Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrEmail this to someone

At Turner Contemporary, Artists Reflect on Our Coexistence with Animals

  • Candida Höfer - Zoologischer Garten Paris II, 1997
  • Mark Dion - Mobile Wilderness Unit - Wolf, 2006
  • Laura Ford - A Kings Appetite
May 17, 2018
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

Even a brief look at our history is sufficient to conclude that the depiction of animals is an important element in the development of the human kind. From the famous drawings in the caves of Lascaux, the representation of animals was related to the observations of the world around our ancestors.

Certainly, as the time passed by, the perception of the animals has changed, especially with the phenomenon of collecting for various purposes.

The upcoming exhibition at Turner Contemporary is of suggestive title Animals & Us, as it tends to explore the nature of the relationship between animals and humans throughout the art history.

The works of more than forty artists were gathered for this occasion; besides the desire to emit a myriad of visual considerations of the theme, the idea is to raise awareness with this exhibition about the political, social and cultural aspects of the representation of the animals.

Left Human-headed Bird, Ptolemaic Period; 332-30 B.C. Right Egyptian Figure of Bastet, Late Period; 600 BC - 332 BC
Left: Human-headed Bird, Ptolemaic Period; 332-30 B.C. Gessoed and painted wood, Ptolemaic Period; 332-30 B.C. Courtesy of Freud Museum London / Right: Egyptian Figure of Bastet, Late Period; 600 BC – 332 BC. Courtesy of Freud Museum London

A Divinity, a Prey or a Living Being?

Despite being used as food, initially the animals were respected and honored as divinities. Through the history their function has changed, but not rapidly until the modern times when various exploitation processes began.

From colonization onward the mass exploitation of animals started spreading on the global scale with the speed of light, which was enforced with industrialization. Whether used for the fashion industry, furniture or plain entertainment, the animals were often maltreated and misused, which led to contemporary moment in which a large number of animals are close to extinction.

Therefore, by contrasting contemporary and 20th-century art with a selection of historical artworks (like Egyptian artifacts and Medieval bestiaries), new works and commissions, the exhibition poses a number of question on the past, present and future of the human coexistence with the animals.

Terracotta statuette of horse, Freud Museum
Terracotta statuette of horse decorated with typical stripes and spots, Boeotian 6th Century BC. Courtesy of Freud Museum London

On The Works

As mentioned, the installment covers a huge number of artists which implies different approaches and aesthetics. While the pieces of Laura Ford and Raqib Shaw deal with myths and anthropomorphism, the outstanding and a bit spooky photographs of Candida Hofer offer the insight of the animal behavior e.g. everyday life of their captivity. On the other hand, the works of Tracey Emin, William Wegman and Andy Warhol explore the interaction with our pets.

Among the works is one of the iconic performances of Joseph Beuys titled I like America and America Likes Me (1974), in which the artist is confronted with the wolf; the piece critically examines the ideas of domestication, invasion, and repression.

There are also the works which introduce trans humanist ideas such is the case with Laura Gustafsson and Treike Haapoja which have released the Museum of Nonhumanity, a museum of the near future in which the boundary between humanity and animality has become history.

Shimabuku - Octopus Stone, 2013
Shimabuku – Octopus Stone, 2013. Courtesy Galerie Barbara Wien, Berlin. Photo by Nick Ash

Animals & Us at the Turner Contemporary

It is apparent that this exhibition attempts to expose the narrative on humans and animals by engaging all the media possible, from installations, over paintings, to video and sculpture. The interdisciplinary approach is necessary in order to determine how do we as humans moderate nature and the animals as beings which are closest to us.

Animals & Us will be displayed at the Turner Contemporary, a distinct exhibition space located in Margate, from 25 May until 30 September 2018.

Featured images: Candida Höfer – Zoologischer Garten Paris II, 1997 © Candida Höfer / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn and DACS, London 2018; Laura Ford – A King’s Appetite, HOUSE Biennial commission In partnership with Royal Pavilion & Museums. Photo: Nigel Green; Mark Dion – Mobile Wilderness Unit – Wolf, 2006. Courtesy of Georg Kargl, Vienna. Photo: Lisa Rastl. All images courtesy Turner Contemporary.