Where Does Paint Figure in Posthumanist Thinking the Emerging Field of Critical Animal Studies? (Part 5e: Laurie Hogin and Donna Haraway)

Fig. 30 The Economics of Heaven, Laurie Hogin, 2005

Fig. 30
The Economics of Heaven, Laurie Hogin, 2005

The term surface can be defined in two ways for the purpose of this discourse: the first as a surface of paint intended as an artwork; the second as defined by Broglio, who uses the term surface to relate to the animal world with regard to their apparent lack of interiority compared with the depth and recursive-thinking of human phenomenology, saying ‘such depth (animals have) if radically different from our own remains closed off’and ‘this impossibility of understanding animal as Other serves as productive friction by which authentically new thinking and art is produced’.[1]  His texts investigate the ways in which artists such as Olly and Suzi manoeuvre these ‘contact zones’ of paint, paper and canvas, the optical and the material, to form dialogues between species and ‘challenge classical representations of animals’.[2]

While there is definite value in challenging such traditional modes of representation, it can also be argued that contemporary painting does not have to avoid such styles if it is to comment in a posthumanist fashion.  Take for example the work of Canadian painter Laurie Hogin, whose surrealist works reference historical painting from the centuries preceding the 20th.  Her tableaux of fantastical, colourful creatures parody the whimsical compositions in the days of the Enlightenment and ‘challenge the myth of the binary’.[3]  To challenge this delusion of duality is to question humanist concepts of human-animal and culture-nature.  Her work draws upon modes of representation popular during the Enlightenment, in which animals were presented as collections of display, whether as harvested bounty or hunted trophies (Fig. 30).  Hogin’s deliberately unnatural beasts are a reference to the artificiality of portraits produced using taxidermied animals, as well as mimicking the historical painters’ propensity for extending artistic license over their subject’s physiognomy.  Hogin also makes a commentary on modern day taxonomy and the relevance it has in her own work, saying:

I wanted them to resemble field-guide illustrations specifically to invoke the history of taxonomy and its implications for our (mis)understanding of our relationship with the rest of the world and the things in it we wish to dominate and possess even as we desire to recognize and connect.[4]

What Hogin refers to here is the way humanist taxonomy has undermined our attempts to define what it is to be human by supporting a system of dominance and control over nature.  There is an unwholesome, sinister atmosphere in her paintings, alluding to themes of ‘products and processes, including shopping, advertising, politics, and language’;[5] Hogin’s works are about consumption and communication in the 21st century:

Allegorical animal specimens sport the colors of our globalized economy, from the day-glo hues of big-box store commodities to the pixilated palettes of television and the Internet, as well as the colors of nationalist identity and political affiliation. An imagined nature’s literal embodiment of contemporary conditions.[6]

In using these references to television and the Internet as well as a globalised society, Hogin combines the heritage of animal art with contemporary attitudes towards animals in respect of production, commercialisation and genetic modification.  She goes on to explain that:

The paintings in this show are not about the impingement of evil modern culture on hapless nature, but rather they are about the way in which symbolic representations of ‘nature’ exclude the natural processes of hybridization, incorporation, evolution, complexity and diversity—the tendency (Darwin pointed it out, of course) of things to combine and recombine, the very enmeshment of ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ that constitutes who we are…It is in the process of hybridization, as with evolution, that there are possibilities for change.  My images are intended to bear witness to the emotional collateral of this process as I imagine and exaggerate its embodiment; these emotions are often contradictory, as the process suggests a future that is inherently fraught with anxiety. This is partially because hybridization, mutation and recombinance suggest a loss of identity.[7]

Her commentary on hybridisation is especially resonant of posthumanist thought, with Dr. Steve Best (Professor of Humanities and Philosophy at the University of Texas) supporting the crucial role the hybrid has within this context:

For many the age of humanism is over as well, we are rapidly morphing into a new posthumanist/transhumanist condition…Posthumanism unfolds as a symptom of an implosive culture where the distinction between biology and technology, never absolute, blurs significantly, resulting in both the technification of biology and the biologization of technology…Whereas the modern adventure brought a new definition and experience of subjectivity in the form of humanism, the postmodern adventure deconstructs and reconstructs the concept of the human through new philosophies and hybridized forms of existence that bring the subject ever deeper into the matrix of technology, preparing the way for a posthuman turn.[8]

The hybrid is also mentioned in one of posthumanism’s most important influences, A Cyborg Manifesto by Donna Haraway, who in 1985 described ‘a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction’.[9] Haraway goes on to explain that ‘the cyborg appears in myth precisely where the boundary between human and animal is transgressed.  Far from signaling a walling off of people from other living beings, cyborgs signal disturbingly and pleasurably tight couplings’.[10]  From Haraway’s manifesto and subsequent texts by other posthumanist writers, it is clear that the cyborg/hybrid is a key element in the questioning of human identity in recent philosophy.

