‘Inter-species’ explores our contradictory relationships with non-human entities
“Our show’s not about animals,” said Agamemnon Kattis. “It’s about the way you look at animals; it’s about the human gaze.”
Kattis is part of a group of second-year fine arts students who collaborated to create the group show “Inter-species,” which is currently on display at START Gallery.
The show considers the way that we as a society interact with other species, prompting reflections not just on the role animals play in our society, but also on the line society draws between humanity and the animal world. In effect, this contrast forces the viewer to consider what humanity is.
“In the Old Testament of the Bible, God created animals for Adam so he wouldn’t be alone,” explained Jeff Mann. “And then he told Adam to name them. So western religion immediately places animals below humans in this finite hierarchy, and our show plays with that notion.”
This idea is exemplified in The Adventures of Dogman, a zine Mann created for the show which chronicles a masked activist who chooses to live as a dog to expose the decadence of consumer society. To those familiar with classical philosophy, the zine pays homage to Diogenes of Sinope, the fifth-century B.C. cynic philosopher who was reputed to have lived in a barrel and to have spurned social interaction. By highlighting our own savage and self-indulgent tendencies, the piece reinforces the idea that humanity is not necessarily better than other species. It suggests that humans are themselves animals and that this is reflected in our actions.
This idea is also reflected in the work of Andreas Fobes, who created a series of drawings which transform the idea of the animal into a near abstraction, depicting the development of a bulbous, loosely structured creature that is intentionally ambiguous. As the creature evolves into a biped, the line between species is further blurred. When paired with Fobe’s zine A History of Animal Testing, the piece raises unsettling questions about the role animals have played in human history.
“I’m looking at how animals have been used almost as playthings,” said Fobes. “One of the experiments in the zine shows an early scientist removing a fetus from a dog and branding it just to find out if the mother would show affection toward it, would be capable of mourning her loss.”
While Mann and Fobes explore the often antagonistic relationship we have with animals, Logan Milne and Evan Furness use their art to depict a more sensitive interaction between species, exploring the role of animals as pets while still highlighting the hierarchy such a relationship implies.
For the show, Milne contributed a series of canvases depicting dairy cows as a household pets.
“I was interested in the reverence we have for house pets and how this can be contrasted to our relationship to other animals,” said Milne. “So I decided to turn that relationship on its head by inserting livestock into household settings.”
The absurdity of the work is played out in the details Milne carefully inserted into the paintings to create a concrete depiction of an entirely new world in which the idea of keeping livestock as pets is commonplace. For example, in the first canvas, in which a girl is taking her pet cow for a walk, a lamp post in the background is adorned with a poster advertising a lost donkey.
Furness uses his piece Eulogy to both explore the feelings of loss that accompanied the passing of his cat, but also to explore the duality of the role house pets play in our society.
“A lot of people consider pets family, but when they die they clearly don’t treat their pets in the same way they would treat a person,” said Furness.
Such an observation is so obvious that it generally goes unstated, but when confronted with a physical depiction of this irony, it provokes the viewer to truly reflect on this relationship in a new way. This is where the power of “Inter-species” lies: in its ability to draw attention to the subtle hierarchies that shape our lives but that generally go unstated.
“Inter-species” will be exhibited at START Gallery until Nov. 14. There will be a closing reception with a performance at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 20. The audience is encouraged to wear black if possible.