Paintings 2013

 

 

 

110cm x 150cm x 5cm acrylic on canvas (one of a diptych)

110cm x 150cm x 5cm
acrylic on canvas
(one of a diptych)

 

 

 

110cm x 150cm x 5cm acrylic on canvas (one of a diptych)

110cm x 150cm x 5cm
acrylic on canvas
(one of a diptych)

Click the link below to view my gallery:

Paintings 2013.

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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.

Where Does Paint Figure in Posthumanist Thinking and the Emerging Field of Critical Animal Studies? (Part 5b – Posthumanism and Painted Representation)

It also seems that artists recognise the value of using physical animal bodies to represent ideas about our relationship to the non-human.  Take for instance Zhang Huan’s Cast-iron Pig exhibition at the White Cube in London 2009 in which two live hogs were presented as spectacle.[1] Surely the real thing (or a stuffed version of) can’t possibly be paralleled or even surmounted by paint in terms of unavoidable presence? The argument here is that it can, and will be evidenced through a selection of contemporary painters in this final chapter (All posts on WordPress marked “Part 5 – Posthumanism and Painted Representation).

We can again refer to Huan’s Cast-Iron pig exhibition as a counterpoint. As well as the live animals presented in the White Cube, Huan also showed a series of monochrome works using ash on linen (Fig. 23).  The medium was used to depict a pig named Zhu Gangqiang (which means ‘Cast-Iron Pig’) found alive after being buried for 49 days following an earthquake in China.  After his rescue Zhu Gangqian went on to become something of a personality in his country and the artist felt compelled to record this in his work.  In his review for the show, Mark Hudson of the Daily Telegraph was more enamoured with these paintings than of the live pigs:

Even 10 years ago the idea of exhibiting live pigs in a gallery would have appeared to call the whole art-viewing process into question. But we’ve grown so used to headline-grabbing fun-art installations that Zhang’s pigs feel like just another addition to a list that includes Carsten Holler’s slides in Tate Modern and Antony Gormley’s plinth project in Trafalgar Square.[2]

Hudson goes on to say that Huan’s stylistic approach with regard to the ash paintings merges Eastern and Western traditions of producing art, drawing influences from Jeff Koons as much as from Communist-era social realist paintings.[3] My point here is that the critic not only dismissed the live animals as attention-grabbing and run-of-the-mill but also that he conversely lauds the paintings for their contemporary value as a historical commentary on art.  The paintings’ physical presence and ordinariness as a medium offers a connection to the viewer.  It is the gestural, human-made pointillist marks, the historical reference in the work and the representation of an individual pig-as-portrait that captivate.  In his essay on Everyday Painting, Barry Schwabsky supports this idea of the painting as commonplace with the fact that ‘ordinary art made by the ordinary artist is likely to be painting.  It’s an art that meets the beholder on a plane of equality’.[4]

 

Zhu Gangqiang No.4 Zhu Gangqiang No.11

Photos sourced from: http://whitehotmagazine.com/articles/2009-zhang-huan-white-cube/1952 and http://flavorwire.com/37714/zhang-huan/

 

 


[1] Giovanni Aloi, ‘Zhang Huan @ White Cube’, White Hot Magazine September (2009) <http://whitehotmagazine.com/articles/2009-zhang-huan-white-cube/1952&gt; [Accessed 19th February 2013] (para. 4 of 10)

[2] Mark Hudson, ‘Zhang Huan – Zhu Gangqiang at White Cube Mason’s Yard’, The Telegraph 7th September (2009)  <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-reviews/6151981/Zhang-Yuan-Zhu-Gangqiang-at-White-Cube-Masons-Yard-review.html&gt; [Accessed 19th February 2013] (para. 11 of 17)

[3] Hudson, (para. 13 of 17)

[4] Phaidon Editors, Vitamin P2: New Perspectives in Painting, (New York: Phaidon Press Ltd, 2011) p.15

 

 

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!!]

britta

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.

Duijne

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.

Where Does Paint Figure in Posthumanist Thinking and the Emerging Field of Critical Animal Studies? (part 4: Posthumanism, identity and the animal ‘other’)

Posthumanism, identity and the animal ‘other’

Image

Fig. 1.

