FROM a sinister-looking monkey to a sharply delineated photograph of a rat running across a wall, two interlinked exhibitions focusing on animals open at UCC’s Glucksman Gallery tomorrow .
Fieldworks is an exhibition of animal habitats in contemporary art from all over the world while a complementary exhibition, The Learning Zoo, displays artefacts from UCC’s zoology museum. Curated by Chris Clarke from the Glucksman Gallery, the exhibitions are in association with the university’s school of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences (BEES).
The specimens from the zoology museum are from the Queen’s College Cork Collection dating from around 1850 onwards. The stuffed monkey is a black bearded saki, an endangered species. It is displayed in a glass cabinet, just one of a number of stuffed animals on show, as well as birds’ eggs donated to the museum in the 1950s, an owl with impressive plumage, and walrus tusks.
An elephant’s molar, donated by a Mr Shea in 1855, measures about eight by ten inches. These specimens are used for teaching purposes and will intrigue children who are invited to paint animals onto sketches of animal habitats on the walls of a space in the gallery. The photograph of the rat in the Fieldworks exhibition was originally taken by UK artist Adam Chodzko for his 2004 ‘Night Shift’ series which was commissioned by the Frieze Art Fair in London. Chodzko released a number of animals into and around the art fair venue in the evenings when it had closed for the day. “Adam is showing the nocturnal activity of a number of animals,” says Clarke. “The setting looks like a city but some of the photographs use the art fair space. Adam intervened to present this other life, this other hub of activity that happens after hours. I imagine he hired the animals from an animal trainer. He would have used a night vision camera which gives the grainy effect.”
For Clarke, showing the work of the late Chris Marker is a real treat. “He is such a significant figure in the world of film, visual art and new media art.” His 1962 film, La Jetée, inspired Terry Gilliam’s movie 12 Monkeys. The exhibition features three short films by Marker. One is of his cat listening to music while lying across a keyboard. Another is of edited shots of owls with distorted electronic music and The Zoo Piece looks at different animals in a zoo, set to classical music.
There are 13 artists in the Fieldworks exhibition. Clarke says through conversations with the staff of BEES the Glucksman personnel started from a very broad idea of doing a show about animals. “We didn’t just want to study animals in isolation but rather to look at the eco-system and how animals relate to other animals and to people. The key thing was recognising their habitats.”
For Clarke, the idea of spectatorship is interesting. “It’s about how we experience animals. Throughout the exhibition, there are three strands. There’s an area of work where the artist is almost like an ecologist. These artists travel into unusual territory to document, record or paint animals in their natural surroundings. For example, one of our exhibitors, Jochen Lempert, from Germany, is a photographer who is also a trained biologist.
“His work is all about recording migrating birds. His work has a sense of scientific documentation. He looks for patterns of movement.”
Another strand in Fieldworks concerns the encroachment of wildlife into urban environments. “It’s about how the animals negotiate this new terrain and their unfamiliar neighbours. There’s also a section that looks at the idea of the zoological environment as well as the scientific environment. It’s about artificial habitats and includes things like natural history museum displays.
There are two Irish artists in the exhibition, Cork-based Ciaran Murphy and Sonia Shiel, a resident artist at the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Murphy’s work plays with the idea of how we perceive animals. “He uses painterly techniques that resemble the work of night vision cameras. He also uses aerial perspectives so that it’s like looking down on animals from a tree top or a helicopter. There’s always a sense that you’re intruding.”
Shiels will be showing an installation which is a large tree-like creation with little birds and flowers coated in breadcrumbs. While there is a long history of art exhibitions of animals, Clarke wanted to put a very contemporary art lens on the project.
Clarke hopes that the exhibition (which runs until November 2) will give people a heightened awareness that humans co-exist with animals.
“When you’re walking down a street, it’s said that you’re never more than 10 feet away from a rat. There’s this whole eco-system that is sometimes quite invisible.”