Defining Animals and Art with Jessica Ullrich – ASI’s Defining Human-Animal Studies 11

Defining Animals and Art with Jessica Ullrich – ASI’s Defining Human-Animal Studies 11

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[Music] My name is Jessica Ullrich. I’m an art
historian and currently visiting professor for athletics and art
education at the Academy of Fine Arts in Muenster and I will talk about
animals and art. The history of human animal relations is reflected in artwork
and animals belong to the oldest subject- matters of art. The art critic John
Berger not only claims that animals constituted the first motives and
metaphors. but also argued that animal blood was the first pain. So it could be
said that animals are also the first material for art making. It has to be
underlined that animals are indeed in manifold ways the foundation of art and
of culture, and must have always inspired artists and their creative productions.
And art has raised awareness for the fact that human beings almost always
perceive animals through their representations, though the animals are
always somehow mediated and framed. And they mostly in art appears as muse,
as motive, as metaphor, as material, as model, as medium also. And the animal
tends to disappear behind its symbolical or metaphoric meaning and rarely is
there real concern for the concrete individual. Animals have been and still
are consumed as exhibition pieces, though they are manipulated as objects of study
or for the pure spectacle. They’re rendered as material or they are
ridiculed and anthropomorphised in art. But since the turn of the millennium we
are witnessing an animal turn in contemporary art. And to set such as this
is not merely to stage that we encounter an increasing number of animals
individual arts, which is also true, but that the attitudes attitude by which
artists approach animals has changed. So what animals have originally been
used primarily for reflecting on the human, some contemporary art is marked
more strongly by real interest in the concrete individual. And specific animal
human relations may be influenced by academic animal studies and by new
insights in cognition studies, psychology paired with a general strengthening of
ideas of animal rights animal, protection movements, as well as a growing
ecological awareness. Artists increasingly perceived animals as
different yet equal. And also nowadays the exploitation of animals and art is
more and more criticized from within the art community. So today we see
the emerge of art by animals, art for animals, and art with animals. So inter-
species art. Interspecies art I think is a symptom of the change animal-
involving art has undergone since the beginning of the 21st century. I consider
interspecies art as art in which a human artist interacts with a nonhuman animal,
in which a fun, in which a fundamental critique of anthropocentrism is at
minimum implicit. in its ideal form interspecies art is biological, it is
respectful, and it attributes a value of its own to the creativity of the
nonhuman participant. In this respect interspecies art can contribute maybe to
a further fracturing of the boundary between humans and and other animals
since it questions the notion that phenomena like such as aesthetic
expression,aesthetic sensibility, or artistic agency are solely human
capacity. Because when you look at art history it becomes very clear that the
concept of art is always constituted by discursive negotiation processes that
are grounded in the notion of human exceptionalism.
So if art is considered to be an attribute of the human being alone, all
creative expression of any other species are excluded from
the sphere of art and every possibility of aesthetic practices in non-human
animals have to be denied. But just recently scholars of evolutionary
aesthetics assume that human art emerged from animal activities, that it’s not so
different maybe. Music is thought to have developed from birdsong,
architecture from animal dwellings, and dance from courtship display. So an
extension in my view of the subject matter of art history that includes
animal productions would mean that of course our customary aesthetic
categories, value systems, and beliefs concerning art artistry and authorship
have to be abandoned, but this is not a bad thing. This could open up possibilities
for relational art in which the encounter of and exchange between
individuals of different species could be recognized as having creative value
and hence could call for a new understanding of human animal relations. [Music]

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