Paulus Potter, Young Bull, 1647

Image

Fig.2

Damian Hirst, The Physical Impossibility of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living, 1991

Throughout paint’s history, humans have been placed at the centre of the known universe.  This anthropocentric bearing has remained unchallenged across genres and other mediums for much of the history of animals in art; from Paulus Potter’s The Young Bull, 1647 (fig. 1) to Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living, 1991 (fig. 2) animals have played a subsidiary role in the portrayal of human concerns and values.

Posthumanism has emerged through philosophy’s attempts to redefine humanity’s identity by repositioning humans within technology and biology, in which the human is but one life form among many, whether natural or artificial.  Its tenet is to decentre the human in relation to evolution, ecology and technology as well as oppose established humanist dichotomies such as male-female, nature-culture and human-animal.  In his book What is Posthumanism? Cary Wolfe explains that these binary concepts are typically humanist in that they reflect humanity’s tendency to dogmatically divide the universe into opposites.  He refers to his own sense of posthumanism as being in opposition of ‘the fundamental anthropological dogma associated with humanism and invoked by [French philosopher Étienne] Balibar’s reference to the humanity/animality dichotomy’.[1] Wolfe’s definition of posthumanism suggests that human identity is realised by the avoidance or repression of animal origins in evolutionary and biological terms as well as by transcendence from bonds of materiality and embodiment.[2]

This concern with the devaluing and deconstructing of anthropocentric views has in part arisen due to post-colonialism and the ideas arising from the sense of ‘the other’.  In his book Art and Animals, Aloi states ‘the animal has insistently sneaked through the pages of key continental philosophers’ in reference to the way thinkers such as Jacques Derrida, Donna Haraway, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari all challenge the notion of humanity as being world-forming.[3]  The concepts initially postulated by philosophers such as Slavoj Žižek and Michel Foucault are now debated in these contemporary circles of thinkers while science and technology open up the opaque world of animal phenomenology.  We can now investigate and reveal animal communicative and cognitive abilities, or perceive things using wavelengths of sound or light that were previously denied to us as another species, resulting in a challenge to our hierarchical relationship with non-humans.  This propagates a multitude of other questions about how we should interact with or regard animals in modern society, particularly at a time when other species are marginalised and exploited by humans more than ever before and on a global scale.

At present, posthumanism is hard to define.  Neil Badmington in his introduction Approaching Posthumanism states that ‘the use of such a term is, of course, far from straightforward’[4] while Wolfe also mentions that ‘the term has begun to emerge with different and sometimes competing meanings’[5] referring to the elements of the subject which branch into transhumanism (enhancing the human using technology and biology, particularly in reference to Donna Haraway’s A Cyborg Manifesto) and anti-humanism (a more radical outlook that sees humanity as amoral, narrow-minded and blameworthy of ecological destruction). While it is beyond the scope of this essay to explore such terms, it is important to establish a point of reference for this discussion.  This essay allies with Wolfe’s definition, particularly concerning the humanity/animality dichotomy as well as its postmodern connections:

My sense of posthumanism is thus analogous to Jean-François Lyotard’s paradoxical rendering of the postmodern: it comes both before and after humanism: before in the sense that it names the embodiment and embeddedness of the human being in not just its biological but also its technical world, the prosthetic coevolution of the human animal with the technicity of tools and external archival mechanisms (such as language and culture)…after in the sense that posthumanism names a historical moment in which the decentering of the human by its imbrication in technical, medical, informatic, and economic networks is increasingly impossible to ignore.[6]

It goes without saying that the subject of posthumanism is extremely sensitive, not least because it is still in its infancy as an emerging mode of thought, but more so for its upheaval of values which have been central to our self-identification as a species.  The problematic situation for artists concerning posthumanism is that in extending their artistic and ethical consideration out towards the non-human ‘other’,[7] they ironically adhere to humanist principles.  This complicates the subject for artists in terms of what to represent as much as how to represent it.

But the proposal here is that just by representing animals differently, we create the potential to discover more about ourselves and redefine that identity of ‘the human’.  Steve Baker proposes that the ‘ideas of the animal…enable us to frame and express ideas about human identity’,[8] while according to Ron Broglio of Arizona State University, ‘animal worlds set a limit to human knowledge’ and the human can no longer be regarded as a starting point when forming ideas about the status of non-human animals in society.[9]

The role of artists, and specifically for this discourse, of paint, in the wake of posthumanist questioning is a crucial one and for the representation of animals in paint to be productive in the 21st century against this posthumanist backdrop, certain conditions for its employment as a medium as well as choice of and depiction of subject apply.

