Interspecies uses artistic and participatory strategies to stimulate dialogue and debate, showing artists in contact with real animals and negotiating a new power relationship, questioning the way we view our interactions with animals during Darwin's anniversary year.
Interspecies asks: Can artists work with animals as equals? If not, what is the current state of the human-animal relationship? It has recently been shown that humans are closer to the higher primates than previously thought, with chimpanzee and gorilla behaviour reflecting politics, deception and even possibly creativity. What does this mean to the way we see ourselves as one species inhabiting a planet in crisis?
This exhibition centres around a durational work by Kira O'Reilly and draws together projects by Nicolas Primat and other artists who question the one-sided manipulation of non-human life-forms for art, and have tried to enter the animals' point of view as a fundamental part of their practice. It has to some extent been inspired by Donna Haraway'sWhen Species Meet but was triggered by discussions with the late Nicolas Primat.
Nicolas Primat specialised in directly working with monkeys and apes in collaboration with primatologists. In Portrait de Famille, he is playfully swarmed by a tribe of squirrel monkeys, in Demo Bonobo, he established a relationship via sexual signals with a group of Bonobo apes and in The Making of Les Petits Hommes Vers he and his colleagues make a science fiction film with a group of monkeys.
Kira O'Reilly's durational performance Falling Asleep With A Pig. The artist and pig (Deliah) cohabit a living space, partially viewable by the public for 72 hours. At some point the pig and artist fall asleep. The work addresses the ethics of human and animal interaction, acknowledging the implicit ambivalences and violence in the appropriation of animals as a resource.
Antony Hall's Enki Experiment 4 allows visitors to Interspecies to communicate with an electric fish on the same level, avoiding the use of language, instead stimulating a shared empathy through a physical connection.
Ruth Maclennan's films Harry and Three short films on Hawks and Men explore the relationship between a bird of prey and the human being who trains it, capturing the rapt gaze of hunter and bird, recalling ancient ideas of shape-shifting and shamanic transformations.
Rachel Mayeri's Primate Cinema: Baboons as Friends juxtaposes footage of baboons taken in the field with a re-enactment by human actors, shot film noir style in a bar in Los Angeles. A tale of lust, jealousy, sex and violence transpires simultaneously in non-human and human worlds.
Beatriz da Costa's work PigeonBlog proposes an alternative way to participate in environmental air pollution data-gathering through equipping urban homing pigeons with GPS-enabled sensing devices. PigeonBlog is intended as a social experiment between humans and animals.
Snæbjörnsdóttir/Wilson's Radio Animal involves a specially designed caravan in which the artists to travel to various locations in the UK to gather material from people about their relationship to animals. They are particularly interested in animals that are considered ‘unwelcome’ visitors but have for whatever reason found their way into what we may consider our own territories. Animal Radio is a Story Gallery, Lancaster commission funded by the Henry Moore Foundation.
Interspecies included two symposia chaired by Rob La Frenais:
Non-Human Primates with Sarah-Jane Vick - primatologist and psychologist; Patrick Munck - artist, videographer and collaborator with Nicolas Primat; Rachel Mayeri - artist
Animals, Humans and Power with Giovanni Aloi - editor Antennae; Ruth Maclennan - artist; Helen Macdonald, author of Falcon; Bryndis Snæbjörnsdóttir; Karen Knorr - artist and photographer
Rachel Mayeri also held two Primate Cinema workshops on How to Act like an Animal as part of the exhibition
Links to artists' websites
Kira O'Reilly, Antony Hall, Ruth Maclennan, Rachel Mayeri, Beatriz da Costa, Snæbjörnsdóttir/Wilson
Arts Council England, Darwin 200, A Foundation