It is perhaps noteworthy here to refer once again to Francis Bacon’s hybridised human-animal forms, painted over five decades before Hogin’s examples. With imagery that bears a striking correspondence to Haraway’s description of mythic cyborg forms, it can be established that Bacon was perhaps one of the first painters to draw upon posthumanist ideas when depicting living beings. (Fig. 31)

Fig. 31 Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion circa 1944 Francis Bacon 1909-1992 Presented by Eric Hall 1953

Fig. 31 Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion circa 1944 Francis Bacon 1909-1992 Presented by Eric Hall 1953

That this posthumanist concept of the hybrid should feature in such seemingly disparate works as those of Hogin and Bacon indicates posthumanism’s steadily pervasive emergence in painting at the end of humanism, as the established binaries of humanity/animality and biology/technology begin to collapse.


[1] Broglio, p.xx.

[2] Arizona State University, About Ron Broglio (2013) <http://www.public.asu.edu/~rbroglio/about.htm&gt; [Accessed 23rd February 2013] (para. 3 of 4)

[3] Laurie Hogin, Critiquing the Critic (2006) <http://www.lauriehogin.com/writings_2.htm&gt; [Accessed 23rd February 2013] (para. 12 of 19)

[4] Hogin, Critic (para. 14 of 19)

[5] Hogin, Critic (para. 13 of 19)

[6] Laurie Hogin, Artist’s Statement (2006) http://www.carrieannbaade.com/cuteandcreepy/artists/lauriehogin.html [Accessed 23rd February 2013] (para. 2 of 2)

[7] Hogin, Critic (para. 12 of 19)

[8] Steve Best, Technoculture, Posthumanism and the End of “Reality” 29th May (2012) <http://drstevebest.wordpress.com/2012/05/29/technoculture-posthumanism-and-the-end-of-reality/&gt; [Accessed 15th March 2013] (para. 7, 23 and 53 of 58)

[9] Donna Haraway, ‘A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century’, Posthumanism, ed. By Neil Badmington (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2000) p.69.

[10] Haraway, p.72.

Where Does Paint Figure in Posthumanist Thinking and the Emerging Field of Critical Animal Studies? (Part 5d: Sue Coe & Olly and Suzi)

Fig. 27 Modern Man Followed by the Ghosts of his Meat, Sue Coe, 1990

Fig. 27
Modern Man Followed by the Ghosts of his Meat, Sue Coe, 1990

In contrast to paintings which utilise simulation and the hyper-real, Sue Coe, a well-known illustrative painter of animal-related subjects, uses the immediacy of drawing from direct observation combined with informed imagination to highlight the contradictions and cruelty present in human-animal relations.  Here the subject is a commentary on animal rights, but it is the medium of paint that shows Coe’s sensitivity and subjectivity towards the non-human.  Without anthropomorphising animals, Coe simplifies and stylises her subjects to intensify the dialogue between them and the spectator.[1] One such example is her painting Modern Man Followed by the Ghosts of his Meat (1990): A monochromatic scene of a terrified man looking behind him to see a host of spectral animals staring dolefully at him and his McDonald’s meal purchase (Fig. 27).  The work is simultaneously ridiculous and sinister, with Coe using the uneasy balance to disconcert (and even make culpable) the viewer with the uncomfortable facts regarding the treatment of animals in the food industry.[2] Rather than resorting to photography of slaughterhouses and battery farms Coe uses paint in order to ‘give the animal a face’ amidst theatricality and poignancy in the character of her work.[3] Coe simply asks the audience to read the paintings as literally as their content.  In his book, What is Posthumanism? Wolfe states that her work succeeds in a posthumanist sense by referring to the effect capitalism and factory-farming have on representing the animals, rather than solely using the disfiguring nature of paint and its capacity to distort.[4] By this he means that her choice of subject reveals the gross mistreatment of animals as commodity and that Coe achieves this ‘through figural excess’ and the ‘interposing materiality of representation itself’.  He goes on to say that her ‘artwork is a faithful (or perhaps ‘dramatic’) enough representation to didactically incite ethical action and change on the part of the viewer’.[5]