What is meant by the term ‘productive’ is the avoidance of depicting animals in an anthropocentric manner while simultaneously advocating positive shifts and alterations in human attitudes towards animals.  This text has presented a historical context on which to frame reasons for depicting animals, revealing that in the past animals in art have been represented as God, food, trophy or possession.  Unlike the painters of the late 19th century, today’s artists are encouraged to avoid sentimental, romanticised imagery in their works as such attributes are now considered patronising towards other species and only serve to perpetuate the aforementioned humanist binary concepts.  The posthuman world must appreciate animals for their capacity to think, act and communicate, whether this is at an inter-species level or an intra-species level, and more so for the latter.  Posthuman thinking in the realm of animal studies is also about respecting diversity and universality.  Artists can highlight an appreciation of the world on non-human terms, such as recognising individuality among other species that transcends taxonomy or emphasising that the ethical standing of at least some non-human animals is taken for granted.[10] For artists wishing to highlight the discrimination, injustices and marginalisation of non-human species, the imagery decided upon should ideally provoke discussion about such matters without denigrating or sentimentalising the animal subject.


[1] Cary Wolfe, What is Posthumanism? (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010)  p.xiv-xv.

[2] Wolfe, p.xv.

[3] Aloi, Animals preface p.xix.

[4] Neil Badmington, ‘Introduction: Approaching Posthumanism’ Posthumanism (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2000) p.1.

[5] Wolfe, p.xii.

[6] Wolfe, p.xv.

[7] Wolfe, p.167.

[8] Steve Baker, Picturing the Beast: Animals, Identity and Representation, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1993), p.6.

[9] Ron Broglio, Surface Encounters: Thinking with Animals and Art, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011) p.xxiii.

[10] Wolfe, p.145.

Where Does Paint Figure in Posthumanist Thinking and the Emerging Field of Critical Animal Studies? (part 3: Postmodernism, photography and painting)

markjnewton

Postmodernism, photography and painting

It was the development of postmodernism towards the end of the 20th century that helped to shake off the antiquated view towards the painting of animals.  Postmodernism is somewhat difficult to define, but according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

It can be described as a set of critical, strategic and rhetorical practices employing concepts such as difference, repetition, the trace, the simulacrum, and hyperreality to destabilize other concepts such as presence, identity, historical progress, epistemic certainty, and the univocity of meaning.[1]

Steve Baker cites Rauschenberg’s Monogram of 1955, which consisted of a stuffed goat and tyre on a painted and collaged platform, as being one of the first convincing presentations of a postmodern animal in that it is directly confrontational and presents an obstacle to the viewer (in both a philosophical and a physical sense) by being a literal object.[2]  It…

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Where Does Paint Figure in Posthumanist Thinking and the Emerging Field of Critical Animal Studies? (part 3: Postmodernism, photography and painting)

Postmodernism, photography and painting

It was the development of postmodernism towards the end of the 20th century that helped to shake off the antiquated view towards the painting of animals.  Postmodernism is somewhat difficult to define, but according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

It can be described as a set of critical, strategic and rhetorical practices employing concepts such as difference, repetition, the trace, the simulacrum, and hyperreality to destabilize other concepts such as presence, identity, historical progress, epistemic certainty, and the univocity of meaning.[1]

Steve Baker cites Rauschenberg’s Monogram of 1955, which consisted of a stuffed goat and tyre on a painted and collaged platform, as being one of the first convincing presentations of a postmodern animal in that it is directly confrontational and presents an obstacle to the viewer (in both a philosophical and a physical sense) by being a literal object.[2]  It creates a situation and ‘only the viewer’s presence completes the work’.[3]  Baker uses postmodernism to extol the virtues of representing animals as they are, without positing them as symbols, allegories or depreciated subjects.  We will return to this issue of the postmodern animal later in this essay, but first the significance of photography in terms of postmodernism will be presented.

goat

The portrayal of animals in paint has been aided by a gradual return to ‘traditional’ methods of painting (traditional in this sense being about the use of the medium and a two-dimensional surface) in the last 50 years, which has ‘encompassed photography to redefine and extend its conceptual reach’.[4]  In the latter half of the 20th century many artists began using photography to develop new modes of depiction in paint as a response to ‘the ubiquity of the photographic image and the breakdown of modernism as a sustaining paradigm’.[5]  Two artists of import in regards to this are Francis Bacon (1909-1992) and Gerhard Richter (b.1932) as both were among the first to utilise fresh approaches in dealing with paint as modernist ideals began to unravel.

