To be officially opened by Isobel Crombie, Assistant Director of Curatorial and Collections Management, National Gallery of Victoria.
Courtesy Martin Browne Contemporary, Scott Livesey Galleries and Sullivan+Strumpf.
Animated Thoughts on Animal Objects
By Kent Wilson
Animal instinct and animal magnetism. An animal in bed and an animal on the
field. Animal, the muppet drummer, so full of energy and rhythm and willful lust
for life that he had to be restrained, while at the same time we marveled at the
very characteristics that forced his submission. In a weird split in our
perspective on reality, we put animals out at an arm’s length while
simultaneously embracing them as reflections of our humanity. They become
stand-ins for us at the same time they become cast-offs of the things we think
we’ve left behind. But, in truth, we are 100% animal. We are not a separate
branch of taxonomic category in the biological sciences. We are neurotic naked
apes “in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western
spiral arm of the galaxy” as Douglas Adams invoked nearly four decades ago.
Since our earliest artistic expression, humans have been representing the animal.
Many believe this is because we recognised a living energy that we felt we had in
ourselves, and that we associated this energy with a spirit or soul or ‘vital
principle’. Dance, painting, sculpture and story-telling developed in order to
express this force. Gods and goddesses were conjured and animal characteristics
became affiliated with our own human ones or maybe human characteristics
became overlaid onto animals. Owls are wise, bulls are stubborn and goats are
horny. It could run both ways of course and often does. Hybrid creatures
conflated our understanding of the divide and drew us back into the animal
world from whence we came while never actually having left it.
In more recent times we’ve fucked over and fucked around with the poor old
animal. We domesticated it in a weird fetish for domesticating our own
‘animalistic’ tendencies. We’ve put bandages around their noses to breed in a
flattened snout, identified faults in DNA to shrink carnivorous wolves into
handbag Chihuahuas, forced forest birds to destroy their kidneys by laying eggs
every day, and inflicted any number of horrors that culture and mass-
industrialised capitalism has enabled.
But that’s enough of history. That’s background noise and all too often grey, a
slightly disturbing frequency like a humming fluorescent light. In the present, in
this room, let’s cast that historical humming up into the barely-audible gallery
lights for a more celebratory animalia. Let us draw from the human instinct to
identify the vital principle. Let’s bask in the human capacity to elevate our hearts
and minds through creative reflections on our outer and inner world. Ramesh
Nithiyendran, Vipoo Srivilasa and Troy Emery make uplifting artworks that draw
upon humour and provide a buoyancy to our association with the animal. This is
work that elevates our association with the animal, that honours the animal and
draws us back to an almost biophilic warmth in their presence.
Energised in colour and an intensity of detail in their work, these artists express
a posturing, confident power with a mischievous edge. Psychedelic and
vibratory, Nithiyendran, Srivilasa and Emery deliver a shimmering sensation
that ripples in through our eyeballs while tugging on our central nervous system.
It is work that tickles the brain and caresses the guts. We become more aware of
a tension between fragility and power. We feel the vital principle in play and
come to understand the spiritual soul of a cleverly created object. That life exists
on paper, in decoration – in form and material. These artists expose a push and
pull – our attraction to embrace and our fear of getting too close. We are set to
tentative balance on a fulcrum of opposing forces. A position that focuses our
attention on the present while revealing the presence of life forces. This is a gift
we should be as thankful for as the gifts that animals have also offered and
provided to us, in sacrifice to our evolutionary development and capacity to
understand from whence we came and to where we shall go next. To truly reveal
to us our humanity and our animality.