English’s Alaimo Researches Art, Animals

Dr. Stacy Alaimo

Art and Americans’ affection for animals will be the focus of English Professor Dr. Stacy Alaimo’s presentation at Centenary College in Shreveport, La., later this month.

Alaimo will lecture at the Meadows Museum on Oct. 23-24 in a presentation titled “What’s Love Got to Do with it?” which will review selected pieces from Bethany Krull’s series of “Dominance, Affection, and Ethical Provocation.”

Krull’s work, Alaimo said, addresses the issue of sustainability and is inspired by her exploration of the intricacies and complexities of the relationship between the human species and the natural world. Her argument in this series is “how we overly tame animals and dominate them,” she said.

“Even though we love them and think we are helping them we are actually taming them and dominating them, taking them out of the natural habitat and sticking them on display to be seen as art,” Alaimo said. “[Krull’s] art represents this in great detail.”

Since the topic of animals in art is growing in popularity, Alaimo said the head of the Meadows Museum has asked her to speak about some of the Krull’s artwork. She will be giving a broader context of animal art in general, of animals used in art, and animals that are in art. She will also be discussing the possibility of artists creating art for animals or even the possibility of animals creating art themselves. Alaimo said she will reference Lynne Hull, an environmental artist who focuses on trans-species art and creates artwork for raptors.

Hull’s “Raptor Roosts,” Alaimo said, are bold sculptural bird nesting sites that are displayed on the flat plains of Utah and Wyoming, where there are insufficient numbers of natural trees. Hull created habitats for birds from recycled telephone poles, paint, and wooden cross-beams or branches attached with metal hardware. The cross-beams provide a safe and secure place for birds to build their nest. Alaimo said Hull has commented that it is the appreciation of the raptors that is important, not that of humans. On the other hand, there is the story of the blue bower bird, and how the male builds his nest with the color blue in order to attract a female companion. This is a form of seeing animals creating art, Alaimo said.

”When we think of animals in art, I think it’s important not to just think about how we have looked at them in art, but how they might find something appealing or not appealing,” Alaimo said.

”A lot of time in western culture we have this cult of ‘loving animals,’ having a great deal of affection towards certain animals, but at the same time we kill a vast number of animals and use them for experiments and other things. Krull is playing with this paradox and throwing it out to the public. What does it mean that we find these things to be cute or that we love them, that we have this sense of affection towards, and yet mainly how we treat animals is by completely dominating them?“

Alaimo said Krull’s work raises ethical issues. The artist has a piece which focuses on a baby monkey wearing a preemie diaper. The baby monkey is hanging on an invisible crucifix and Alaimo said Krull plays with the idea of “our ethical responsibility” towards animals. The baby monkey is made out of porcelain and Krull has removed any trace of fur, making it look almost human. Krull then places this artwork at eye level in order to try to make people think about the ethics of what we do to animals, all the while they stare into the eyes of the baby monkey, Alaimo said.

Although Alaimo agrees with Krull’s argument, she will also critique the work. As she explains Krull’s statement of how the relationship between humans and animals is that of dominance, and how animals have no choice or agency, Alaimo will also express her opinion of how this statement does not agree with domestic animals, most specifically towards dogs. Her argument is based on anthropology and how theorist Donna Haraway has said that dogs and humans co-evolve. “What we are as human is something dogs help create and what is dogs is created by humans as well,” Alaimo said. Alaimo will also look at how in evolution there were different groups of humans, and those with dogs survived. Humans and dogs are not totally separate identities but deeply inter-related — it is not about dominating them but how both interact with.

“In fact if you are a good pet owner, your pet completely bosses you around,” she said.

The issue of humans and animal interaction is a focal point of Alaimo’s latest work, Sea Creatures and the Limits of Animal Studies: Science, Aesthetics, Ethics. Her book will look at how humans  interaction with deep-sea creatures – a topic few have addressed.

“I wanted to know what ethical and philosophical position can one have, for instance, on a jelly fish. A lot of animals studies work emphasizes that humans and animals are not so far apart, so we should be more ethical towards the animals,” she said.  “I want to look at how we think about animals that don’t seem like animals.”

Given recent marine census work that has revealed new information about deep-sea creatures, Alaimo wants to investigate what it means for these creatures to somehow be brought to the public as art and whether or not it will encourage people to care about deep-sea conservation. At the same time these creatures are being discovered, they are being endangered. Alaimo hopes the urgency of conserving what has existed for so long will be clear in her work.

[Written by Karla Cano, College of Liberal Arts]

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