Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Animate/Inanimate Symposium

Sunday 1 September  2013 11.00am - 5.00pm

A day of lively discussions about the meanings, histories and vulnerabilities of the natural and animal worlds through the eyes of artists, cultural theorists and environmental scientists, this symposium coincides with the exhibition Animate/Inanimate at the TarraWarra Museum of Art and will be held in the enchanting Brolga Room at Healesville Sanctuary.

12.00noon - Keynote presentation: Professor Barbara Creed
Barbara Creed is Professor of Screen Cultures at the University of Melbourne and director of the 'Human Rights and Animal Ethics' research network.
In Search of Sensation in the Nineteenth Century Zoological Park

Professor Creed explores the uncanny tension between animate/inanimate and human/animal in relation to the entrapment of animals in zoos and travelling menageries of the nineteenth century. She will also explore the aesthetics of shock in relation to the human/animal border as well as the role of this aesthetic in art

3.45pm - Keynote presentation: Professor Deborah Bird Rose
Deborah Bird Rose is a Professor in the Centre for Research on Social Inclusion at Macquarie University, Sydney. Professor Rose writes across several disciplines, including anthropology, history, philosophy, cultural studies and religious studies, and has worked with Aboriginal people in their claims to land and in other decolonising contexts. She has written numerous books and essays including Wild Dog Dreaming.
Animism, Art, and the Breath of Life
Art’s special magic is to knock us out of familiar enclosures. ‘We tell ourselves stories in order to live’, Joan Didion famously tells us. In this time of mass extinctions, art has the power to open new stories, breathing life into new meanings of our place in the life of planet earth.

I had seen this symposium advertised and was caught first by the title of the exhibition; Animate/Inanimate. Then on reading a bit more about the speakers I saw that animism was going to be discussed by Professor Deborah Bird Rose. Her talk was quite interesting but did not delve too deeply into art.

The first speaker Professor Barbara Creed’s discussion was the most interesting and relevant to me. She discussed the notion of the uncanny as attractive and repulsive and as both familiar and unfamiliar. She showed Henri Rousseau’s painting The Dream, 1910 and discussed how he had never left Paris but continued to paint jungles and exotic locations. He painted at the Paris Zoo which led onto a discussion about zoos. Around the time of his painting (1910) you could say that the zoo was a symbol of Imperialism, as a way to bring nature under control. Creed also mentioned the natural history museums and how they held rooms full of skeletons, stuffed animals, the uncanny living dead.

A significant reference was Freud’s The Emotions of Man and Animals. She also discussed the artwork by Emmanuel Frémiet, Gorilla Carrying off a Woman, 1887. There was a fascination in society with wild animals and in a zoo it was possible to get up close to them. People were both scared and attracted, they craved the excitement. They were in search of sensation. Around those times they feared loss of control to a more primitive state.
I really enjoyed her connections with the uncanny, zoos, animals and art. I can understand why around those times that wild animals, zoos and natural history museums were the new sensation. The above mentioned artworks I find quite inspiring but I see my artwork touching on a more contemporary sensation. Digital technology, robots, animations and contemporary materials are what I am trying depict new sensation through. Perhaps the interent, robots and new technology could be seen as a scary gorilla? Not as a primitive threat but more as a digital threat to civilisation.  Maybe my wheeled concrete robots could wheel off unsuspecting ladies?

I also really enjoyed listening to artist, Louise Weaver speak. I have always loved her artwork but had never heard her speak. She came across at thoughtful, articulate, subtle and alluring, just as her artwork is.

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