The Human Animal


A post-modern exhibition strategy begins with the realization that categories and criteria have no innate validity--only the validity that is projected upon them--and thus that their transgression can be an opening into freedom. In terms of the culture of the exhibition, this means that humans can exhibit anything whatever to one another for whatever reasons. The post-Modern exhibition does not compete in the conflict of different ideas of quality, priority, or historical centrality. It allows different definitions and standards of quality to stand side by side without giving one of them dominance or authority over others....The post-Modern exhibition must strive not for slices of sameness...but for a focus on difference which honors the Other and allows it to be itself...¹
1. Thomas McEvilley, "Opening the Trap: The Postmodern Exhibition" 67-8). In Art and Otherness: Crisis in Cultural Identity McPherson, 1995.

Friday, April 07, 2006

On Carousels, Rides and Theme-Park Attractions
"All hail, Astrosquid!"

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Kiki Smith's "Wolf Girl"

The daughter of Petrus Gonsalvus, "The hairy man from the Canary Islands", painted by a Bavarian artist in 1582

Ulisse Aldrovandi's watercolour of a hirsute girl (thumbnail)

Ulisse Aldrovandi's watercolour of a hirsuite girl (full-size)

Exploring Second Life, one could say, is a form of leaving home. Straying from the path, as we've discovered, particularly while reading Angela Carter's revisionist fairy tales in The Bloody Chamber is the mode in which one leaves home. Neal Jordan and Angela Carter's project, "The Company of Wolves," does this wondrously well.

The Wolf

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

On Flying Trapezes, Unicycles and Trampolines

This tiny circus (why do I always think of building in Second Life as building at dollhouse scale?) reminds me of Calder's "circus in a suitcase." With these images in mind, I began to add to our circus tent and have begun to gather together props for our human-animal acts. And, thanks to TeaZers U, an education sim in which skilled SL builders and scripters teach informal classes within SL, we now have a new trampoline!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

On Birds, Imagination and the Dream of Flight

A few musings today, inspired by some conversation yesterday in class about the imaginative potential of Second Life.

New World Notes: "A Search for Flying SLURLS"

A request for links to sims in which the architecture is designed for those who can fly.

What is the dream of flight about? Is it the dream of free space? Isn't that what the virtual is?

Sunday, March 05, 2006

On the First Human as a Circus Performer or The Dawn of Man

From Jean Clair’s “Parade and Palingenesis: Of the Circus in the Work of Picasso and Others” included in the essay catalogue for The Great Parade: Portrait of the Artist as Clown, on exhibit at The National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario. 25 June – 19 September 2004:

“Man, the first of the primates to walk upright, was also the first acrobat. Daring to stand up, hesitant, then making his way forward without falling over, finding his way on two feet, he was, among mammals, the first tightrope walker to follow the invisible thread of his own existence. While other creatures remained earthbound – crawling, hopping, limping – he alone took off. But more than that, this celestial clown, this Uranian acrobat unfazed by vertigo, who would henceforth position his head above his body and cast his gaze a little further afield, was the first to suspect that he bore within himself the mystery of his existence. Other animals concealed their sexual organs within the hollows of their flanks or at the base of their underbellies, whereas man exhibited his frontally, in plain view – a blinding presence, located at the centre of the circle described by the radii of his extended arms and legs. And he was not only a tightrope walker; he was also the acrobat who inscribed his body within that invisible wheel whose course would conquer the world. Knowing sex and inventing progress, he discovered death.

It is this supple and naked man of the first dawn who emerges, resurrected, in the circus.

To go to the circus is to go back to our origins. For there reigns the silence of the world in which man did not yet speak. The theatre, that aristocratic diversion, was the place of speech; it was there that language was refined over the course of centuries. But the circus, a more populist venue, would remain the place of the infans. For a long time, the performers were not permitted to speak there. And so expression took the form of mimicry, gesticulation, grimaces, pantomime, babbling, shrieks, and rumblings. These barbarous displays made the circus more akin to the world of animals and newborns, whose language it shared since the civilized tongue of stage actors was prohibited.

The circus is also the locus of a world in labour. It is full of the strong odour of dung, the burnt smell of wheelwrights and forges, the aroma of perfumes and liniments, and the pungent fetor of animal secretions. You go back to your tent at a set time, like the nomad to his canvas tabernacle” (21).

