Gabriel Orozco Porcupine Eating a Tortilla, 2016 Pigment print
The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which. George Orwell
Man is the cruelest animal. Friedrich Nietzsche
Why have animals not been subject of greater interest in contemporary conversations and historical discourses in the arts? With this question as a premise, ANIMALITY examines how an artistic and theoretical impetus might be formed that challenges the way we think about beings that are not of our own species. In its essence, ANIMALITY asks what we as human beings can learn about ourselves when looking at the limitations of our own thinking, with respect to nonhuman animals. The exhibition leads us to reflect on the importance of addressing ethical issues, thinking beyond our own cultures, and questioning accepted assumptions of who we are. ANIMALITY proposes that while some distinctions between humans and animals are valid, the two groups are more productively conceived as parts of an ontological whole. The exhibition unfolds around six themes— Crossings, Extinction, Markings, Origins, Traces and Variations—each introduced by a short wall text guiding the visitor.
John Baldessari, Camel (Albino) Contemporary Needle (Large), 2013
Fiberglass, aluminum, stainless steel, acrylic and paint
ANIMALITY participates in a broader philosophical debate of the past two centuries that includes such thinkers as Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Georges Bataille, Emmanuel Levinas, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Jacques Derrida, and Michel Foucault, who has a particular importance to this exhibition. In his groundbreaking 1964 book ‘Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason’, Foucault connects the idea of human madness with that of animalism. He describes how terms such as ‘wild beasts’, ‘untamed, and ‘frenzied’ have been applied not only to those actually suffering from mental illness, but also to humans from exotic places and cultures that, in the eyes of colonizers, had chosen to live like animals and thus were treated accordingly. ANIMALTY explores clear parallels between Foucault’s idea and our contemporary realities of refugees and immigrants, expanding the dialogue to the larger social and political issues of our time. Contemporary and historical artworks as well as numerous artifacts are juxtaposed, allowing for relationships between art and non-art materials to emerge, creating strong and provocative links between historical and contemporary realities.
The display of the exhibition follows the layout of the zoo. Over the last 150 years, zoos have developed completely new display strategies to simulate animals’ natural habitats and retire as inhumane the old- fashioned cage. The layout of ANIMALITY examines the meaning of nature in the city by looking at how zoos have assembled and displayed their animal collections, contrasting the idea of museum with that of a zoo. Indeed, both zoos and museums are concrete expressions of long-standing tensions between wildness and civilization. In their efforts to promote an appreciation of art and nature, both museums and zoos reveal much about how our culture envisions the world and humanity’s place in it.
Jens Hoffmann is a writer and exhibition maker. He currently is Director of Special Exhibitions and Public Programs at The Jewish Museum, New York, Co-Artistic Director of FRONT International: Cleveland Exhibition of Contemporary Art and Senior Curator at the MOCA Detroit.
Cast of Creatures
Giorgio Agamben,Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, John Baldessari,Stephan Balkenhol,Georges Bataille,Pierre Bismuth,Cosima von Bonin,Marcel Broodthaers,Balthasar Burkhard,Maurizio Cattelan,Abraham Cruzvillegas,Charles Darwin,Berlinde De Bruyckere,Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari,Mark Dion,André Marie Constant Duméril,Albrecht Dürer,Elmgreen & Dragset,Roe Etheridge,Peter Fischli and David Weiss,Étienne de Flacourt,Michel Foucault,Conrad Gessner,J. J. Grandville,João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva Ernst Haeckel,John Halas and Joy Batchelor,Petrit Halilaj,Charley Harper,Carsten Höller,Roni Horn,Marine Hugonnier,Peter Hujar,Luce Irigaray,Malia Jensen,Sarah Jones,Jamian Juliano-Villain, E’war Kagoshima, Karen Kilimnik, Louise Lawler, Jochen Lempert, Emmanuel Levinas, Klara Liden,Carl von Linné, Robert Longo, Steve McQueen, Maria Sibylla Merian, Annette Messager, Eadweard Muybridge, Friedrich Nietzsche, Gabriel Orozco, George Orwell,Jean Painlevé, Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa, Louis Renard,Henri Rousseau,Johann Christian, Daniel von Schreber, Alberts Seba,Wael Shawky,George Shiras,Yank Shonibare,Tarry Simon,Hiroshi Sugimoto,Emily Sundblad,Adrián Villar Rojas,Danh V,Peter Wächtler,William Wegman,Franz West,Harrison Weir,Alexander Wilson,Jordan Wolfs,Cerith Wyn Evans,Jakub Julian Ziolkowski.
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Annette Messager L’oiseau, 2015 Black aluminium foil, 2 painted hooks