Animals, People – A Shared Environment

The conference in Brisbane on beautiful Southbank exploring animal/human relations throughout multiple disciplines including the arts was a rich and rewarding experience. I met some wonderful specialists in the field including author and editor of the recent publication representing animals Nigel Rothfels. I also had the opportunity to meet both the dynamic former and current board members of AASG who are Natalie Edwards, Melissa Boyde, Leah Burns and Yvette Watt. In terms of my own research I was particularly taken by papers given by Carol Freeman and Susan Pyke. Carol Freeman presented a poetic look at the materiality of medieval books being made of animal skin, their smell and texture and the very much shared environment animals and humans had during medieval times. Susan Pyke explored, also poetically, Emile Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and its depictions of the animal through the human via beastly behaviours of the masculine unclean, unshaven gypsy-like Heathcliff contrasted with the hygienic containment of the feminine through Catherine in 18th century society. I was also interested in Yvette Watt’s talk about animal art, the question of a lack of animal agency in representations. This links to a book launched at the conference considering animals in which Yvette Watt and Steve Baker discuss the apparent tightrope animal artists who are also animal activists walk if making didactic work which may lose its power as fine art when function speaks louder than form. Baker explores the work of Angela Singer among others who recycles taxidermy explaining how artists can make powerful statements without sacrificing attention to the importance of materiality (among other aesthetic considerations). Jill Bough, who I also met, launched her book Donkey focused on the hypocritical view of Donkeys in Australia, war hero myth vs feral eradication. I was happy to discover the animal series by Reaktion Books of which this is one.
I participated in the associated exhibitions and met some of the other artists including Maria Fernanda Cardoso. Colleague in sculpture Amanda Stuart presented too. (Thanks Amanda, it was great to spend some time with a familiar face!).

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