“The image of the ape, seen originally as a figura diaboli, came into the Western tradition from Eastern Christianity. But before the Crusades, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the animal would be brought back from the Orient with increasing frequency. It could be seen henceforth in cities, where it appeared in marketplaces and squares, often in the company of a bear, becoming the animal familier of jugglers and acrobats. However, it soon lost its frightening aspect, since perceiving it as the image of the devil grew more and more difficult. On the contrary, it became a quasi domestic animal whose singular features would inspire comparisons with those of human beings. Thus did it find its way into the Romanesque bestiaries and onto the narrative capitals of churches as hominum deforma imago. The image of the ape became the symbol of the Fall – not of the angels down the ladder of perfection, but of man. It became the turpissima bestia simillima nobis.

To explain this hierarchical reversal, might we not consider the other traditional figure that the ape would come to embody during the Renaissance, when it served as the prototype of the painter and sculptor…Ars, simia naturae: the artist, in copying nature, is akin to the animal; the painter apes nature . . . .

At first a figure of the devil, the image of a fallen angel, the ape then became an image of fallen man, before being raised finally to the image of the artist” (24-5)

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

On the Circus and the Ringmaster

An essay by Carleton Dallery, "Into the Truth With Animals" makes reference to Diana Starr Cooper's, Night After Night, in which he explores the question of the right forum for humans and animals to interact. He develops the notion of "the ring" as the place for this interaction. And "the ring" is of course, led by a "ringmaster." In our "Human Animal" group, my title is "Ringmaster." The philosophy behind this title is interesting:

"...there is a social structure in the circus. Not only is there an audience, there is someone in charge--the ringmaster! Already, readers of a certain kind of ideological cast will protest: Hierarchy, authority! For Cooper, circus is a kind of order that delivers a realization of basic truths only made possible by certain arrangements within the practice and in the ring:

[B]ecause there's so much at stake, and because everyone depends on everyone else, mastery [on the part of the performers] here is not a threadt, but a necessity and a pleasure, founded on trust and relying on the order of things....The ringmaster represents the necessity, grandeur, and weight of certain hierarchies, which exist for the sake our our well-being and the survival of those whom he introduceds, who are, people and other animals both, in their eccentric ways, masters as well. He is here to lead us into a kind of understanding that all of us here, in all our diversity--not just of race or background or age or sex, but of species as well--all of us are in this together. He's the one person in the ring who nows how it all connects, who makes it all come together and make sense. Everything about his presence represents his sense of duty to a higher intention, and we need him. (Quoted in Dallery 256; Cooper 55).

Dallery writes:
The ring, the orderliness, the sequencing, the music--all are means for the presentation and rediscovery of the truth of animals with humans, humans as animals, humans as artists, animals as artists. As performance, they are means for the audience's rediscovery and celebration of their own being, their own responsive senses--each person, his or her own body, no matter what its dimensions.
[Consider the animals and human beings in the circus.] Their curious shapes, movements, the texture of their fur and skin, awaken us to all shape and movement and richness. They say, The world is rich, various, odd. Wake up, attend to detail; anything can happen.

One last quote by Cooper:

"[C]ircus demonstrates that there are ways for people and animals living with one another to behave, to prosper, to create something valuable together. It invents a landscape within which species operate--not by murder and mayhem, nor by isolation, nor by sentimentality--but with this firm resolve: we will stay here together. This is courage in the face of the constant possibility of tragedy. It is a world in which animals and people have, together, a stake in something real, and in which something real is always at stake"(Cooper 153).

All of this, of course is leading up to our final project for this course. A performance, a spectacle, a "way" to be with animals? To invent a landscape. A Second Life? A CIRCUS.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

On Endangered Senses

In this week’s class period, we discussed the idea of animal communication. It was suggested that perhaps the difference between the human experience of the world and an animal’s experience of the world is fundamentally different because of variations in perceptual experience. How close could a human come to experiencing the world as another?
From a description of "Endangered Senses, a project by Gemma Shusterman that addresses this idea:

"This project was inspired by the human tendency to equate our perceptions to those of the rest of the natural world and evaluate other systems solely in terms of human experience. The elephant-inspired costume investigates the pachyderms' ability to detect infrasonic and seismic vibrations. The wearable has long telescoping sleeves which conceal the arms and hands and connect to the floor. Thus, the human is asked to sacrifice defining human characteristics (bipedal, with opposable thumbs) in order to experience a supplemental sense. The sensor is an accelerometer which picks up vibrations in the range of 5-20 hz, extending below humanly detectable limits. The signal is processed to make it audible to humans and broadcast to create a shared sensory experience."

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