Human hair and peacock feathers, 3.5″ x 1.5″

In the studio this week I surrounded myself with the foraged materials collected over the last two weeks. Where I live in Victoria BC, we are experiencing the changes in weather associated the Fall season. The temperature gets colder, and the acorns begin to drop much to the delight of many creatures, including the Eastern Grey Squirrel. Spread out on my work table are Garry Oak acorns and peacock feathers from the grounds of Beacon Hill Park. Also on the table are English Oak acorns, pine cones, remnants of a wasp nest, and a ten-lined June beetle. More donations of human hair were delivered to me too (either through the mail or by hand delivery) along with some new squirrel hair.

While I was handling the peacock feathers, I was first intrigued by the interlocking nature of them. Then I was taken up with how soft some of the downy feathers are, and became amazed at all the different types of feathers large and small that make up a peacock. (see photonic crystals).

While I was intertwining human hair with peacock feathers, I started to think about the globalization of animal bodies. These are the animals we take for granted in city centres and that are often ignored. I became interested in the animals that were brought to urban spaces and public city parks by humans from their native habitats in the late 19th and early 20th century. Animals were intentionally introduced, captured from their native habitats and deliberately brought into the city, or urban parks. After the animals were introduced, the relationship between animals and humans developed based on charity. Humans felt an obligation to feed and interact with the creatures. While thinking about this, words such as transport, container, and dominate came to mind.

But then I thought what does a peacock think about all this? What is non-human subjectivity, contributing and representing themselves in the present? How do we/they identify in this place amongst the park things – tents where humans and dogs live, children playing on the swingsets, music emanating from the band shelter, the grating sound of a lawnmower motor as it cuts the grass. The peacock walks on by, nose to the ground looking for grubs. They walk a little faster when a tourist chases it for a photo. They fly away when a tourist gets too close. They fan out their tail a few moments later to attract a mate.

Both the human hair and the peacock feathers are things that we drop from our respective material bodies. Both humans and non-humans walk around and leave traces of themselves on the earth. The human and non-human relationship has a long and complicated history. These new ‘assembles’ depict a material aspect of these ideas.

Human hair, peacock feather, 5.5″ x 2″
Human hair, peacock feather, 3.5″ x 2″
Human hair, peacock feather, 5.5″ x 1.25″

John Berger – Why look at Animals? 1977

“The capturing of the animals was a symbolic representation of the conquest of all distant and exotic lands. ‘Explorers’ proved their patriotism by sending home a tiger or an elephant. The gift of an exotic animal to the metropolitan zoo became a token in subservient diplomatic relations.” 66

Teddy Bear Patriarchy: Taxidermy in the Garden of Eden,  New York City, 1908-36 :Donna Haraway

“The seperations that scientific modernity imprints on the world (seperations between species in the zoological garden, between sanity and madness in the clinic) cut right through the dense network of relations that the seperated entities mantained with one another, creating static breakpoints through the objectifiction and isolation of factual truths. The seperations thus create the silent space of an exchange put to death, deanimated.” 72

Seung-Hoon Jeong – A Global Cinematic Zone of Animal and Technology

“Undoubtedly, this anthropomorphic tendency works according to what Fredric Jameson calls hermeneutic ‘depth models’: dialectic, phsychoanalytic, existential or semiotic – the heirarchical dichotomy that there is a latent meaning, essence, signified below the appearance of manifest signifier. What matters is the invisible deeper level full of human-oriented meanings and not their animal image. Put differently, however, the absolute difference between human and animal is reduced to relative differences among human-looking animal groups. The ‘reading’ of animals as disguised humans is then at risk of being blind to animals themselves; our vision has a blind spot with regards to their animal being as just seen on screen.” 95

Of Humans, Animals and Monsters – Christopher Cox – 2005

Animals are uncanny creatures. Like us, they eat, sleep, defaecate, copulate, build, perceive, desire, and maybe even think, talk, and have rights. We admire them, paint and photograph them, emblazon them on flags, shields, and currency, and we treat some of them like best friends and members of ourr families. From Aesop’s fables to Mickey Mouse and The Far Side, our stories are filled with humanized animals who reflect us back to ourselves. ‘There is something charming about an animal become human’, the philosopher Simon Critchley aptly notes: but, by the same token, ‘when the human becomes animal, the effect is disgusting.’
We are surely a kind of animal. Yet we are also repulsed by the thought that we might be merely animals, and have spent an enormous amount of time and intellectual energy convincing ourselves that we are something different. It is not much of an exaggeration to say that all Western morality has been an effort to curb, even to deny, our animal nature – what Plato called ‘the wild beast n us’. The same can be said of religious doctrine, philosophical speculation, political thought and biological classification: all have been enlisted in the effort to make the case that we are something more, better and higher than the animal kingdom.” 116

Animisim Volume 1
Much Trouble in the Transportation
of Souls, or The Sudden Disorganization of Boundaries – Anselm Franke

“For most people who are still familiar with the term “animism” and hear it in the context of an exhibition, the word may bring to mind images of fetishes, totems, representations of a spirit-populated na- ture, tribal art, pre-modern rituals, and savagery. These images have forever left their imprint on the term. The expectations they trigger, however, are not what this project concerns. Animism doesn’t exhibit or discuss artifacts of cultural practices considered animist. Instead, it uses the term and its baggage as an optical device, a mirror in which the particular way modernity conceptualizes, implements, and trans- gresses boundaries can come into view.” 11