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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.

Miska Draskoczy

Miska Draskoczy

For college, I moved from my childhood home of suburban Colorado to Baltimore. It was a difficult transition from the wide open west, with natural areas to be easily accessed in every direction, to the center of a large east coast city, where I could only walk and take the light rail in attempt to interact with nature and animals anywhere I could. I adjusted by making photographs of my new surroundings, square, sans-people, and often of evidence of nature in the city. I thought about those pictures a lot while I was viewing Miska Draskoczy’s series Gowanus Wild. The photos are all made at night, the odd lighting and colors adding to the images’ bizarre subjects: a hanging plant mounted high on the brick wall of a parking lot; a huge tree surrounded by trash, graffiti, and glowing city lights.

From the artist’s statement: My vision for “Gowanus Wild” is to illustrate a personal exploration of nature and wilderness in the paradoxical setting of a contaminated industrial environment. As the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn has been declared a federal Superfund cleanup site and seen over 150 years of continuous industrial use, one of my aims with the series is to show just how tenacious nature can be in the face of such grave environmental destruction. Set entirely at night when the area empties of people and activity, the mood is one of stillness, reflection, and discovery.

I’ve lived on the border of Gowanus and Park Slope since 2008, and walking home through the deserted streets, I was always struck by how odd and atmospheric the place felt. At first I photographed the area because it inspired interesting images. Later I started to ask myself more consciously what it was that drew me to it. While an indictment of man’s abuse of the environment is perhaps inevitable, my goal is to not just celebrate nature’s resilience but to also show how it is paralleled by the human ability to seek and find the balm of nature in the most unlikely of places. I believe wilderness and adventure are natural longings and that satisfying these urges is perhaps less about far flung travel and more about altering our perception and awakening to our surroundings, however ugly or distraught they may be.

Gowanus Wild has been made into a book, which can be ordered here.

Visit artist's site: miskadraskoczy.com

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Alexandra Murphy

Alexandra Murphy

At the Living With Animals conference in March, Alexandra Murphy’s talk “Specere and the Photograph: Co-Existing in Perpetual States of Preservation” was right before mine. As a person who’s incredibly uncomfortable speaking publicly, I so appreciated getting to look at and hear about Alex’s lovely and beautiful salt print photographs before having to get up before an audience and present my work. Of her art practice, Alex writes that she is “fascinated by the relationship between the photograph and the taxidermy specimen in terms of representations of death, permanence, display and preservation.” I am always drawn to photographic projects that focus on taxidermy and natural history museums, especially when the artist acknowledges that wonderful collision of the photograph, the taxidermy mount, and the viewer – all extensions of, respectively, life, the animal, and the human being, impermanent yet frozen in time. There’s something romantic about Alex’s Specere photos as well. Their process makes them feel wonderfully aged, as their pink hue makes them feel like special, unique objects to be adored.

From the artist’s statement: “Specere II: Fixing the Shadows” (2015-2016) was documented at the Natural History Museum in London. A recipient of a Royal Photographic Society funding award in 2015, the project explores the preservative relationship between the photograph and the taxidermy specimen through the salt print process. This was one of photography’s earliest processes, a process that William Henry Fox Talbot in 1839 described as, ‘the art of fixing a shadow’. Fraught with its own fragility and susceptible to aberrations, the salt print process presents an alternate possibility in my exploration of the relationship between museum specimen and photograph. Both the photograph and the taxidermy specimen are organic in nature, and so are temporal. They are also both the results of preservation techniques, in an attempt to fix and capture nature’s transience – acts of defiance against ‘flat death’ (Barthes). The display case is an important compositional factor in each of these photographs – we cannot look at the specimen without first having to visually negotiate past its recognisable glass construct. The two-dimensional flatness of the photograph exaggerates this display frame as a noticeable visual barrier – it always reminds us what it is we are looking at.

Visit artist's site: acm-photo.com

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Lee Deigaard

Lee Deigaard

Several years ago, when I was first starting to photograph in natural history museums, I was experimenting with abstracting taxidermy animals and focusing on the fields of color behind them in their display cases. It was within a year that I stumbled upon Grounded by Helen Sear – and promptly quit my project because I was so blown away by the pictures she had made in a similar vein. Grounded has always stuck with me, and I thought of it instantly when I saw some prints of new-to-me work by Lee Deigaard at the Living With Animals conference. I had featured Lee’s work a few years ago, and I was so excited when I learned she’d be at the conference. I love the photographs in her series Equuleus (“part of a multi-media long-term project, In Your Dreams [Horses], exploring horse personality and individuality, sensory processing and proprioception, concepts of invitation, initiation, and trespass, and shared thresholds of experience between horse and human”) for the same reasons I am drawn to Sear’s work – the playful concept; the surreal, otherworldly quality – but also for its thoughtful, poetic statement. Boundaries, the horizon, the symbolism of the horse’s back – knowing the meaning of these images to the artist makes me wholly appreciate this project.

