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MH is a blog and archive featuring artists who are interested in the ways in which humans interact with and experience animals and nature.

Gretchen Hill Woodman

Gretchen Hill Woodman

At the Living With Animals conference last month, I had the chance to briefly meet and look at the beautiful book Enchanting Cervidae by artist Gretchen Hill Woodman. Gretchen’s work stood out to me, particularly Overtaken, a mixed media piece depicting a brilliantly colored deer against a bright white background, and embellished with designs reminiscent of carousel animals (I’m thinking of work by Tim Racer). Gretchen’s charcoal drawings, sometimes including colored pencil, watercolor, pastel, and graphite, move beyond traditional animal portraits. My favorites are the pieces that show “the animal affected by human constructs,” literal representations of the ways our manmade tools and constructs affect animal life. Looking at this work, I find myself thinking of Michael Zavros’s falling horse drawings and Josh Keyes’s paintings, some favorites of mine.

From the artist’s statement: My drawings consider human perspectives toward animals, and the resulting interactions imposed upon animals by humans. My work currently explores imagery that falls within the following three categories:

1. The situation of the animal
The animal’s situation is precarious in this human-dominated world.

2. The animal affected by human constructs
These constructs can be tools such as plumb bobs, drills, houses, cities, cars, rules, laws, etc. Through our tools, we are adept at controlling all other life, and with them we have created an invented reality between ourselves and animals.

3. The animal as an individual
I draw the animal portrait similar in presentation to a human portrait to bring the viewer into an engagement with the animal as an important individual.

Visit artist's site: gretchenwoodman.net

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Constance Thalken

Constance Thalken

When I was working with Matthew Moore on his Muybridge’s Horse post, he mentioned to me the work of Constance Thalken. Upon looking at the photographs in Thalken’s series Eyes Open Slowly, I found myself drawn to the pictures’ dark earth tones, stark lighting and atmosphere, and mystery or sense of foreboding. Taxidermy is something I always return to as a subject both of my thoughts and in my photographs; I’ll never tire of seeing it through the eyes of other artists and thinkers. What I appreciate about Thalken’s work is the way the animals pictured are in an in-between state. They are hanging or draped in limbo, waiting to transition from a living animal to an everlasting representation of one.

From the artist’s statement: Animals have a natural magnetism and taxidermy perpetuates the illusion of animal presence, providing an intimate experience that is impossible in real life. Yet the animal/object dichotomy of taxidermy can be unsettling and disorienting. We are in awe of what appears to be animal, yet the actual animal is gone. Death is inherent to taxidermy and so a sense of loss or grief is part of each encounter.

“Eyes Open Slowly” is an evolving body of work derived from my time in a taxidermy shop owned by an 85-year old expert taxidermist who has kept his shop in continuous operation for over 67 years. The shop itself is breathtaking. A massive amalgam of cavernous rooms, each overflow with residue from decades of working with animal skins. High ceilings are littered with hundreds of suspended plastic molds of animal species from around the globe. All hang in anticipation of their moment of animation when fitted with an animal skin. The dedicated work areas denote the stages of fabricating this animal “aliveness” – the skinning corner, the salt tanning floor, the central mounting area, and the finishing room where final touches awaken the uncanny in each mount. The diverse clientele of the shop further reflects our entanglements with animals. Prominent natural history museums, the Federal Fish and Wildlife Service, wealthy game hunters, international franchise steakhouses, and local trophy seekers all procure mounting services from the shop.

I have entered this world to investigate the idea of animal essence and the emotional and psychological complexities that arise from reanimations of that essence. Whether photographing animals in the process of “becoming” or deploying abstraction to confound the reading of surface, the work uncovers our longing to connect to the natural world. At the same time, it questions our urge to possess and immortalize it through the act of killing.

Visit artist's site: constancethalken.com

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Living With Animals, Days 3 & 4 and Field Trips

See my post about the first two days of the Living With Animals conference here

Although I didn’t attend as many talks the second half of the conference as the first, and the second half wasn’t focused on art like the first was, I had such a great time and learned so much. I have to say that this entire conference was so impressive, packed with interesting talks and stimulating conversation. One thing I have written in my notes is “So many intelligent questions! Such great, respectful, sincere discussion and sharing.” I can’t wait for the next conference in 2019.