Fig.28 Untitled (film still), Olly and Suzi, (date unknown)

Fig.28
Untitled (film still), Olly and Suzi, (date unknown)

For artists Olly and Suzi, this material representation manifests as a process in which humans and non-humans engage through the medium of paint.  Their work is described as a process in which they work together ‘hand over hand…a collaborative, mutual response to nature at its most primitive and wild’.[6] By producing the work in close proximity to the animals, often painting in dangerous circumstances alongside predators such as great white sharks or polar bears, the work is charged with a frenetic urgency of mark-making and displays a ‘physical performance of the senses’.[7](Fig. 28 and Fig. 29)  In leaving the studio and venturing into remote and inhospitable terrain, the painters seek to engage non-human species in their natural habitat and exchange marks ‘to discern and promulgate the cultivation and enculturation of animals within human culture’.[8] This decidedly posthumanist approach attempts to decentre the human by allowing the animal ‘other’ to participate in the creation of the work and leave traces of the encounter.  The medium of paint is merely a material with which the animal can leave such traces and its employment here is far from stylised or borne of photographic reference.  One could argue whether the animals with which Olly and Suzi interact are actually involved in any real sense; the artists have, after all, invaded the creatures’ habitats and imposed themselves with the intention of educing some sort of physical engagement.  However, as Steve Baker asserts in The Postmodern Animal, despite the constructed scenario ‘the depicted animals are encouraged, without manipulation or coercion, to “interact” with the work’, and that ‘it is the painting as object, as thing, marked by the animal itself, which can indelibly record the immediacy and “truth” of the encounter’.[9]   Ron Broglio adds that what Olly and Suzi accomplish is ‘a rethinking of what marks of significance mean within the economy of art, language and culture’ in relation to human and animal interactions and establish ‘a visual argument for the value of an animal’.[10] In the posthumanist era of painting, this cogent value lies in engagements between human and non-human species and reveals how such encounters at a surface level can be productive.

Fig. 29 Olly & Suzi with Greg Williams, Olly and Suzi, 2003

Fig. 29
Olly & Suzi with Greg Williams, Olly and Suzi, 2003

The term surface can be defined in two ways for the purpose of this discourse: the first as a surface of paint intended as an artwork; the second as defined by Broglio, who uses the term surface to relate to the animal world with regard to their apparent lack of interiority compared with the depth and recursive-thinking of human phenomenology, saying ‘such depth (animals have) if radically different from our own remains closed off’and ‘this impossibility of understanding animal as Other serves as productive friction by which authentically new thinking and art is produced’.[11]  His texts investigate the ways in which artists such as Olly and Suzi manoeuvre these ‘contact zones’ of paint, paper and canvas, the optical and the material, to form dialogues between species and ‘challenge classical representations of animals’.[12]


[1] Aloi, Animals, p.136.

[2] Aloi, Animals, p.136.

[3] Wolfe, p.152.

[4] Wolfe, p.151.

[5] Wolfe, pp.151-152

[6] Olly and Suzi, ‘Artist’s statement’ Olly Suzi (2012) <http://www.ollysuzi.com&gt; [Accessed  22nd February 2013] (para. 1 of 4)

[7] Olly and Suzi, (para. 3 of 4)

[8] Broglio, p.82.

[9] Baker, Postmodern, pp.12-13.

[10] Broglio, pp.82-83.

[11] Broglio, p.xx.