From the artist’s statement:
Boundaries – between earth and sky, between species, between bodies in space also exist between incursion and permission, coercion and compliance, between inside and out. Boundaries define concepts of self and other and are often flexible and permeable.
The horizon – that place of possibility – when pursued as a destination always eludes us.
Horses, as they did throughout human history from the third millennium B.C. took us there. The horse’s back in these photographs embodies the horizon; his back carries his rider farther than the rider could walk alone.
Where bodies are in space, within the landscape, can define the parameters of a relationship from formal to intimate. To cross another’s boundaries i.e. to touch them, carries a charge – whether of transgression or connection depends on the context.
Human exploration, whether global or granular, invokes conquest.
The body is a landscape. One body in connection with another body is a relationship.
Human-equine relationships derive from ingrained predator-prey relationships, (im)balances of power (physical and otherwise), and concepts of dependence and interdependence, compliance and autonomy. These are foundational aspects to almost any interpersonal relationship. Knowing a horse is like being in any partnership. Touch, proximity, familiarity, request, response mediate how we interact in close quarters. Acts of grooming and riding are by definition intimate; they involve close contact, communicative touch (and being touched), and mutual cooperation.
Horses naturally attune themselves – to our heartbeats, rates of breathing, the movements of our pupils – they are sensitive to pheromones. The know the subtle language of the body. It is difficult to hide your true self from a horse. He reads you, perhaps better than you do yourself.
A horse – no matter how big or brave – thinks and reacts like a prey animal. He scans the horizon and takes the long view: the movements of sun and stars, the change of seasons, the grass as it grows. He can see very nearly in the round. He is alert to the landscape, his pupils, rectangular and horizontal, are geared towards the horizon and the approach of any distant predator. The feeling of close connection in an intimate relationship also carries a sense of deep strangeness and far places. To know and be known is a wide open frontier.

Visit artist's site: leedeigaard.com

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Carole Baker

Carole Baker

Before the Living With Animals conference, I tried to look up each speaker to get an idea of their work. There were some folks I couldn’t find online, and so some talks I went into with only a basic idea of what to expect. In the case of Carole Baker and her talk “Where is Home? The Unpredictability of Life as a Cypriot Stray Dog,” I’m glad I got to see the work for the first time and learn about it straight from the artist all at once. Carole’s photographs at dog rescue centers across Cyprus are so rich, deep, and moving, and the content hit close to home as I have also used photography to explore issues of domestic animal overpopulation. Recently, Carole has begun making work at horse rescue centers in Egypt. I think both sets of pictures create a beautiful, heartbreaking testament to a difficult truth of our times.

From the artist’s statement: I have been making photographic work in Cyprus for almost two years in response to the comparatively large numbers of stray dogs on the island, to the island-wide policy to capture, incarcerate, and kill after 15 days, and to the complex system of sanctuaries which rescue and re-home. Recently I have begun working with sick and rehabilitating horses in a rescue in Egypt. My work uses a diverse selection of visual and textual representations, including my own photographic enquiry, in dialectical opposition, to expose and challenge the inherent ideologies and philosophical positions underpinning the social practices governing non-human animals. Informed by Feminism and Postcolonialism, the work engages with notions of power and powerlessness, otherness, hybridity and marginalisation, echoing the instability and conflict evident in Middle Eastern politics.

Using a polyvocal approach, I provide an imaginative space where notions of power and coercion, identity and representation can emerge and be subject to scrutiny. This approach promotes a re-evaluation of our understanding of, and hence relationship with, non-human animals, and I explore Weil’s suggestion that, “[t]o be dumb… is not to be lacking in language, but to have an alternate means of apprehending the other and the world.” (Weil 2012)

The work is a ‘Critical Realist’ method of committed investigative practice, involving rigorous research that seeks to uncover and understand a pre-existing social reality. The photographs themselves cannot reveal the history of dogs in Cyprus or horses in Egypt, nor their socio-political imperatives, but they can show the consequences of policies and practices and suggest alternative perspectives. This work then seeks to navigate the complex territory between representation and the ‘reality’ it transforms, and to examine whether this can become a catalyst for social activism. Activists seek to illuminate that invisible picture, to amplify that unheard voice, to reveal that untold story; they are “… always seeking some evidence necessary to maintain, retain, or restore liberty for someone somewhere…” (Bogre 2012)

Visit artist's site: plymouth.ac.uk/staff/carole-baker

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Maria Lux

Maria Lux

Ask anyone who attended the Seeing With Animals portion of the Living With Animals conference in March, and they’ll likely tell you the most stand-out talk was Maria Lux’s “Eat, Drink, and Be Merry: Unforeseen Consequences of Co-existence with Vultures, Fruit Bats, and Viruses.” This project and all its components are so intentional, well researched and executed, fascinating conceptually, and mind-blowing visually. The work speaks of wealth, feasting, and prosperity alongside the inevitability of death, while featuring the intertwining stories of vultures, fruit bats and viruses. I learned so much during this 15-minute presentation, and I’m so glad to know about Maria’s vast range of incredible artwork. Be sure to check out her website for much more.

