TALK TO ANIMALS.
The contemporary animal
What makes contemporary art about animals “contemporary”?
How easy is it to maintain a cutting edge, a critical engagement
with the forms of current art practice, at the same time as attending
to the condition of nonhuman animals? The stakes are high, because
contemporary animal imagery that fails to signal its contemporaneity
will struggle to reach beyond a small audience already engaged by
its subject matter but largely oblivious to its form – its
work – as art. And does the all-too-human genre of portraiture
really have any useful role in that portrayal?
Roni Horn: Taxidermy, Photography and Ontological Mobility
What roles does taxidermy play in our relationship with
live animals today? How does it operate as a signifier in contemporary
representation? The paper discusses the photographic work of internationally
renowned artist Roni Horn, paying particular attention to her work
Dead Owl (1997) and the series Bird (1998-2007) both of which involve
taxidermy. In relation to these works, I will argue that in opposition
to the predominantly negative connotations taxidermy has acquired
in human-animal studies discourses, Horn’s approach to taxidermy
and the photographic idiom alike constitute a productive problematizer
of animal representation.
Into the ZOO with Patricia Piccinini
The Australian artist Patricia Piccinini creates fantastic
hyperreal creatures that escape the systematic taxonomy of species
‘as we know them’. She introduces the gallery visitors
with hyperreal models of non-existent but probable creatures of
fantastic zoology, that can be situated on the scale between two
poles – humans (as we know them) and animals (as far as we
know them). Donna Haraway calls the artist her fallow in the searching
for the appropriate language that enable us to give names to the
hybrid spaces and species of the complex techno-nature-culture interactions
within currant societies and their environments.
The Meaning of the Salamander. Andrias scheuchzeri in Czech
science and culture in the 20th century
A most improbable and surprisingly strong material and
semiotic connection exists between Czech lands and creatures as
distant both geographically and biologically as Giant Salamanders
(genus Andrias). These largest living amphibians from Asia became
mighty symbols of both identity and otherness in Czech culture and
science. From Capek's dystopic novel "War with the Newts"
(1936) to giant salamanders living in the basement of the Faculty
of Science, these almost impossible creatures populate space and
minds in large numbers. The paper will try to map their presence
and explain the strange mutual devotion of people and amphibians.
Portraying Ideology. About images of Soviet Space Dogs
The lecture is dedicated to the dogs who were crucial
to the success of the early Soviet space programme. All of them
formerly homeless on the Moscow streets, they fitted the necessary
profile: small, robust, placid and able to withstand the punishing
preparations for space flight. They were also photogenic. On 3 November
1957, Laika was the first Earth-born creature into outer space,
giving her instant global fame. Her death a few hours after launching
was used to transform her into a symbol of patriotic sacrifice.
The lecture reflects on the ideological implications of the popular
portraits of the Soviet Space Dogs.
Could we portray an animal without mythological or shakespearean
subtexts? Remarks on three animal short film portrays from Romuald
Karmakar, Ken Wardrop and Chen Sheinberg.
Animals in film suffer from a semantic overload. The fact
that even great documentary filmmakers like Sir David Attenborough
cannot avoid to stage the fight between fiddler crabs at the beach
as an ancient tragedy, shows in how far animals in films are overdetermined
by mythology, literature, and philosophy. Nevertheless, the symbolic
association machines in these films can break down just because
the animal is also there – as animal. This reduction of associations
towards the actual animal shall be discussed in regard to three
short film portraits.