[12] Arizona State University, About Ron Broglio (2013) <http://www.public.asu.edu/~rbroglio/about.htm&gt; [Accessed 23rd February 2013] (para. 3 of 4)

Where Does Paint Figure in Posthumanist Thinking and the Emerging Field of Critical Animal Studies (Part 5c: Painting, Screens and Simulation)

Fig. 24 Lonesome George Juan Travieso 2012

Fig. 24
Lonesome George Juan Travieso 2012

Painting has the capacity to utilise the reproduced or screened image of the animal and in its physicality eliminate the distance created by these simulations.  In his work Why Look At Animals? Berger investigates the visual encounter of the animal and writes of a growing absence of contact between them and humans, notably referring to photography by pointing out that ‘the camera fixes them in a domain which, although entirely visible to the camera, will never be entered by the spectator.  All animals appear like fish seen through the plate of glass of an aquarium’.[1]

In reference to French philosopher Jean Baudrillard’s writings on simulation, simulacra and the subversion of the real, one of the contributing factors to our disassociation with the non-human in the 21st century is progression from the mere mechanical reproduction of the photograph to the ubiquitous screening of animals via the Internet and television.  Animals are abundant and accessible in ways never thought possible, but only in simulation; previously unknown species can be viewed at the click of a mouse or by viewing a wildlife documentary but they are never experienced as real encounters in which the human and non-human exchange a gaze or physical contact.  As Baudrillard states, with video, interactive screens, multimedia and the Internet, ‘distance is abolished in all things’.[2] Through the Internet the viewer is brought into a false proximity with the animal by ‘immersion’; we interact with the multitude of images and videos in a virtual space.  Baudrillard goes on to say that ‘machines produce only machines’.[3] However, painting takes these machine-made images and brings the animals depicted back to a physical level using the human gesture and subjectivity within the medium.  Many artists use this concept to highlight the effects of the screen.  Painter Judith Eisler for example, says ‘I am not trying to create a distance from the original image so much as to describe a distance that results from so many layers of technological interference’.[4]

Fig. 25 Genus Deconstruction Juan Travieso 2012

Fig. 25
Genus Deconstruction Juan Travieso 2012

Cuban artist Juan Travieso exemplifies this ‘technological interference’ by appropriating imagery from photographs and producing paintings which contain an anomalous geometry of colours and shapes similar to the pixelated distortions present in screened images.  His subjects are collections of taxonomically similar species or iconic individual animals acknowledged for their imminent extinction (Fig. 24 and Fig. 25).  While the choice of subject may be for aesthetic or ecologically-motivated reasons, it is the choice of medium and its application that holds the viewer enthralled.  Travieso adopts a style currently prevalent among contemporary painters, one that art historian Dario Gamboni describes in his work Potential Images: Ambiguity and Indeterminacy in Modern Art.[5]  The act of omitting parts of an image and deliberately forcing the viewer to decide what they see has been employed by many artists since the 19th century but appears to be more popular than ever in recent decades.[6] Travieso’s ruptured animal faces and bodies burst with brightly hued blocks and patterns, thus challenging audience expectations of depicted animal physiognomy.  As Schwabsky in his essay on Everyday Painting recounts:

It functions…as a way of allowing the paint to linger in the condition in which things are still unsettled, metamorphic, in transition.  Many such artists seem determined to catch painting in an in-between state, a sort of amorphous lability in which any given mark can read as abstract or as image-bearing, depending on how you look at it.[7]

In a similar vein of art using the screened image and the theme of threatened animals, artist Charlie Baird has produced graphical works such as About 400 Sumatran Tigers (2008) (Fig. 26).  In this piece a collage of photographed tigers is simulated in paint, assembled grid-like into a mock digital, pixelated visage of a single tiger.  It could be read as a reference to the accumulation of the species in the virtual animal-mausoleum of cyberspace as they vanish from the real world.[8]

Fig. 26 About 400 Sumatran Tigers Charlie Baird 2008

Fig. 26
About 400 Sumatran Tigers Charlie Baird 2008


[1] Berger, p.26.

[2] Jean Baudrillard, Screened Out (London: Verso, 2002) p.176.

[3] Baudrillard, p.177.

[4] The Hayward Gallery, ‘In conversation with The Hayward’, The Painting of Modern Life: 1960s to Now (London: Hayward Publishing, 2007) p. 169.

[5] Dario Gamboni, Potential Images: Ambiguity and Indeterminacy in Modern Art, (London: Reaktion Books, 2004) pp. 13-20

[6] Phaidon Editors, Vitamin P2: New Perspectives in Painting, (New York: Phaidon Press Ltd, 2011) p.12.

[7] Phaidon, p.14.

[8] Akira Mizuta Lippit, ‘From Wild Technology to Electric Animal’, Representing Animals ed. by Nigel Rothfels (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002) p.126.