Below are the presentations that I got to see and some pictures. As part of the conference, we had tours of the White Hall State Historic Site, the Kentucky Equine Humane Center, and the Primate Rescue Center. It was all awesome! After the conference was over, Daniel and I took Monday to rent a car and see the Sheabel Pet Cemetery, the Hamburg Place Horse Cemetery, Man O’ War’s grave at the Kentucky Horse Park, and the Shaker village of Pleasant Hill, all in the Richmond/Lexington area. I’ll share pictures from all that on my photo journal, as soon as I have some time to process them!

Michal Piotr Pregowski Social Practices of Grief and Commemoration of Companion Animals across Cultures
Margo DeMello, Kenneth Shapiro, Susan McHugh & Robert W. Mitchell Society & Animals: Shaping and Reflecting Human-Animal Studies for 25 Years
John Byczynski I Ain’t No Rat: The Muskrat Manifesto
Andrea Buhle Footloose and Fancy Fleas: Fabled Facades or Factual Feats?

April D. Truitt U.S. Primate Sanctuaries: The Next 30 Years
Doug Slaymaker Imagining Animals to Represent Disaster: Japanese Fiction after Fukushima
Jonathan L. Clark A History of Roadkill
Karen Head Living the Promises
Jeanne Dubino Dogs in the Margins: Canine-Human Coexistence in Global Literacy Representations of Labor Camps, Village Life, and Extreme Poverty
Andrew Smyth Comics, Language, and (Baby)Sitting: Adam Hines’s Duncan the Wonder Dog and the Case of Clementine
Ann Marie Thornburg Walking With Dogs: Ethnographic Reflections on Everyday Movements
Jane Desmond “Real Doctors Treat More than One Species!” Charting the Divide between Clinical Veterinary Medicine and Human Medicine
Seth Josephson Media of Life and Danger: Bovine Serum and Human/Cattle Co-Emergence
Sara Waller Human Inferences Regarding Feline Inferences
Justyna Wlodarczyk Theorizing Resistance to Change in Dog Training since the 1980s
Bob Sandmeyer What in the World Does Coexistence with the Animal Mean?

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Living With Animals, Days 1 & 2

Back in February of last year when I was giving my talk at the Annenberg Space for Photography, I met Julia Schlosser, who told me about the conference Living With Animals and its art component Seeing With Animals at Eastern Kentucky University. The conference is every two years, and March 22-26 I was in Richmond, KY for the third biennial conference on the theme of Co-Existence. I brought with me my regular conference companion Daniel Quay and we had such an excellent time getting to see the work of amazing artists, hear talks by incredibly intelligent thinkers, and meet such kind, interesting, talented people. The first two days of the conference, we attended sessions in the Seeing With Animals track, and I’d like to share the presentations that I got to see and some pictures. Next week, I’ll share images from the other two days of the conference and the field trips we got to go on!

Keri Cronin Looking Back: The Art of Early Animal Advocacy Campaigns
Julia Schlosser Explored Geographies: Companion Experiences
Carole Baker Where is Home? The Unpredictability of Life as a Cypriot Stray Dog
Mary-Jane Opie A Discussion on the Validity of Using a Companion Dog as a ‘Stand-In’ in Portraiture and as a Human Family Member
Debra Merskin Seeing the Dying Animal: Hollywood and the Hereafter
Mary Shannon Johnstone Landfill Dogs
Maria Lux Eat, Drink, and Be Merry: Unforeseen Consequences of Co-existence with Vultures, Fruit Bats, and Viruses
Linda Brant A Monument for Animals We Do Not Mourn
L.A. Watson Passed Lives: The Roadside Memorial Project
Kathryn Eddy The Urban/Wild Coyote Project
Mylène Ferrand Lointier The Contemporary Art Animal Repair

Brett Mizelle Killing in Jest, Dying in Earnest: Human-Squirrel Entanglements in Past and Present
Lee Deigaard Inviting Horses to Enter: Horses at the Museum
Lisa Strömbeck Hierarchy
Angela Bartram Collaborative Animals: Dogs and Humans as Co-Working Artists
Harriet Smith Post-Anthropocentric Interventions with Human and Nonhuman Animals
David Wood Thinking Like a Sand Crab
Viola Arduini The Human and the Other: Visual Technology between Science and Art
Doo-Sung Yoo Art Hybrids for Exploring Co-Existence between Humans and Animals Alongside Technology
Liz Bowen Spectacles of Dependency: Human-Animal Enfreakment in the Artwork of Sunaura Taylor
Tyler Lumm I Am Become
Alexandra Murphy Specere and the Photograph: Co-Existing in Perpetual States of Preservation
Tanja Böhme Bringing the Animal into Focus
Steve Baker The Disorderly Animal in Contemporary Art

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Serge J-F. Levy

Serge J-F. Levy

I spent the last week in Richmond, Kentucky, at the Living With Animals conference at Eastern Kentucky University. I had such a great time, and I look forward to sharing all that I learned. For today, though, I’m excited to share this Q&A with the wonderful artist Serge J-F. Levy. While it’s long, I encourage you to read through to the end. And I won’t say anymore so you can get started now!

