Contextualised by Ron Broglio’s assertion ‘Pidgin language occurs when worlds collide’ (The Animal Gaze, 2008), Pidgin Language: Animals, Birds and Us took place October 10, 2009, at King’s Lynn Arts Centre, and discussed the subject of animals in art, science and popular culture.
Speakers were: STEVE BAKER, PROFESSOR NICOLA S. CLAYTON FRS, ANDREA ROE, RIKKE HANSEN and ROSEMARIE MCGOLDRICK
Chair/Discussant: GIOVANNI ALOI
Programme Coordinator: HELEN BULLARD
Pidgin Language: Animals, Birds and Us was commissioned in conjunction with Helen Bullard’s solo show Animus flux (Sept – Oct 09) which explored interspecies communication.
STEVE BAKER: 'How do we speak about art about animals?'
"De l'animal peut-on parler?," Jacques Derrida famously asked in relation to philosophy's tendency to overlook animals, and to have little idea how to speak about their relation to humans in meaningful terms. The art of the past few decades has re-engaged with animal imagery and ideas about animals in more serious, more adventurous and more contentious ways than ever before, but there is little agreement about how that art can or should be discussed and assessed - especially in those cases where the art incorporates actual animals, living or dead. This talk will touch on the variety of clashing voices that often circle such examples of contemporary art, but part of its focus will also be on Baker's own 2009 series Norfolk Roadkill, Mainly - a flawed attempt to figure out the questions it's relevant to ask about such work by trying to make it instead of trying to speak about it.
Steve Baker is Emeritus Professor of Art History at the University of Central Lancashire , but now lives and works in Norwich. He has been closely associated with the international development of the field of 'animal studies' in the arts, humanities and social sciences since the 1990s, and his books include The Postmodern Animal, Picturing the Beast, and, with the Animal Studies Group, Killing Animals. His research on attitudes to animals in art, philosophy and popular culture draws on interviews and correspondence with contemporary artists in many countries, and he is currently working on a book for Minnesota UP's 'Posthumanities' series called Art Before Ethics: Animal Life in Artists’ Hands. Work from his series Norfolk Roadkill, Mainly featured in Antennae: the journal of nature in visual culture, Autumn 2010 (issue 14), and has been shown in the group exhibitions What's So Odd About Meat?, Minneapolis, 2009, and Standing Heat, New Orleans, 2010.
ANDREA ROE: 'Attempting Bird Intimacy through Art and Taxidermy'
For several years I have been making artworks using taxidermy in combination with technological parts to produce a believable experience of a living creature. In my experimentation with animated taxidermy the resulting effect is often uncanny, mimicking in a mechanistic way the sophisticated systems that give an animal life and individuality. Through these attempts to create a copy of an animal (with the knowledge that it is very likely to fail in re-making and regenerating life) it feels possible that a greater knowledge and understanding might be gained of the complex and sophisticated systems involved in sustaining a living creature.
Most recently, inspired by the books Birds as Individuals and Living with Birds by Len Howard and The Peregrine by J.A Baker I attempt to create visual methodologies for exploring the relationship between human and bird. In my presentation I will show examples of my artworks, film of the taxidermy process and works inspired by museum research collections.
Andrea Roe's work examines the nature of human and animal biology, behaviour and communication and is designed to awaken experiences of wonder in nature, science and folklore. Art residencies have included The Wellcome Trust, The Crichton Psychiatric Hospital and the National Museums of Scotland. Andrea studied Sculpture at Edinburgh and Fine Art at Chelsea School of Art. She currently works as a volunteer in the taxidermy department at the National Museums of Scotland and teaches part time in Sculpture at Edinburgh College of Art.
PROFESSOR NICOLA S. CLAYTON, FRS: 'Intelligence on the Wing'
The last twenty years has seen a major revolution in our understanding of animal intelligence, namely the ability to think, reason and solve novel problems. It has been known for many years that monkeys and apes share some of these abilities with us, and the common assumption was that intelligence evolved once in our primate ancestors. Recent studies on bird behaviour challenge this assumption, however, by demonstrating that that these abilities are also present within some of our more distant, feathered relatives, the crows and parrots. Such research has changed our view of the bird brain, and consequently how we view our place and theirs in society. Furthermore it raises intriguing questions about how the avian mind relates to the human mind, and vice versa, and how one should treat and inspire the other.
Nicky Clayton is Professor of Comparative Cognition at the University of Cambridge, a Fellow of the Royal Society, of Clare College, Cambridge. Nicky has always been fascinated by birds – by their glamour and elegance, their movements and their melodies. Her current studies focus on members of the crow family, including jackdaws, rooks and jays, challenging common-held assumptions that only humans can plan for the future and reminisce about the past. Her work has led to a radical re-evaluation of animal cognition and the evolution of cognition.
Nicky is also a dancer, specialising in tango and salsa. Her latest project has been to combine her love of birds, her knowledge of science and her passion for dance in a collaborative project with Rambert Dance Company in the production a of new piece, The Comedy of Change, inspired by the life and works of Charles Darwin.
ROSEMARIE McGOLDRICK: 'Interviews with Cranes'
A presentation about the artist’s recent work, which thrives on the processes by which artist and viewer perceive the critter, rather than focussing on the critter itself.