Bacon drew from Muybridge’s photographic sequences of movement, as well as books of photographs on subjects such as radiography or natural history.  He is said to have never worked from life, preferring only to work from photographic material and in a number of interviews made from 1962 to 1974 with art historian David Sylvester he spoke candidly about his use of photography to produce several series of paintings.[6] Some of Bacon’s work featured animals, such as Study of a dog from 1952, which showed a canine subject distorted and fragmented in an observation of movement.  By using Muybridge’s studies of motion, Bacon directly transposed the filmic images into paint.  His loose, smeared brushstrokes portrayed the blur-effect of motion and of a subject appearing to stretch and contort in an instant of film. Bacon’s other works featuring bestial hybrid forms suggest the importance of animality in relation to both human and non-human subjects, and how that animality or the movement of animals could be translated into paint.

Study of a Dog 1952 by Francis Bacon 1909-1992

His work is a significant part of the history of animal depiction in paint, primarily because of the way he dealt with his subject.  Bacon’s paintings are often described as bestial and animalistic, particularly in his treatment of the human figure.[7]  In a chapter by Matthew Gale, a reference to Bacon’s religious stance reveals the significance of the artist in terms of human identity:

In a world without God, humans are no different to any other animal, subject to the same innate urges, transient and alone, they are victims and perpetrators of meaningless acts.  This is the theoretical context for his creation in the 1940s of animalistic humanoid figures and his superimposition of animal features on to the human form.[8]

With such an attitude towards human identity in relation to animals, it can be argued that Bacon is one of the most significant artists according to posthumanist themes of hybridity and human integrity, themes that will be explored in a later chapter of this essay.

Gerhard Richter’s foray into animal representation is exemplified by Stag   which was painted almost ten years later in 1963.  Like Bacon’s works, this subject was not painted from life, but from a photograph.  In the image, the animal appears to float amidst a tangle of branches, separated from the forest by its depiction as a black and white photographic image.  The stag’s dislocated quality is further exaggerated by Richter’s painterly technique which is similar to a photograph’s blur; the viewer is forced to repair what is presented.[9]  In his essay Post-conceptual painting: Gerhard Richter’s extended leave-taking, Jason Gaiger describes the painting as ‘a sudden but fleeting emergence of the real within the strained and artificial conventions of late 20th century painting’and that ‘photography…allowed Richter to approach reality (in paint) yet again’.[10] Following Stag, Richter painted a variety of animals as photo-paintings, however it was not his intention to change the way animals were perceived in art; indeed Stag is so early among his works that it could be considered atypical.  Rather, his aim was to use photography as an aid in re-establishing the vitality of paint. ‘The animal’ simply happened to be one of many useful subjects in subverting previously held assumptions about each medium.

stag

Above all, artists like Richter were interested in the way meanings and information within a photograph altered when transformed into a painted image on a canvas.[11] Richter’s imagery questions the modes of representation photography and paint offer, as well as challenge the experiences both mediums strive to appropriate, so that the process of forming meaning in the emerging image is left to the viewer.  The pioneering work of Richter and his contemporaries has re-established the credence of paint for animal artists in the 21st century and engendered a new way of utilising the photograph and screen in relation to representation.

 

 


[1] Aylesworth, Gary, “Postmodernism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2012/entries/postmodernism/&gt;.

[2] Baker, Postmodern, p.51.

[3] Baker, Postmodern, p.53.

[4] The Hayward Gallery, The Painting of Modern Life: 1960s to Now (London: Hayward Publishing, 2007) p.16

[5] Gill Perry & Paul Wood, (eds) Themes in Contemporary Art (London: Yale University Press, 2004) p.99.

[6] Peter Hay Halpert, ‘Influence and Inspiration: Francis Bacon’s Use of Photography’ Aperture Fall 1996  <http://phhfineart.com/articles/francis_bacon.html&gt; [Accessed 20th January 2013] (para. 3 of 10)

[7] Matthew Gale & Chris Stephens (eds) Francis Bacon (London: Tate, 2008) pp.94-95

[8] Gale & Stephens (eds) p.27.

[9] Gill Perry & Paul Wood, (eds) Themes in Contemporary Art (London: Yale University Press, 2004) p.101.

[10] Perry & Wood, pp.101-102. (italics mine)

[11] Perry & Wood, p.102.