we would describe the people we know, attributed human qualities, and even given human names.

The little boys dressing up in animal costumes, preparing for play, for acting, maybe for something more sinister. They may be dressing up as animals, but they’re also animals deep down. They too occupy a small part of the wider net of animals, of the fauna of the planet, and perhaps the pelts perform the function of allowing for the release of behaviours, desires and vulnerabilities not normally attributed to humans. Like Max, the protagonist in Where the Wild Things Are, who wore a pelt in order to release his inner wild thing, before discovering the real Wild Things, who, in turn, and as a reflection of Max himself, each personified a human trait.

The fact that Where the Wild Things Are is still a hugely popular book for children, and that the Twilight films feature the repeated image of a boy morphing into a wolf, albeit through the powers of 21st century CGI, shows how powerful this narrative motif is. Animals occupy an important role in the lives of human beings, spiritual, educational, entertaining and sustaining. In my practice I have been interested in how narrative motifs such as these are repeated throughout generations, propagated through various retellings of stories.

Artwork installed (left to right),

Untitled (Drama School) (2010), Untitled (Theme Song) (2011), Untitled (Scaring, Lulling, Making Mock) (2008), Untitled (The Argument) (2008)

Works (left to right):

Hamish Palmer, He yelled, “FUCK” and then there was this enormous bang, Aleksandra Petrovic, Grant Whibley, Whekau, Joanna Braithwaite, All Things Considered

Another view of the installed work in the gallery.

Works (left to right):

Hamish Palmer, He yelled, “FUCK” and then there was this enormous bang, Aleksandra Petrovic, Grant Whibley, Whekau, Joanna Braithwaite, All Things Considered

Work on the floor by Gregor Kregar, Matthew 12:12 souvenir (2010), glazed ceramic, courtesy of Gow Langsford Gallery.

Image courtesy of Papakura Art Gallery

A publication was also produced to coincide with the exhibition. It featured text, which comprised of a conversation between artist Heidi Brickell and Leon Tan concerning some ideas behind the exhibition.

Animal Incarnations publication.

Inside page features my work The Argument (2008), Pen, ink and pencil on paper, 360mm x 315mm.

The folded-out publication featured a reproduction of Richard Orjis’ work from the exhibition.

Richard Orjis, Two Doves (2011), photographic print, 500mm x 690mm, courtesy of the artist and Melanie Roger Gallery

All images Copyright 2017, Aleksandra Petrovic

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