Describe your process in creating the series The Fire in the Freezer.

Just before starting The Fire in the Freezer, I had moved to Tucson to attend graduate school at the University of Arizona. I had tried to work in the “streets” of Tucson, utilizing the same street photography methods and approaches I had been using for 20+ years in New York City, my life-long home. Those methods didn’t translate well. Instead, I felt people were really hostile toward me and my camera; more so than working in New York City. That kind of bummed me out. At any rate, I had already been expanding my outdoor life as soon as I arrived. I had met someone who was sort of my guide to the wilderness. They introduced me to a part of myself I didn’t know existed. I mean, I knew I loved the outdoors, but we found ways to travel deep into the backcountry; into places where my mind felt alone. Places where I was totally immersed in a new landscape and I was developing a new set of senses to internalize, reflect upon and understand the beauty and rich metaphor that I witnessed. This enlightenment came at a cost, though; I injured my Achilles tendon in one scenario, and on another occasion, while canyoneering down a set of seven waterfalls, I fell 15 feet and fractured my hip in three places. As life would have it, during this time period I also watched my dear cat Jackie die over the course of 8 weeks. The relationship with my partner had its difficulties. It was a time filled with ripe emotions, to say the least.

The Fire in the Freezer was a digestion of this time period. It was my way of understanding how seemingly disparate experiences that often happen in vastly different spaces, and at different ends of a chronology of time, are related. That’s the beauty of a book. You are creating a sequence and compiling ideas and images in a space that by virtue of its binding, draws them together.

Of course, there is the writing component, too. I was concurrently working on the creative non-fiction writing that makes up the second and inseparable volume of the book.

The landscape featured in your work changes significantly, and your photographs transition from black and white to color. Aside from a geographic move, what prompted this shift?

My choice of black and white vs. color has always been a really intuitive transition. Well, actually, let me backpedal from that. If it were truly intuitive, I would probably make the transitions more frequently; on a momentary basis. Something that digital photography uniquely affords the contemporary photographer. But let’s just say, when I envision a project, I choose to use either a black and white or color mindset and the relevant materials (if I am working with film).

I wrote a lengthier response to this question trying to further delaminate the thinking behind my choice to use black and white verse color. But I ended up finding so many contradictions in my explanation, that it didn’t seem logical. The lack of logic behind my choice indicates to me that I am indeed relying upon intuitive choices; which is really to say, there is some buried inspiration, but I’m enjoying not knowing exactly what it is.

I also want to address your observation that the landscape in my photographs is often changing significantly. I consider this type of shift in scenery a hallmark of how I think and approach the world. I am interested in finding a process of creating and communicating that appropriately reflects the significant changes that I feel in response to circumstances in my life. In other words, I feel really strong emotional shifts as I navigate daily life. The state of the world, interpersonal relationships, professional circumstances – these components of life are an uncontrollable and vacillating outside force. One of the beauties of hiking in some desert areas is that the landscape can shift so radically over the course of only hundreds of feet. At one point, you can be in a slot canyon with high walls and a silty floor, only to turn the corner into a plush riparian forest choked with cat’s claw and canopied by giant sycamore and cottonwood. If that isn’t what global politics, interpersonal relationships and professional circumstances are like, I don’t know what is!

(more…)

Visit artist's site: sergelevy.com

Found via: Lenscratch

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Jimmy Fike

Jimmy Fike

I believe it was at the National SPE Conference in New Orleans a couple of years ago that I discovered Jimmy Fike’s work. J.W. Fike’s Photographic Survey of the Wild Edible Botanicals of the North American Continent, a continent-spanning collection of photographs about wild edible plants, has been in progress for about a decade. To create the images, Fike excavates the plant, arranges it in the studio, and uses photography and digital illustration to render the edible parts of the plant in color, while the remaining parts read as contact prints. To me, the plants instantly reference the botanical cyanotypes of Anna Atkins, with a twist that’s dramatic both visually and conceptually.

