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Artist Animal

Artist Animal

Steve Baker
Series: Posthumanities
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Artist Animal
    Book Description:

    Animals have always been compelling subjects for artists, but the rise of animal advocacy and posthumanist thought has prompted a reconsideration of the relationship between artist and animal. In this book, Steve Baker examines the work of contemporary artists who directly confront questions of animal life, treating animals not for their aesthetic qualities or as symbols of the human condition but rather as beings who actively share the world with humanity.

    The concerns of the artists presented in this book-Sue Coe, Eduardo Kac, Lucy Kimbell, Catherine Chalmers, Olly and Suzi, Angela Singer, Catherine Bell, and others-range widely, from the ecological to the philosophical and from those engaging with the modification of animal bodies to those seeking to further the cause of animal rights. Drawing on extensive interviews he conducted with the artists under consideration, Baker explores the vital contribution that contemporary art can make to a broader conception of animal life, emphasizing the importance of creativity and trust in both the making and understanding of these artworks.

    Throughout, Baker is attentive to issues of practice, form, and medium. He asks, for example, whether the animal itself could be said to be the medium in which these artists are working, and he highlights the tensions between creative practice and certain kinds of ethical demands or expectations. Featuring full-color, vivid examples of their work,Artist Animalsituates contemporary artists within the wider project of thinking beyond the human, asserting art's power to open up new ways of thinking about animals.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8178-5
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-x)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  4. Introduction: The Idiot, the Voyeur, and the Moralist
    (pp. 1-19)

    Can contemporary artists be trusted with animals, living or dead? Can they be trusted to act responsibly, ethically, when their work engages with questions of animal life? Will they put ethics first, or will they put the interests of their artbeforeethics? Both in and beyond the field of “animal studies” that has burgeoned in the arts, humanities, and social sciences over the past twenty years, these seem widely regarded as pertinent questions. And when they are posed in this form, the answer is frequentlyno, artists are not to be trusted. Here, to begin, are two notably uncompromising...

  5. 1 An Openness to Life: Olly and Suzi in the Antarctic
    (pp. 20-37)

    At first glance there is little more than a scribble, a diagonal of scratchy pen and pencil marks across the small sketchbook page. The marks are the beginnings of a response to the grayscale image on a computer screen showing the interior of an asp’s jawbone, magnified around five hundred times by an electron microscope. In the basement of London’s Natural History Museum, working with Alex Ball, the museum’s electron microscopist, the British artists Olly and Suzi take a break from “navigating the machine”—having found an image that intrigues them—and start to draw.

    Given the remote locations in...

  6. On Drawing an Aardvark
    (pp. 38-40)

    The art historian James Elkins argues that artists “have to watch the world in a particular way.” His example is an unexpectedly appropriate one. “This was made clear to me,” he writes, “after I had seen a stuffed aardvark in a natural history museum. It’s a strange animal: this one was huge and intensely muscular, like a monstrous rat with rabbit’s ears. It had long, sparse white hair, deep wrinkles, and gigantic yellow nails, as if it were constructed out of close-ups of an old man’s body.”

    Elkins’s point is that most people don’t look at animals with the seriousness...

  7. 2 Cycles of Knowing and Not-Knowing: Lucy Kimbell, Rats, and Art
    (pp. 41-63)

    A card, an invitation, around four inches by six, printed on both sides. On the pink side, in a typeface sprouting elaborate arabesques, are the wordsOne Night with Rats in the Service of Art, and smaller text identifying this as the title of a “performance lecture” to be given by Lucy Kimbell at Camden Arts Centre in London on the evening of August 31, 2005. In it, she proposed to share “the results of her aesthetic experiments with rats” and announced: “Raising issues about ethics and aesthetics, this event will appeal both to those disgusted by rats and those...

  8. On “Ethics”
    (pp. 64-65)

    “Ethics does not exist,” writes Alain Badiou. “There is only theethic-of(of politics, of love, of science, of art).”¹ Recent French philosophy has been much concerned with the problem of “ethics.” In an essay first published in 2003, as part of the focus in his late work on the unhappy history of the animal in philosophy, Jacques Derrida stated directly that it “takes more” than an ethics “to break with the Cartesian tradition of the animal-machine” that has so thoroughly permeated cultural and philosophical attitudes.² Years earlier he had already acknowledged the problem that even the most “provisional” morality...

  9. 3 Vivid New Ecologies: Catherine Chalmers and Eduardo Kac
    (pp. 66-89)

    In “Regarding new animals,” an essay on the animals in the artist Allison Hunter’s photographic seriesNew Animals, Branka Arsić speculates that “in order to see new animals, photography itself had to change.” The “radical gesture” of Hunter’s large-scale color chromogenic photographs, Arsić suggests, is “the way she turns the moment of ‘taking’ a photograph into an act of freeing” by taking “an already photographed animal out of its photographed context” (usually an outdoor zoo) and relocating it “on the surface of a non-identifiable space” (Figure 3.1). Whether that space is a vast field of ambiguously nuanced light or of...

