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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.

Maija Astikainen, "One-Dog Policy"

Maija Astikainen

Over the weekend, I visited a wildlife center that’s home to big cats, birds, and all kinds of reptiles. I took a tour of the center, which isn’t necessarily run by wildlife professionals, and I couldn’t help noticing each time an animal was anthropomorphized by my guide. Commonly, we ascribe to animals human qualities so that we can try to better understand the actions of the creatures share the planet with. Maija Astikainen’s series, One-Dog Policy, titled as such in reference to countries like China where a one-dog policy is enforced in addition to their one-child policy (source), explores this humanization of pets in photos. Even when an animal is acting, emoting, or posing as a human would, we cannot know what it is thinking or feeling, and we cannot assign to it our own interpretations. That is important to remember.

From the artist’s statement: Dogs are the most common pets and they are often seen and treated more like one of the family members than animals. I’m interested in anthropomorphism, the habit of adding human characteristics to animals. The gestures of dogs are easily misinterpreted. They look guilty to us when they have done something wrong, and they seem to be laughing when something good is happening. The series of portraits was shot in Helsinki and Madrid during the years 2010-2014. The project is ongoing.

Visit artist's site: maijaastikainen.com

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Francesca Todde, "Francesca Todde, "Constellation of Galapagos""

Francesca Todde

Francesca Todde has an array of animal-focused photography projects. Two that stand out to me are Dioramas and Constellations. Her images of dioramas at the Natural History Museum of Milan are wide and with a prominent vignette, giving the scenes a feel that is at the same time whimsical and convincing. Some of the pictures are made from an angle that feels cinematic, and in the case of the bears and seagulls photo particularly, I have to remind myself that I’m looking at a diorama and not a dark, dramatic vision of the wild.

Todde’s Constellations series is unlike anything I have seen before. The images are digital collages made from vintage books about animals, and they are both nostalgic and fresh. They reference one of the many ways animals are incorporated in society, which Todd details in her statement.

From the artist’s statement: The relation between nature and culture has played an important role in art through the centuries: we have sought the shape of the animals in the constellations, we have represented them in the paintings of the prehistoric caves, we used them as mirrors to reflect the strengths and weaknesses of our moral behavior in fairy tales, we use them as symbols even today in trademarks of our companies, from car industry to footwear. In my research I explore what remains today of the ancestral relation with the animals, how they survive in images in our overcrowded cities, who are the people who still maintain a relationship of close contact with animals, such as what kind of answers can today give the animals if you put them the question of a different relationship with the man. I think that looking at this relationship, studying the animal kingdom, the natural behaviors and social structures of animals, ultimately accepting our primary need of interdependence with other natural species, we have the possibility to find new truths about our society and get in touch with the deepest part of ourselves.

Visit artist's site: francescatodde.com

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Kevin Barton, "Twin Monkeys"

Kevin Barton

My favorite type of animal-concerned photography lately is broad, subtle, and a little bit funny (and, as always, square and with stark compositions). I saw some of these images by Kevin Barton at the SPE conference in Baltimore and, although zoo photography seems to be appearing all over lately, I thought this was a refreshing take on the subject. The style of the images reminds me of a body of work I love, David Politzer’s When You’re Out There.

From the artist’s statement: “Zoo” is part of a larger body of work exploring aspects of our culture engaging in what I like to describe as “prescribed happiness.” I am fascinated by spaces, rituals, events, and activities where one’s enjoyment is dictated and strictly enforced rather than left up to individuals to experience on their own terms… I can’t help staring at these aspects of our culture that, despite our better judgment, spend a tremendous amount of energy screaming at us in forceful reassurance that we are having a great time and we love it here.

Visit artist's site: kevinbartonphoto.com

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Mike Whiteley, "Wildlife"

Mike Whiteley

Giant outdoor retail stores like Cabela’s and Bass Pro are rife with photographic opportunities if you’re interested in hunting culture or taxidermy. Mike Whiteley’s black and white photos of the bizarre scenes in places like these are a humorous but also sad comment on this odd way of experiencing wildlife. My favorite images are those featuring background scraps of text like “pizza,” or impossible combinations of animals for the sake of saving space. The attempted illusion that all of these animals exist together is a bit too ridiculous to believe, even if it is only in a section or along the edges of the store.

From the artist’s statement: Wildlife is important out here in the west. It has been written about, painted, sculpted, and photographed. For as long as people have been here, the wildlife has had an important place in our society. It has been studied, worshiped, feared, and slaughtered. In a modern society, our relationship with it has become more complex. Its existence is now often determined by governments influenced by big money, large corporations, and other organizations. No longer is much of it really wild but exists in small, controlled areas. There are less and less places that are not touched by man.

Somehow, though, we still feel that wildlife is sacred, so much so that even after we kill it for sport, we stuff and mount it and put it on display… We seem to think that we need to control them as if somehow nature doesn’t know what it is doing. In various places in the west, I find displays of these stuffed game animals, interesting enough a lot of them seem to be in stores that sell guns that you need to kill them in the first place. What we are left with are pictures that display a strange contradiction between life and death, real and unreal.

