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.


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