From the artist’s statement: While this type of art may appear atavistic and indeed references historical approaches to understanding and utilizing nature, its redeployment, in this contemporary era, is vitally relevant to environmental issues. These edible plants grow all around us, in yards, alleys, ditches, and empty lots. Each testifies to our symbiotic evolution with all of life, and functions as both poetic metaphor and concrete proof of our intimate tether to the natural world. It is my hope that this art foments contemplative wonderment by offering viewers both information and insights that if realized kindle a reconnection to the natural world and a mystical counterbalance to scientific objectivism.

I prefer mounting exhibitions that feature plants found within that same community. My place-based approach to photography signals an interesting shift in configuring the medium’s relation to subject, audience and site. I’ve moved from a detached model that overly aestheticizes, commodifies and romanticizes landscape to work that actively engages the community by utilizing relevant contextual information, interdisciplinary research, and an elegant if slightly hypnotic aesthetic. These elements all work together to offer knowledge and conjure a glimpse of deeper ecological truths. My layered approach to creation offers multiple entry points and a diverse range of engagement. Currently, I’ve photographed over ninety plants in seven different states and plan to continue the survey until I’ve created a collection that spans the continental United States.

I hope the resulting catalogue will serve as an archive for an uncertain ecological future, reliable guide for foraging, and contain meditative symbols in communion with philosophical, spiritual and ecological truths.

Visit artist's site: jimfike.blogspot.com

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Joseph Moore

Joseph Moore

Art that uses publicly viewable webcams (a la Kurt Caviezel) has always intrigued me, yet it often lacks a component necessary in sustaining my interest – animals or nature subject matter. In his series Oversight/Rendered, Joseph Moore engages with web-based cameras to create pictures unlike anything I’ve seen before. Moore’s photographs, depicting a variety of places in the world where animals can be seen and experienced, combine the animal’s relationship to the physical makings of photography equipment, the notion of capturing movement the way Muybridge first did as one of the earliest makers of photographs, and a viewer’s unconscious need to form a narrative to create images that will have you looking for far longer than you might have intended. I have also spent a lot of time with Moore’s statement, which I have read at least a dozen times and continue to glean new information from each time.

From the artist’s statement: “Oversight/Rendered” is a series of prints that begin as digital images taken from unsecured web cameras that feature the lives of non-human animals. These captured digital images are then converted into a negative and printed using traditional darkroom technique on silver gelatin paper. Through this work I wish to foreground the non-human animal and its historical relationship to photography, (pre)-cinema, and certain methods of social control in development since the 19th century.

Both human and non-human activity is instrumentalized in the production of value. These prints engage with “animal” labor on both indexical and iconic levels. The gelatin coating is made from the bodies of rendered animals: from bone, tendon, and offal. As a material that actively influences the sensitivity of silver halides, gelatin is “dead” at the same time that it actively “works” to create an image. This “work,” both represented as an image and as a material substance, recalls a living being, creating a dialectical tension between life and death. This tension in photography is often remarked upon, but rarely with regard to non-human finitude.

The image of the animal within the history of pre-cinema and early photography is common; we find it in Eadweard Muybridge’s horses, Étinne-Jules Marey’s birds, and Anna Atkins’ algae. In the work of Muybridge and especially Marey, photographic devices are produced to dissect continuous time into discrete moments, i.e. the frame. And with the series of frames taken at regular intervals, new methods for analyzing and graphing movement through images are born. Marey would use these methods of analysis to study birds in flight as well as in the service of the French army to increase their efficiency of movement. Later, the industrial engineers Frank and Lillian Gilbreth would employ similar techniques to analyze a worker’s movements on the production line in order to create a more scientifically managed workforce. Though its use of web-based imagery and traditional printing, “Oversight/Rendered” points to the historical overlap between contemporary image-based technology — CCTV, image tracking, biometrics, etc. — and these techniques’ historical precedents. Under this analytic, the labor of the cashier, the gestures of a pedestrian, and the life of the non-human exist to be recorded, graphed, and examined. The banal and the transcendent are distilled into a set of points in time. It is the life-world subjected to the efficiency of a slaughterhouse.

Each print in “Oversight/Rendered” consists of four images downloaded from the same camera feed during a 24-hour period. While certain aspects of the work seek to create historical continuity, others attempt to disrupt any easy narrativization. This anti-narrative aspect can be seen in the non-chronological placing of the four images. Formal devices such as repetition, rhythm, etc. within the quadrant pull the viewer away from the pictoral and into the material surface. I wish to generate a kind of suspension where coherent narrative is subdued, but a relationship between the parts is maintained. Although “Oversight/Rendered” relies on the fragmenting of continuous time into the discreet in a way that echoes the historical examples above, unlike them, it undermines the ordering and control that accompany a kind of “settled” narrative.

