On psychic and cellular levels, what exactly occurs when a human interacts with another animal species? Despite our growing knowledge of biology and natural history, the answer remains something of a mystery. The 24 artists participating in A Live Animal consider such interspecific exchange, be it scientific, emotional, spiritual, or otherwise.
In his landmark essay collection Art As Experience, John Dewey writes “To grasp the sources of aesthetic experience it is [...] necessary to have recourse to animal life below the human scale. [...] The live animal is fully present, all there, in all of its actions: in its wary glances, its sharp sniffings, its abrupt cocking of ears.” Dewey’s “live animal” exists in all of us, but is generally unacknowledged or denied. The proliferation of animal imagery in the arts, however, suggests that other species have much to teach us about our own nature.
There are those who would have us believe it is possible to exist in an Edenic reality where humans and other species live together in peace. Others would have us come to terms with our predatory nature and embrace our propensity for violence. The truth is more complex than either of those perspectives allow. Nonetheless, both speak to contemporary society’s grappling with the existential question, “How should we conceive of and conduct our relationships with other species, and also with one another?”
Surveyed as a whole, the artworks in A Live Animal reflect our inadequate understanding of how best to exist as part of a living, breathing, sensate environment. Individually, however, the works invite us to consider other species through a variety of lenses – mystical, scientific, and philosophical – and to formulate our own approaches to the “animal other.” They challenge us to consider the “aesthetic experience” of Dewey’s “live animal,” one of genuine (if not necessarily sentimental) affinity with all states of being, in light of our current struggle to balance the interests of all parties, be they scaled, furred, feathered, or naked.