The Animal Side of Art
Gazeta Wyborcza, Dec 19th 2009
On Friday, All Creatures Great and Small at Zacheta.This international show highlights animals' role in contemporary art, focusing on the human-animal relation and the animalistic nature of man. The show opens with Joseph Beuys' I Like America and America Likes Me,1974. Beuys spent three days locked in a gallery with a wild coyote symbolizing America, which he contested because of the Vietnam war. He got bit. The show doesn't shy away from difficult topics, such as the condition of animals in shelters, dog fights, scientific experiments or drastic ways of acquiring meat and fur.
The title of the show that opened yesterday, All Creatures Great and Small, is taken from a series of books by the English writer and vet, James Herriot - a filled with warmth and humor tale of the life of a vet in the Yorkshire valleys. The international show at Zacheta, though filled with warmth and humor, isn't a blissful account reminiscent of The zoo for kids.
The show curator, Maria Brewinska, exploring the topic of contemporary representations of animals in art, couldn't but be amazed by all its variations. Though she didn't show the Katarzyna Kozyra's Animal Pyramid or the explicit works of Viennese Actionism, she did touch of difficult issues in the human ( artist ) - animal relation.
The photos of Rafal Milach and Andrzej Sidor from the series Afterlife talk about animals killed, taxidermized and turned into attractive gadgets. Jean-Charles Hue shows the cruelty of dog fights while Vito Acconci - the fear of a cat locked into a space designated by him and Gabrielle Stelbaum shows trained circus elephants.
There are a lot of older works, from the '70s and '80s of the XXth century, when, following an outbreak of new eco-movements and animals rights' protests creatures great and small found their place in art - performances and films in particular. In Zacheta we can find photos of Natalia LL who, naked under a fur coat swings frivolously across the couch, a video of Marina Abramovic and and Charles Atlas "SSS" with the artist in a hat of live snakes and the artist's book of Grzegorz Kowalski, who asked friendly artists in 1978 the question - Could you and would you like to play an animal in front of the camera?
We can also experience the most famous filmed performance of an animal - Jospeh Beuys' I Like America and America Likes Me. In 1974, the artist closed himself and a wild coyote for three days in a gallery. The coyote symbolized America, with which the artist, virulently opposing the war in Vietnam, was trying to reconcile. The coyote bites him, fiddles his pants' calfs, provokes him to play till they watch together the streets of New York.
In the last, dark room, where the audible craaa-craaa of crows filmed in a church by Dougles Gordon and where a black cat gawks at us with his only good eye, is a unique sculpture by Artur Malewski - an elderly gentleman resembling Charles Darwin, covered with fur as some proto-human. In this show, we want to oppose the dominant cliche of anthropocentrism and human superiority over animals. Darwin's "On Human and Animal Emotions" describes how animals feel fear, joy and pain - emotions usually described as exclusively human - says the curator, Maria Brewinska.
Empathy towards animals was best visualized by Jozef Robakowski, which filmed his cat Rudzik and gave him his voice. When Rudzik washes himself, we hear I lick, and when he pauses - I think.