  10. On Artists and Intentions
    (pp. 90-92)

    Writing in the first issue of the online humanities, Walter Benn Michaels makes the case that for the past fifty years the demand that artists be “unconcerned with producing an effect on the beholder” of the artwork has been “at the heart of aesthetic theory and a great deal of the most advanced aesthetic production.”¹ Whether or not that particular claim is justified, it certainly doesn’t apply to the work of the principal artists discussed in this book. These artists, working with varied motivations and often unaware of each other’s work, cannot be said to adhere to what...

  11. 4 Of the Unspoken: Mircea Cantor and Mary Britton Clouse
    (pp. 93-116)

    It will be clear by now that one major hypothesis of this book is that careful attention to artists and their objects may in itself suggest ways around some of the more entrenched attitudes found in discussions about art, animals, curiosity, and creativity, and that Jim Dine’s notion of trusting “disparate elements going together” is one way to approach this.¹ The present chapter again concerns trust and its absence, and moves toward an account of the work of the artist Mary Britton Clouse and the Justice for Animals Arts Guild by means of a description of some objects, some elements,...

  12. On Maddening the Fly
    (pp. 117-118)

    “Taboo-breaking art is not philosophy…. Philosophy wants to let the fly out of the bottle; art wants to keep it there, but to madden it.” This is Anthony Julius’s assessment, in his bookTransgressions: The Offences of Art, of the fundamental philosophical shortcomings of much contemporary art. This is art that “can violate our sensibilities. It can force us into the presence of the ugly, the bestial, the vicious, the menacing. These are all kinds of cruelty.”¹ Since this is art that has the temerity to question or to challenge “what might be termed the ordinary integrity of things” through...

  13. 5 Almost Posthuman: Catherine Bell’s Handling of Squid
    (pp. 119-139)

    This is what happens: the date is July 15, 2006, and a single, fixed camera faces a stage, painted black, onto which an arc of light illuminates a small area where the artist is sitting, close to the bowed front of the stage. The artist has bleached hair and is wearing a man’s suit that has been completely and meticulously covered in pale pink felt. She is sitting on the floor, facing forward, her back upright, her legs flat on the floor in a diamondlike shape reminiscent of a yoga pose, the soles of her bare feet touching each other....

  14. On Cramping Creativity
    (pp. 140-143)

    In his invaluable essay, “Practising Ethics,” Nigel Thrift offers a workaday definition of ethics as “the effort to formulate principles of right and wrong behaviour” before launching into a quiet but devastating critique of “the rise of the dictates of the ethics committee,” which, “in its desperation to avoid mistakes, closes down some of the main means by which we learn about others.” His concern is that research in fields such as the social sciences and the humanities is now “subject to a new tapestry of ethical regulation which … assumes that there is only one way of proceeding.”¹


  15. 6 Art and Animal Rights: Sue Coe, Britta Jaschinski, and Angela Singer
    (pp. 144-179)

    In a chapter of his bookWhat Is Posthumanism?that includes discussion of the artist Sue Coe’s bookDead Meat,Cary Wolfe asks that given what Coe sees as the ethical function of her own art (a furthering of the cause of animal rights), “Why not just show people photographs of stockyards, slaughterhouses, and the killing floor to achieve this end? To put it another way, what does artadd?”¹ What does art add? Wolfe does not go on to answer this question directly, but it is a highly pertinent question that sets the broad agenda for the present chapter....

  16. On Relevant Questions
    (pp. 180-181)

    Isabelle stengers makes the simple but singularly important observation that “there are no good answers if the question is not the relevant one.”¹ One reason for its importance was noted in the introduction’s account of the debacle around Marco Evaristti’s goldfish, where the importing of particular kinds of ethical expectations into the discussion of contemporary art allowed less-than-relevant questions to flourish. In that sense it’s instructive that Stengers makes her observation in the context of a short paper that itself addresses questions of ethics.

    In “The Challenge of Complexity: Unfolding the Ethics of Science,” she asserts that ethics, as she...

  17. 7 “The Twisted Animals Have No Land beneath Them”
    (pp. 182-226)

    Toward the end ofA Thousand Plateaus, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari characterize the works of “nomad art” that they admire in these terms: “The twisted animals have no land beneath them; the ground constantly changes direction, as in aerial acrobatics; the paws point in the opposite direction from the head; the hind part of the body is turned upside down” (see Figure 7.1).¹

    The task of this final chapter is to pursue some twists and turns of its own. Where earlier chapters offered a relatively descriptive account of particular artworks and of the views of the artists responsible for...

  18. Afterword: Art in a Post-Animal Era?
    (pp. 227-240)

    Drawing in the evidence of the preceding chapters, a few last thoughts on the place of contemporary art in the wider project of the posthumanities are in order. In his essay “Invisible Histories: Primate Bodies and the Rise of Posthumanism in the Twentieth Century,” Jonathan Burt argues that aspects of the sometimes overlooked history of actual animals (and of experimentation on them) offers “a parallel history to that of posthumanism: the pathway by which we have moved into the post-animal era, which in certain areas of human-animal interaction we have actually been living in for a while.” It is Burt’s...

  19. Notes
    (pp. 241-268)
  20. Index
    (pp. 269-279)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 280-280)