I’m delighted to have three works from my Familiar series included in Encounters: Honoring the Animal in Ourselves at the Palo Alto Art Center. With a wonderful roster of artists (several of whom I’ve long admired but haven’t before shown with), the exhibition promises to be something special.
Encounters will be on view September 14-December 29, 2019, and the opening reception is on Friday, September 20, 2019, 7-10 p.m. I will be attending the opening as well as participating in a series of “Art, Ecology, and Animal Talks” taking place the following afternoon, Saturday, September 21, 2019, 2-4 p.m. I’ve included the exhibition press release below.
In the summer sun of the hillside, with my eyes
Far more than human. I saw for a blazing moment
The great grassy world from both sides
—James Dickey, “The Sheep Child”
“Defining the animals as a way of defining the human is as old and common as beer.”
—Onno Oerlemans, “Poetry and Animals: Blurring the Boundary with the Human”
Humankind was born living alongside other animals, studying their behavior, sharing resources, fighting for land, sleeping under the same sky. As civilization progresses and cultural paradigms shift, it is inevitable that our relationship to our nonhuman brethren would also change. Today, other animals possess an endless number of positions in society. They are political pawns, commodities to be bought and sold, and pests to be eradicated. As often and as much they are beloved companions, symbols of beauty and innocence, and essential to environmental stability. They are worshipped and slaughtered in what is, unfortunately, unequal measure. If human activity continues at its current rate, we will lose half of all species by the end of this century.
Our artist ancestors, who painted in blood and carved into stone the likenesses of the animals with whom they shared space, had no choice but to locate themselves within the context of the greater ecosystem Today, encountering an undomesticated creature as we go about our daily lives is, at least in most urban areas, an event of note. Watching a coyote cross a busy street, glimpsing a bobcat on a hike, following a hawk as it circles above, or even finding a salamander in a backyard, can be a singular occurrence in the course of a human life.
All the artists in this exhibition have had, or imagine they have had, revelatory encounters with other animals. Even more, they find meaning for their own lives by interpreting these occurrences. Drawing freely from the characteristics, behaviors, and archetypes of the nonhuman animal world they examine the events and emotional content of their lives, exploring themes of kinship, identity, hybridity, death, and love.
In her animated short Ascend, Shiva Ahmadi uses animal imagery to rage against and memorialize the real life death of a 3 year old Syrian refugee. Photographer and fisherman Corey Arnold documents the interactions between animals (human and nonhuman) he witnesses and experiences as a fisherman on the Bering Sea. Patricia Piccinini sculpts arresting, hyper-realistic creatures that are both human and other, speaking to the mutability of form. Printmaker Belkis Ayón Manso draws on the power of the animal archetypes in African-Cuban myth to tell her own story.
As John Berger puts it, “animals first entered the imagination as messengers and promises.” And if the artists in this exhibition are any indication, this they remain.
El Gato Chimney
Belkis Ayón Manso
Elisabeth Higgins O'Connor