Visit artist's site: joseph-moore.com

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Jon Riordan

Jon Riordan

As an artist who spends a lot of time visiting and thinking about natural history museums, something I ponder often is the educational aspect of these institutions. It seems like museums of all types are turning away from the traditional and leaning more toward digital exhibits heavy on the interactive, family-friendly components. I love all the dated materials I can spot in Jon Riordan’s pictures in his series Dinosaurs in the Attic – faded photos, bright paint in primary colors, paper with fold marks and torn corners. Even a dry erase board can be seen as an object from the past. Riordan’s photos make me think about natural history museums’ enduring ability to fascinate and educate young minds, of past generations and those to come.

From the artist’s statement: As a child, museums had an almost magical hold over me. They were these cavernous places of mystery and wonder. They even had dinosaurs! And they looked so big and real. Everything that made a child’s mind race was there: sharks, snakes, lions and even hyenas, those fascinating skulking beasts. So, many years later, it was with great excitement [that] I took a job at a natural history museum in South Africa. Amazingly, as an adult I found an equally magical space. The animals might not look as real, the cracks in the façade are all the more visible to cynical adult eyes, but there is still magic in knowledge and the observable natural wonders housed in these places. So, in my spare time, I would venture around the museum with my camera and try and spot a different kind of magic through the cracks in this façade: the reality of these ancient spaces of learning, research and happy childhood exploration.

Visit artist's site: jonriordan.com

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Joe Mannino

Joe Mannino

More than any other photographic series about hunting I’ve seen, Joe Mannino’s Fresh Tracks makes me feel like I’m there, in the quiet moments or the long stretches of quiet time, waiting for and tracking an animal. I love the way the stillness, depth, light, and colors in the images make me feel like I’m looking into a museum diorama. It’s evident from all of Mannino’s photos that he has a deep and reverent connection to nature. I think picking up on that connection is my favorite thing about looking at photographs.

From the artist’s statement: My life and my upbringing in the landscape have inspired me to make work about the hunting experience. This body of work shows the positives of hunting, the familial bonds, the connection to nature that it provides, and comments on the social and historical impact of hunting. “Fresh Tracks” is a visual record of my experience as a hunter. I am creating this body of work for the same reasons I hunt: for the connection to my environment and my food, because I have a vested interest in the conservation of wildlife and wild places, and to participate in the raw, unforgiving truth of life. Humans and nature are not separate, we’ve separated ourselves. Hunting allows me to understand and acknowledge my role in the ecosystem. Through hunting I am connected to land, animal, and sustenance.

Visit artist's site: joemannino.com

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Brent Watanabe, "San Andreas Streaming Deer Cam"

Brent Watanabe

About the time I was entering middle school, I became curious about computer games and picked up “Deer Hunter 4” on disc for my family’s PC while out shopping with my parents. I definitely could never master the game, and I had very conflicting feelings about it. Really, I found myself wanting to just move around the game’s rendered forests and fields and watch the deer, calling to them and trying to get as close to them as I could. I remembered this feeling instantly when I saw Brent Watanabe’s San Andreas Streaming Deer Cam, a modification of the game Grand Theft Auto V. The project is a live video stream that follows a deer wandering through a virtual world, the game’s fictional state of San Andreas. It’s bizarre and amusing to see a deer that looks like it walked right out of a “Deer Hunter” type game existing, so out of place, in “a man-made world that was designed for criminals to complete missions and heists. The deer cam follows this hapless creature through hostile environments for the entertainment of an online audience. It’s a slapstick but 
tragic situation” (source). The San Andreas Deer Cam is currently offline, but you can watch footage recorded on February 29, 2016 here.

From a statement on the project’s website: “San Andreas Deer Cam” is a live video stream from a computer running a hacked modded version of Grand Theft Auto V, hosted on Twitch.tv. The mod creates a deer and follows it as it wanders throughout the 100 square miles of San Andreas, a fictional state in GTA V based on California. The deer has been programmed to control itself and make its own decisions, with no one actually playing the video game. The deer is ‘playing itself,’ with all activity unscripted… and unexpected. In the past 48 hours, the deer has wandered along a moonlit beach, caused a traffic jam on a major freeway, been caught in a gangland gun battle, and been chased by the police.

Visit artist's site: bwatanabe.com

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