There is a language which serves both acts of art-looking and critter-watching. My concern has been to make this visual, using any medium and, sometimes, hybrid media, too. I have never seen a crane, except at a zoo - a place of critter cages which in my seniority I now avoid. I am not sure that I would go out of my way now to see a crane, despite wishing to see one, as the Japanese origami model seems to stand in quite well for my purposes. My dialogue with this uncertainty – the human desire to see the other animal as it is, vis à vis our persistently intentional modelling of the other animal - is at the heart of my practice.
Rosemarie McGoldrick is a London-based artist who has shown at the Plymouth City Museum, the Centre for Contemporary Art & the Natural World, the Chisenhale Gallery, the Nigel Greenwood Gallery, the Museum of Installation and Day for Night in Deptford (funded by the Henry Moore Foundation) and at the E. Averoff Galley (Greece). Her commissions include sculptures for Futureworld at Milton Keynes, the London Docklands Development Corporation at Royal Victoria Docks, the Homerton Hospital (Public Arts Development Trust) and for the Chiltern Sculpture Trust in August 2006 in Oxfordshire (Arts Council & Southern Arts). Rosemarie McGoldrick studied at Hornsey, Chelsea (BA) and Goldsmiths (MA) and is also a Senior Lecturer and Course Organiser for BA Fine Art at the Sir John Cass, London Metropolitan University in Whitechapel. She organised the 2008 symposium and exhibition ‘The Animal Gaze’ at Sir John Cass and recently gave a paper ‘Curator: Carer or Keeper’ at the 2009 Minding Animals conference in Newcastle, Australia.
RIKKE HANSEN: ‘Finding the Animal Voice’
In traditional philosophy, animals have tended to be deprived of ‘voices’, perceived to only produce ‘sounds’ or ‘cries’. As the German word Stimme (meaning ‘voice’ and related to the notion of ‘voting’) implies, being robbed of one’s voice is also to fall outside representation. This paper looks at recent artworks that appropriate the animal ‘voice’, with particular relation to the use of avian song. Rachel Berwick’s may-por-e, 1997-present, Peter Callesen’s Concert for Birds, 2005, Bill Burns’ Bird Radio, 2007, and Marcus Coates’ Dawn Chorus, 2007, all imitate the ‘voices’ of birds. In Callesen’s and Coates’ work, the performers re-enact animal roles, whereas Berwick and Burns use birdsong to unsettle the link between the animal body and the animal voice, like a bird may throw its voice to confuse predators through vocal mimicry. The artistic ‘double robbing’ of the voice (which takes place in the parroting of animal mimicry) aims, this paper argues, to dislocate the voice, showing how all voices, human and animal, are, in a sense, ‘found’, as the common expression ‘finding one’s voice’ indicates. As such, the appropriation of vocal mimicry inserts uncertainty into an already existing system by being neither fully ‘of itself’, nor fully ‘of the other’. It thereby produces a hiccup in the field of representation.
Rikke Hansen is a researcher based at Tate Britain. Her educational background is in art and philosophy. She also teaches Critical Practice on the BA (Hons) Fine Art programme at London Metropolitan University. Previously, she has taught Critical Studies and Photographic Studies at Norwich School of Art and Design, and Contemporary Critical Studies in the Department of Art at Goldsmiths, University of London. She is an art critic and a regular contributor to the UK-based journal Art Monthly, as well as host of Nature Calls, a weekly programme on Resonance 104.4 FM, London’s Arts Radio Station, on animals in visual culture. Her current research centres on the interface between animal studies and 20th century aesthetics. Her doctoral thesis, registered at the London Consortium, is entitled The Sublime Animal: Contemporary Art and the Animal Aesthetic. It is funded by the AHRC’s ‘Landscape and Environment’ scheme.
GIOVANNI ALOI: BIOGRAPHICAL STATEMENT:
Giovanni Aloi was born in Milan, Italy in 1976. In 1995 he obtained his first degree in Fine Art – Theory and Practice and moved to London in 1997 where he went on to study Visual Culture (MA) at Goldsmiths College. From 1999 to 2004 he worked at Whitechapel Art Gallery and as a film programmer at Prince Charles Cinema in London whilst continuing to work as freelance photographer. Today he is a lecturer in History of Art and Media Studies at Queen Mary University of London, The Open University, and Tate Galleries. In 2006, he founded Antennae, the Journal of Nature in Visual Culture of which he currently is Editor in Chief (wwwantennae.org.uk). The Journal combines a heightened level of academic scrutiny of animals in art with a less formal and more experimental format designed to appeal to audiences of academics, artists and general public alike.
Giovanni Aloi is currently researching the subject of animals and taxidermy in contemporary art for his PhD at Goldsmiths University of London.
Main research areas involve modern and contemporary art with a strong interest in the representation/presence of animals in the exhibiting space.
Research based artists whose practice considers the boundaries and boarder lines of things, particularly between species and disciplines. Encompasses installation, sound, film, sculpture, drawing, and the written and spoken word. Works collaboratively with artists, scientists and others. Artistic Research Associate (dept. Experimental Psychology), Cambridge University; Screenings Coordinator, Greyfriars Art Space; Advisory Board, Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture.