Introduction: Some Donkeys, a Stuffed Monkey, and the Animal Factishe
See Daniel Grojnowski, “L’ane qui peint avec sa queue: Boronali au Salon des indépendants, 1910,” Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales 88 (1991): 41–47.
George Baker, Artwork Caught by the Tail: Francis Picabia and Dada in Paris (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2010).
Interestingly, Baker is clear that Picabia’s other impetus for Nature mortes was none other than the most famous readymade: Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, 1917.
See Claudio Carere and Dario Maestripieri, Animal Personalities: Behavior, Physiology, and Evolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013).
Truth be told, we are still in the early stages of deep ethological knowledge.
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981), 71. For a fuller theorization of the animal readymade, see my dissertation chapter “Marcel Broodthaers and the Animal Readymade” in “Posthumanist Animals in Art: France and Belgium 1972–87,” PhD diss., City University of New York, 2017, 158–211.
See the special issue “Surrealism, Ethnography, and the Animal-Human” edited by Katherine Conely, Symposium 67, no. 1 (2013).
For a canonical exploration of this impulse, see Hal Foster, The Return of the Real: The Avant-Garde at the End of the Century (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1996).
Allan Kaprow, “The Legacy of Jackson Pollock,” in Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life, ed. Jeff Kelley (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 9.
Anna-Sophie Springer and Etienne Turpin, “Compensatory Postures: On Natural History, Necroaesthetics, and Humiliation,” in Theater, Garden, Bestiary: A Materialist History of Exhibitions, ed. Tristan Garcia and Vincent Normand, 161–72 (Berlin: ECAL/University of Art and Design Lausanne and Sternberg Press, 2019).
Carolee Schneemann’s Meat Joy (1964) and the aforementioned ritualistic performances of the Vienna Aktionists come to mind—though note the paleo-Dionysian lack of awareness or even disingenuousness of using bodies likely procured from very modern industrial foodways.
It is possible that the experience was benign, and as the organizers were quick to point out, that he is acclimated to performing and has a pretty good life. This sentiment commits two mutually reinforcing faults: that the donkey is a natural-born performer and that his use is legitimized by a fallacy of relative privation, which is often nothing more than argumentative blackmail, i.e., that he has it better than most animals.
Thanks to Sean Kelly Gallery and Marina Abramovic’s studio for the partial viewing copy.
Abramovic often cites her 1974 performance Rhythm O as a frightening experience in which she was reduced to a pure object manipulable by the audience. Carol J. Adams, a prominent ecofeminist and animal rights scholar, would point out that Abramovic’s self-objectification, which explicitly absolved the public from any wrongdoing during the performance, finds an uncanny echo in the ways animals and women are advertised to appear as sanctioning their own carnal capture, consumption, and exploitation.
This was one of the driving questions for Jacques Derrida in his late work on animals.
Frans De Waal, Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves (New York: W. W. Norton, 2019), 58–59.
Maximilian Haas, “Balthazar,” Antennae, no. 31 (2015): 63.
See Michela Minero, Emanuela Dalla Costa, Francesca Dai, Leigh Anne Margaret Murray, Elisabetta Canali, and Francoise Wemelsfelder, “Use of Qualitative Behaviour Assessment as an Indicator of Welfare in Donkeys,” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 174 (2016): 147–53.
Interview with David Weber-Krebs, September 24, 2019.
In this regard, see the wonderfully counterspectacle documentary film about a donkey sanctuary, Do Donkeys Act? (2018), directed by Ashley Sabin and David Redmon.
Interview with David Weber-Krebs, September 24, 2019.
Isabelle Stengers, Cosmopolitics 1 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2018), 30.
See Giorgio Agamben, The Open: Man and Animal, trans. Kevin Attell (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2004).
Vinciane Despret, What Would Animals Say If We Asked the Right Questions?, trans. Brett Buchanana (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016), 7.
A few years ago, when I pitched my now completed dissertation on a hybrid topic in contemporary art and human–animal studies, there was clear opposition to “the animal” as being a proper theme in art history.
Ethology and Art: Modernist Behaviorists and Avant-Garde Field Aesthetics
Ethology was coined in 1902 by William Morton Wheeler, a student of Charles Otis Whitman whose work with pigeons proved to be foundational for animal behavior studies in the United States. Richard W. Burkhardt Jr., Patterns of Behavior: Konrad Lorenz, Niko Tinbergen, and the Founding of Ethology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 3.
Burkhardt. Niko Tinbergen, who, along with Konrad Lorenz, shaped the disciplinary parameters of modern ethology in the twentieth century, is the one who described his discipline as a “ragbag.” Burkhardt, 5. For a more general introduction to the history of ethology, see Margo DeMello, Animals and Society: An Introduction to Human–Animal Studies (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), 349–76. See also Colin Allen and Marc Bekoff, Species of Mind: The Philosophy and Biology of Cognitive Ethology (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2000), 21–37.
Donna Jeanne Haraway, Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science (London: Routledge, 2015), 140.
Burkhardt, Patterns of Behavior, 7.
See Haraway, Primate Visions, 231–43.
These “learned helplessness techniques” were also first developed at the University of Wisconsin in 1977. They are most synonymous today with the American psychologist Martin Seligman, who, much to his chagrin, inspired two psychologists contracted by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to use these techniques on humans for its torture program. See the film The Report (2019), directed by Scott Z. Burns, for a compelling fictionalized account.
Haraway, Primate Visions.
See Branden W. Joseph, Random Order: Robert Rauschenberg and the Neo-Avant-Garde (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2007), 25–72.
Burkhardt, Patterns of Behavior, 22–23.
Brian Massumi, What Animals Teach Us about Politics (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2014), 15–17. For a more developed analysis of this episode, see his “The Supernormal Animal” in The Nonhuman Turn, ed. Richard Grusin, 1–17 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015).
With “posthumanities,” I allude both to Cary Wolfe’s influential series at the University of Minnesota Press and to any interdisciplinary space that challenges dogmatic concepts of the human in humanist history.
Tinbergen to R. W. Burkhardt, May 20, 1979. Cited in Burkhardt, Patterns of Behavior, 410.
Laurent Dubreuil, The Intellective Space: Thinking beyond Cognition (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015), 19.
Allen and Bekoff, Species of Mind, 13.
See Dubreuil, Intellective Space.
Allen and Bekoff, Species of Mind, x.
Morgan to Howard, May 29, 1912. Cited in Burkhardt, Patterns of Behavior, 95. It turns out that birds do phrase; see Eva Meijer, When Animals Speak: Toward an Interspecies Democracy (New York: New York University Press, 2019), 54–55.
Jacques Derrida, The Animal That Therefore I Am, trans. Marie-Louise Mallet (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008), 7.
Allen and Bekoff, Species of Mind, 25.
For a by no means exhaustive treatment of this important exhibition, see my “Animal Art 87 and the Split Origins of Bioart” in The Routledge Companion to Biology in Art and Architecture, ed. Charissa N. Terranova and Meredith Tromble, 317–35 (New York: Routledge, 2016).
See Élisabeth de Fontenay, “The Pathetic Pranks of Bio-Art,” in Without Offending Humans, 111–25 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012).
Step 1: Deconditioning Animality (Still Humanist in Certain Regards)
Jacques Prévert and Ylla, Des Bêtes . . . (Paris: Gallimard, 1950). (Ylla was born Camilla Koffler.) Ylla also published Animal Language (1938) and Animals (1950) with the evolutionary biologist Julian Huxley.
Despret is alluding to Donna Haraway in this passage. Despret, What Would Animals Say?, 161.
See Julia Bryan-Wilson, “Simone Forti Goes to the Zoo*,” October 152, no. 1 (2015): 26–52; Giovanni Lista, “Les animaux imaginaires de Pino Pascali,” Ligeia, no. 1 (2016): 145–48.
Jonathan Burt’s critical reading of Berger’s essay accounts for the installments composing the final essay: “The first appearance of ‘Why look at animals?’ was as three separate articles published in New Society in March and April 1977.” Burt, “John Berger’s ‘Why Look at Animals?’: A Close Reading,” Worldviews 9, no. 2 (2005): 203–18.
Steps to an Ecology of Mind is a collection of Bateson’s writings. The essay in question, “A Theory of Play and Fantasy,” dates back to 1955.
Massumi, What Animals Teach Us.
Massumi, 13. Massumi is alluding to the work of the French philosopher Raymond Ruyer from the 1950s.
Jason Hribal, Fear of the Animal Planet: The Hidden History of Animal Resistance (Edinburgh: AK, 2011).
Martin Roth, In the fall of 2010 I raised ducklings in my art studio. i later released the ducklings into the wild (2010). There is a short video of the ducklings online: Martin Roth, “ducklings new movie,” YouTube video, 4:07, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gTHR6zKlT7E.
In conversations I had with the artist about the making of this work, Roth never disclosed where the mice came from, and this remained shrouded in necessary secrecy. The installation was included in an exhibition I curated at Vohn Gallery in New York City titled “autoimmune,” which ran from October 22 to November 28, 2014.
For a brief installation video of one of the mice playing with the wheel, see Martin Roth, “swan lake clip,” YouTube video, 0:21, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6eB_2t2v6rM.
That is, should such an essentialist categorical entity as “mice” exist, something the becoming-animal of this work goes to destabilize.
The two mice lived for only another half year or so after the installation. One of the realities of laboratory existence is a compromised immune system. Sterile laboratory ecologies do not allow for microbiotic exposures and entanglements we now know are crucial for animal life, further putting a nail in the coffin of behavioral reductionism. Scientists are now debating the controlled introduction of “dirty” mice to facilitate healthier immune systems in their test subjects. See Cassandra Willyard, “Send in the Germs: Lab Mice Are Usually Kept Squeaky Clean, but Some Immunologists Think a Dose of Dirt Could Make Them More Useful for Science,” Nature 556, no. 7699 (2018): 16–18.
See N. Sato, Ling Tan, Kazushi Tate, and Maya Okada, “Rats Demonstrate Helping Behavior toward a Soaked Conspecific,” Animal Cognition 18, no. 5 (2015): 1039–47; Hiroshi Ueno, Shunsuke Suemitsu, Shinji Murakami, Naoya Kitamura, Kenta Wani, Yosuke Matsumoto, Motoi Okamoto, and Takeshi Ishihara, “Helping-Like Behaviour in Mice towards Conspecifics Constrained inside Tubes,” Scientific Reports 9, no. 1 (2019): 5817.
See Johanna H. Meijer and Yuri Robbers, “Wheel Running in the Wild,” Proceedings of the Royal Society, Series B: Biological Sciences 281, no. 1786 (2014): 1–5.
Kurant’s installation was shown at Frieze Projects in London in 2008.
See Tobias Menely, The Animal Claim: Sensibility and the Creaturely Voice (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015).
Locke met Prince Nassau’s parrot. Agamben, The Open, 24.
Great Silence, 8:56.
Great Silence, 14:14.
If one is feeling comparative, Parrots can reach the level of speech proficiency of a young human child. See Irene M. Pepperberg, “Cognitive and Communicative Abilities of Grey Parrots,” Current Directions in Psychological Science 11, no. 3 (2002): 83–87.
For a readable and personal account of their collaborative research and Alex’s feats of cognition, see Irene M. Pepperberg, Alex and Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence—and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process (New York: Harper, 2009).
Great Silence, 16:20. Although it is true that these were Alex’s last words to Pepperberg, this was part of their nightly parting ritual. Pepperberg, Alex and Me, 207.
Great Silence, 6:18.
Great Silence, 8:00.
Great Silence, 10:06.
Again, this grafts onto Derrida’s deconstruction of expressive versus indicative signs. See also Dubreuil’s insight that neuroscience verifies différance in thought. Dubreuil, Intellective Space, 7.
Georges Bataille, Vision of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927–1939 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), 31.
This dislodging of the humanist tautology language = speech = mind would not necessarily entail a leveling. Human languages could still be understood as the most abstract and sophisticated, even if it must be admitted that this pride of place hinges on our own human understanding of “sophistication” as verified by our unmatched complexity and quantity of neuronal connections in the animal kingdom. This is a circular structure that is difficult to ignore or downplay and remains no less self-installed. For a fascinating analysis of the nonhuman voice, especially cetacean voices, see Lynn Turner, “Voice,” in The Edinburgh Companion to Animal Studies, ed. Lynn Turner, Undine Sellbach, and Ron Broglio, 518–32 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018). For a similarly compelling analysis featuring a consideration of whale and parrot voices, see Dominic Pettman, Sonic Intimacy: Voice, Species, Technics (or, How to Listen to the World) (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2017), 51–63.
For an approach to these questions in the tradition of analytic philosophy, see José Luis Bermúdez, Thinking without Words (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).
Dubreuil, Intellective Space.
See Jacques Derrida, “Des Tours de Babel,” in Acts of Religion, 104–33 (New York: Routledge, 2002).
For the short story in question, see Ted Chiang, “Story of Your Life,” in Story of Your Life and Others, 91–146 (New York: Vintage Books, 2016).
Derrida, Animal That Therefore I Am, 92.
John Durham Peters, The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), 69.
John Cunningham Lilly, Man and Dolphin (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1961), 11.
Peters, Marvelous Clouds, 75.
D. Graham Burnett, The Sounding of the Whale: Science and Cetaceans in the Twentieth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), 612.
Burnett, 582. The Arecibo Observatory was built from 1960 to 1963.
Beginning in 1951, the Hayes attempted to teach chimpanzee Vicki how to speak, by and large unsuccessfully. Herbert Terrence’s work with chimpanzee Nim in the 1970s, by which Terrence concluded apes do not have grammar or concepts, in opposition to Beatrix and Allen Gardner’s work with chimpanzee Washoe, had perhaps the most negative impact on ape language research. Dubreuil Laurent and Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, Dialogues on the Human Ape (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2019), 208–9, 146–47.
Burnett, Sounding of the Whale, 617–19. Lilly began his career in military bioscience, which served instrumentalizing forms of “deconditioning” of the Cold War brainwashing kind, including the interrogative use of LSD. He was the inventor of the deprivation tank and sensory deprivation techniques that stemmed directly from his invasive brain experiments and cortical mapping on macaques and dolphins. Lilly was also involved in the CIA “artichoke” project, which would become the MKUltra project on which Naomi Klein reports in her 2007 book Shock Doctrine. This all demonstrates the much darker techniques opened up by ethological research in the twentieth century. See Burnett, 578–79.
See Burnett, 620.
Bateson hired Howe, who would be central in Lilly’s “chronic contact” experiments in 1964 and 1965, which included sexual contact. See Burnett, 612–17.
Quoted in Burnett, 591.
Peters, Marvelous Clouds, 69. I am greatly indebted to this book, especially its second chapter, and cannot recommend it enough as a multidisciplinary example of the type of critical ethological aesthetics I am advocating.
Step 2: Nonhuman Worlds (Entering Posthumanism)
Peter Godfrey-Smith, Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2017), 10.
The notion that there might be different “flavors” of consciousness I borrow from Dubreuil and Savage-Rumbaugh. See Laurent and Savage-Rumbaugh, Dialogues on the Human Ape, 87–115.
Melody Jue, “Vampire Squid Media,” Grey Room 57 (2014): 92.
Stacy Alaimo, “Unmoor,” in Veer Ecology: A Companion for Environmental Thinking, ed. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Lowell Duckert (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017), 409.
Vilém Flusser and Louis Bec, Vampyroteuthis Infernalis (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012), 16.
Illuminatingly, as Agamben notes, “primate” was originally called “anthropomorphia.” Agamben, The Open, 24.
Thanks to Marine Pariente and Marian Goodman Gallery for arranging my screening of Untitled (Human Mask).
The sex of the macaque is unclear. I will use “she” for the sake of convenience. The video can be found online: Doug Meet, “Fukuchan Monkey Restaurant,” YouTube video, 4:01, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zS7QkjIKOxk.
For an example of this in relation to Huyghe’s Untitled (Human Mask), see Jennifer Higgie, “One Take: Human Mask,” Frieze, no. 168 (2015): 88–91.
See Holly Dugan and Scott Maisano, “Ape,” in Cohen and Duckert, Veer Ecology, 355–76.
See Neel Ahuja, Bioinsecurities: Disease Interventions, Empire, and the Government of Species (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2016), 101–31.
Burnett, Sounding of the Whale, 565–66.
Haraway, Primate Visions, 245.
Objectivity is never so simple. For a brilliant history and understanding of objectivity as nonstandardizable, see Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, Objectivity (New York: Zone Books, 2018).
When taking into consideration the great variety of animal life, this Venn diagram thought experiment would have to perform some serious visual gymnastics of multiplying overlapping and nonoverlapping centers. The anthro is implicated and grounded in proliferating strata of unwieldy centrisms, including apecentrism, primatocentrism, mammalocentrism, and ultimately theriocentrism. Tristan Garcia holds a similar hypothetical visualization of multiplying identifications and nonidentifications through his use of “calques,” or overhead transparency sheets, which can be superimposed and sequenced on a light projector. See Garcia, Nous (Paris: Bernard Grasset, 2018).
For a helpful overview of the debate dealing with both Heidegger and Agamben, see Matthew Calarco, Zoographies: The Question of the Animal from Heidegger to Derrida (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008).
Higgie, “One Take: Human Mask.”
For a sympathetic overview of nonhuman languages, see Nathan H. Lents, Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018), 272–312.
Dubreuil, Intellective Space, 3.
Laurent and Savage-Rumbaugh, Dialogues on the Human Ape, 32.
Laurent and Savage-Rumbaugh, 23, my emphasis.
Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Cannibal Metaphysics, trans. Peter Skafish (Minneapolis, Minn.: Univocal, 2017), 69.
Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, trans. Ray Brassier (New York: Continuum, 2008).
Though I stop short of saying that nonanimal nonhumans also correlate, as Graham Harman does in his often-repeated example of fire correlating with cotton in the sense that they never touch—perhaps it does, but only for a third-party conscious creature who can witness this relation.
See Cary Wolfe, “Of Ecology, Immunity, and Islands,” in Posthumous Life: Theorizing beyond the Posthuman, ed. Jami Weinstein and Claire Colebrook, 137–52 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017).
Bertrand Dommergue, “Human mask ou le dernier singe: à propos d’une vidéo de Pierre Huyghe,” Ligeia 1, no. 145–48 (2016): 57–60.
Meillassoux, After Finitude, 10.
On the other side of the argument, Slavoj Žižek rejects any speculative horizon beyond the human subject and maintains that thinking ancestrality is necessarily a retroactive illumination. Here, too, ethological speculation would benefit the argument, which remains all-too-humanist. For Žižek, the human is an existential aberration, that impossible object that is also subject—from substance (S) to subject ($). Of course, this impossible gap of thought that emerged from pure unthought substance is unlikely to have arisen ex nihilo, which means either there is a prehuman creaturely subject that made it all possible (which admittedly kicks that can down the road of consciousness and subjectivity) or this theory of subjectivity needs to be scrapped altogether. See Slavoj Žižek, Less than Nothing (London: Verso, 2012), 625–47.
Jean-Luc Nancy, The Inoperative Community, trans. Peter Connor, Lisa Garbus, Michael Holland, and Simona Sawhney (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012), 4.
Karl Steel, How Not to Make a Human: Pets, Feral Children, Worms, Sky Burial, Oysters (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2020), 62.
Ana Teixeira Pinto, “The Post-human Animal: Was Hat Es Mit All Den Tieren in Der Aktuellen Kunst Auf Sich?/What’s Behind the Proliferation of Animlas in Recent Artworks?,” Frieze d/e, no. 19 (2015): 75–76.
Step 3: Zoopolitics (A Political Critical Ethology)
Burnett, Sounding of the Whale, 522–24.
One day I plan on writing a book called Dialectic of Entitlement, collaboratively, I hope, with a critical animal studies scholar outside my home discipline of art history. Consider this footnote a general call for collaboration.
See Lori Marino, “Thinking Chickens: A Review of Cognition, Emotion, and Behavior in the Domestic Chicken,” Animal Cognition 20, no. 2 (2017): 127–47.
For a compelling account of this scandal, framing it agonistically between “interpretation-oriented” approaches more permissive of transgression and “production-oriented” approaches more attuned to ethical wrongs, see Ted Nannicelli, “Animals, Ethics, and the Art World,” October 164 (2018): 113–32.
I am referring to Azoulay’s important The Civil Contract of Photography (New York: Zone Books, 2008).
Jennifer R. Wolch, “Zoöpolis,” in Animal Geographies: Place, Politics, and Identity in the Nature-Culture Borderlands, ed. Jody Emel, 119–38 (London: Verso, 1998).
Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka, Zoopolis: A Political Theory of Animal Rights (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).
For wonderful examples, see the Expanded Environment, a nonprofit organization that advocates for multispecies-minded architecture and design: http://www.animalarchitecture.org/.
See my “Zoonotic Undemocracy,” forthcoming in October.
David Wood, Thinking Plant Animal Human: Encounters with Communities of Difference (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2020), 173.
Meijer, When Animals Speak.
Wood, Thinking Plant Animal Human, 35.
Wood, Thinking Plant Animal Human, 174.
Aníbal Quijano, “Coloniality and Modernity/Rationality,” Cultural Studies 21, no. 2–3 (2007): 168–78.