Visit artist's site: mikewhiteleyart.com

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Isabella Rozendaal, "On Loving Animals"

Isabella Rozendaal

Having featured a few months ago Isabella Rozendaal’s Isabella Hunts, which is a broad and growing project worth looking at again, I am a big fan of her work. An older project of hers that I admire is On Loving Animals, an exploration of the sometimes touching and often bizarre ways that humans express their love for their animals. The artist states that the aim of the project is “to show how the animals are part of our lives, and how we project our own needs onto these beasts” (source). The human relationship with non-human animals is complex, and I appreciate Rozendaal’s lack of reservation showing many aspects of this complicated exchange.

Visit artist's site: isabellarozendaal.com

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Camille Marie Bieber, "Chimères"

Camille Marie Bieber

Camille Marie Bieber’s photographs depict the merging of humans and nature. In her series, Chimères, Bieber reflects on her nostalgia for the feeling of peace she had in the forests of Scandinavia or along the Baltic Sea. To me, the images portray the boundaries between the man-made and untouched nature, and being in one place while longing for another.

Visit artist's site: camillemariebieber.com

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Sara Munari, "Dolphins Sleep with their Eyes Open"

Sara Munari

The way we use representations of animals in advertisements, for entertainment, as decoration, really everywhere in daily life has always been interesting to me. This is what Sara Munari explores in her series of diptychs–”a representation in the representation: who is alive and who is fake looks fake to seem alive.” The artist pairs images of animals in captivity with various likenesses of them found within the same spaces. The symmetry in the pieces is thoughtful, the dull colors symbolic, the meaning striking.

From the artist’s statement (translated by Google; forgive errors): Every day through the media and advertising we are fueled by emotions fictitious performing their function purifying and giving complete solution to our real lives, but the rules of the game are understood and accepted by actors and spectators: it’s fiction. None of these animals for the show will never end, under the eyes distracted by people walking through the bars of the cages and glass, expecting to see an event, so it was worth it to pay a ticket. A Big Brother fee. Grande is nonsense then the reproduction (photography, sculpture, paper), always within the parks, the animals themselves. Where the animal is missing or holed up to evade the human curiosity, here is the puppet that takes over , the cup, the granite statue of the animal that is only representation.

Visit artist's site: saramunari.it

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Zack Seckler, "Aerial Abstracts"

Zack Seckler

In the same vein as this week’s earlier post of Ruben Brulat‘s tiny people in huge landscapes are Zack Seckler’s tiny animals from above. Previously well-known for his portfolio of humorous, surreal photography, Seckler also makes beautiful aerial photos of wildlife in southern Africa. This perspective isn’t one commonly seen by humans, and it feels different from even other aerial photography, thanks to Seckler’s flying low, between 50 and 500 feet above the savannah. The breathtaking series reminds me of the sky ride at the Kansas City Zoo that I went on last weekend… only this is obviously a bit more glamorous.

Visit artist's site: zackseckler.com

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Ruben Brulat, "Au Temps Disparu, Bromo, Indonesia"

Ruben Brulat

Ruben Brulat’s intensely beautiful photographs are more than gorgeous landscapes–there are tiny humans within them, sprawled out on the side of a mountain or curled up in a dusty crevasse. In his earlier project, Primates, the figure depicted is his own, while in Paths, the artist stopped passersby while he was traveling internationally and asked them to participate in photographs about embracing the landscape, so to speak. The images dramatically portray our relationship to the massive, incredible natural world, and how vulnerable we are to the elements and in earth’s vastness.

Visit artist's site: rubenbrulat.com

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Crystal Morey, "Hare Totem"

Crystal Morey

Crystal Morey uses clay to build figurative sculptures of humans encased in animals. She uses gesture, texture, and subdued colors to create intimate objects that capture the mood of psychological, environmental, and cultural states. The animals Morey uses are either extinct or endangered due to human impact. Conceptually, the work focuses on environmental issues, and visually, the pieces reference totems. I enjoy the mysterious, emotive, and unique qualities of the strikingly beautiful sculptures.

From the artist’s statement: I am interested in the intellectual, emotional and primal relationship between humans and their environment. My understanding of [man's] role in the environment has changed. I once saw humans as being under the umbrella of “nature,” subservient to natural happening. I now realize humans are the largest variable in the changing of our planet’s ecological and environmental outcome. We are living in an era of what has been called a “great acceleration,” and in the past one hundred years, humans have developed and changed the planet in a very drastic way. Through hunting, deforestation, ocean acidification, gene manipulation, industrial agriculture, and mountaintop removal, we are now the driving force behind environmental change. Today every human development has a reaction we can see and these actions are causing havoc, leading us to an unsustainable environment.

These are the ideas I keep in my mind when I am making sculpture. I am interested in the effects these difficult situations have on the human psyche and how we respond to them. I try to show the stresses in our cohabitation through making sculptures of humans, animals, the environment and the delicate dependencies we share. My creative research plays a distinct role in the concepts behind my work. I am interested in learning about animals with stressed habitats due to human interaction. I am sensitive to looking for creatures that we as humans can relate to, giving us a stronger sense of our relationship to the earth. I am also intrigued in the way other cultures, past and present, relate in their ecosystems and how I can incorporate these ideas of their nature and culture into my work. In addition to my cultural and ecological artistic research I am interested in looking at creation, ancestral, and destruction stories from other places and cultures. I strive to create reinterpretations of these stories that are more relevant to the contemporary narrative I am trying to convey while also looking to relate an idea with empathy, beauty and emotion.

Visit artist's site: crystalmorey.com

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