Where Does Paint Figure in Posthumanist Thinking and the Emerging Field of Critical Animal Studies (Part 5: Posthumanism and painted representation)

Posthumanism and painted representation

Before giving examples of painters who meet the criteria in terms of posthumanism and animal studies, we must again refer to Steve Baker’s ideas about the representation of animals as they are, without symbolism or allegory.  In his book The Postmodern Animal he asks ‘for postmodern artists dealing with animal imagery, and engaging critically with the relation of that imagery to questions of (human or animal) identity, how is the form of the animal to be represented?’[1]  He emphasises the importance of a representation being recognizable as some type of animal ‘whether to express and represent ideas about the condition of being human or, on the other hand, about the condition of being animal’.[2]  To explain further, what Baker asks of a postmodern animal is that it remains true to its form or existence despite creative mediation, such as ambiguity, on the part of the artist.

The work of Britta Jaschinski, although photographic and not painted, upholds such values by its ambiguous depiction of non-humans, particularly in the series Dark.  Black and white images of various species coalesce from the shadows: In one photograph what could be a frog could just as easily be a primate and in another a sitting camel looks remarkably like an ancient tortoise at first glance. (Fig. 21) [It has been pointed out that the image I had sourced was mistakenly referred to as the work of Britta Jaschinski.  This is not in fact the case.  The work is by another artist, Elliot Ross, whose work is mentioned as being similar style to Jaschinski’s.  Sincere apologies go to Elliott for this error.  I have changed the credit of this photo, and am grateful this was not picked up on during the marking of my dissertation!!]


Fig. 21. Camel, Zoo Series Eliott Ross 1995: Taken from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/photography/8660403/Elliot-Ross-at-Belfast-Photo-Festival.html?image=3

Stripped of taxonomy, the non-human becomes indifferent to human modes of identification.  It is solely ‘the other’.  For Jaschinski the series is about representing the animals’ dignity and beauty as well as the significance of their existence and individual personality.[3]  A similar ambiguity haunts the paintings of Helene van Duijne, a Swedish artist based in Vienna.  One of her works entitled Endangered Species (Fig. 22) likewise shows us a creature that could be an elephant or a flightless bird.  The animal form is lost to painterly gesture rather than photographic technique and what remains is a nameless beast that evades classification.  There is an evocation of individuality expressed here; perhaps a creature sourced from the imagination of the artist.  The significance of this individuality expressed through paint will be discussed later in this discourse.


Fig. 22. Endangered Species Helene van Duijne 2012. Taken from: http://auctionata.com/resources/630×473/23/c8/f6d7-5ef9-456d-8bdf-590af47a4cf1.jpg

[1] Baker, Postmodern, p. 135.

[2] Baker, Postmodern, p. 136.

[3] Baker, Postmodern,  p.147.