From the artist’s statement: I make installation-based works that center on the way animals are used to generate human knowledge and understanding. As both familiar and alien, animals often come to serve as the boundary against which humans create our own sense of identity – efforts which play out through both historical and urgently current concerns. Histories and philosophies of science, the optimism and fantasy that accompanies empirical study, animals at the borders of the human and the machine, technologies of domestication, and invasive species are recurring topics in my practice. I work across disciplines, building projects around existing research and stories from fields such as evolutionary biology, medicine, agriculture, history, literature, film, and anthropology. Conveying this variety of information entails using a variety of materials and processes. My work spans from traditional drawings and paintings, dioramas, and museum-style display cases, to large-scale carving, casting, or sewing. The installations sometimes leverage the conventions of natural history or science museums, and regularly use found and modified objects, quoted articles and texts, or graphs and charts. I place myself within a context of both art-worlds and scholarly discussions, and I see my work as part of a larger dialogue about the unique qualities of both animals and art-making that can lead us to new ways to think and new ways of knowing.

Visit artist's site: marialux.net

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Lisa Strömbeck

Lisa Strömbeck

Several years ago, I saw the work Uniform by Lisa Strömbeck on Feature Shoot. The photos are funny – they show dogs, cats, and rabbits up close in the laps of people donned in fur of the same color and texture, the humans and non-humans morphing into one mass with eyes, tongues, and fleshy hands. I made a note of the series and meant to feature it someday, but hadn’t gotten to it yet. At the Living With Animals conference in March, I was fortunate enough to see a wonderful presentation by and meet Lisa, and get to know another project of hers, In Bed. Depicting dogs and humans together in the intimate space of the bed, the images embody the comfort and security of being cuddled close to the body of a living, breathing creature, one that will never criticize or judge or abandon. There’s something about that contact with another mammal, in a place meant for rest and often closeness with another, that provides such calm and security.

From the artist’s statement: In 2009, Meg Daley Olmert published the book “Made for Each Other – the Biology of the Human-Animal Bond,” a book that described in depth the bond between man and animal. With the aid of the latest research findings within the fields of neuroscience, zoology and anthropology, she describes, among other things, the neuro-chemical processes that reinforce the bond between man and animal. She explains, for example, that when we pet our dog, the production of the hormone oxytocin increases in a manner identical to when a mother holds her baby. Furthermore, body contact between humans and other mammals also accelerates the healing of wounds, stabilizes the blood pressure, lowers the level of stress hormones and alleviates both physical and mental pain.

There are several reasons why I have chosen to describe the physical contact between animal and man, specifically while in bed. Rest as a phenomenon has been of special interest to me for many years. It can be hard to achieve and a resting animal or human is quite beautiful, so enveloped in themselves as they sleep. The bed is also the calmest place in a home, as well as the most intimate, and hence, being granted access to photograph there has been interesting for me.

Visit artist's site: lisastrombeck.com

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David Kressler

David Kressler

In a “Basic Photography” class my freshman year of college, I was given the assignment “types.” I photographed the back of the heads of all the important people in my life. I loved the assignment, my photos, and getting to see the all my peers’ photos in critique. Ever since, I’ve been drawn to images of types of things, visual catalogs of sights we see repeatedly in the world around us. Because David Kressler’s series Viewpoint also involves nature and how we experience it in a curated way, I of course fell in love with the photographs as soon as I saw them. I love the project’s sense of humor. The pictures ask “This is what you would see if you took that highway exit for the ‘scenic overlook’; is it as beautiful and picturesque as you’d hoped?”

From the artist’s statement: I have always been intrigued by the markers that read “viewpoint” and “scenic overlook” that I see when driving on the highway and what these types of places might impart. A typical arrangement: one first finds a parking lot, a map, and then a path to follow, leading to a clearing, and finally to a place to stand. One hopes to find a stunning vista, a connection to history and place. A life-size diorama of an ideal geography. However, just as often, there is uncertainty. Something missed. A landscape with suggested significance and yet it’s like a stage set, whose performance has yet to happen, or already has.

Who chooses these prescribed points of view? How and why are they chosen? These choices are somewhat analogous to how a photographer decides what to include and exclude in a photograph. Is the viewpoint a narrative or a fact?

I began photographing viewpoints to try and understand and make sense of them. To study the customs, to step back and see the entire structure. As I did, I increasingly became aware of the other side. The subject of the viewpoint. I wanted to go to the other side, the “wrong” side. To be outside the system. To enter the view. In many cases, it’s not possible as a human with your feet on the ground to move into the scene. An invisible wall suggests you keep out. Maybe a railing stands in the way, or a chasm. But as I was able, I did, and I looked back. The observed looking back at the observer as it were. Maybe this desire came from a longing as a photographer to not just be an observer but to be a participant, looking to find something greater in meaning, than even the hopes of a viewpoint.

Visit artist's site: davidkressler.com

Found via: Lenscratch

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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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