A catalogue for an exhibition of the same title which took place at the Centre of Polish Sculpture in Orońsko in spring 2014. The show aimed to reflect on the treatment of animals in visual arts, based on both contemporary and historical examples.
The exhibition Ecce Animalia was curated by Dorota Łagodzka and Leszek Golec. The former is an art historian, author of the blog Nie-zła sztuka, concentrating on animals in art. She is preparing her PhD thesis on the same subject matter at the Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Sciences. Leszek Golec is a photographer and a curator at the Orońsko Centre; he is a long-time collaborator of Tatiana Czekalska, with whom he has been creating art projects bordering on activism, largely concerned with animal rights.
The show may be treated as a comment on the increasingly popular offspring of posthumanism – animal studies. It was paired with the Animals and Their People international conference which took place at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw in March 2014. The seminar welcomed several international academics, including Steve Baker, author of the books Artist | Animal and Postmodern Animal.
Orońsko is an hour away drive from Warsaw, which makes it a rather exclusive location – even for Varsovians – but nevertheless worthy of a visit, especially to such a well-investigated and thought-out show. What is most striking upon arrival is that the curators paid a lot of attention to the spatial arrangement of the exhibits - not only because a large part of them were sculptures or installations, but also because Łagodzka and Golec made sure to emphasize the nuances that had surfaced in their investigation of the mutual history of art and animals. Some issues emerging in the display include: the role of animal as co-authors (or possible co-authors) of a work of art, death and killing of animals, their exploitation in everyday life and visual imagery, studies of their characters and physical traits, and emotional relations between humans and animals (mainly domesticated ones).
In his comment on the exhibition, Steve Baker shares his observation that the three fundamental perspectives helpful in approaching this show as identified by Łagodzka in her essay for the catalogue
... include historical shifts in attitudes and the representation of animals in human culture, the recent history of art exhibitions in Poland that have specifically addressed animal themes, and the manner in which the work of contemporary artists has begun to make a highly distinctive contribution to the expanding field of ‘animal studies’ in the arts, humanities and social sciences.
Lily Does Derrida: A dog's video essay from Kathy High on Vimeo.
Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of the show, even to viewers who are fresh to the above issues, is the focus on shifting subjectivities in the stories told by practitioners and theorists involved. On her blog, Łagodzka points to the fact that several sculptures were intentionally treated like living creatures and, instead of being placed on plinths, sat directly on the floor, in corners or in the middle of dark rooms – calling for our attention as pets usually do. This gesture also brought them closer to the animal eye level, and became more accessible for animals who occasionally paid a visit to the show. This curatorial decision somewhat reflects the general concern of the show, which, instead of searching for a solemn thesis on the ‘role and state of animals in art’, provides room for contemplation on how to read animal studies through art and vice versa.
It may be said that Ecce Animalia is a proposition, a sketch presented in the course of a larger research. Similarly, the catalogue is not a collection of essays, but a concise overview of the show and its theoretical background. The catalogue constitutes decent documentation and a set of pointers for anyone investigating the discipline in question.
The texts, written entirely by Dorota Łagodzka, are split into four parts: the background for the show and its creation, a brief guide to the exhibition, the main problems she had identified in the process of preparing it, and her perspective on animal studies as a discipline breaking through to art criticism.
The reader is presented with documentation of the set-up of the show, as well as with an inventory of each individual piece of art included.
The graphic design of the book was conceived by Alicja Kobza from Poważne Studio. In reference to the biblical title of the exhibition, as well as to the theme of the show, the designer has decided to use the figure of a lamb as the leitmotif for the visual identity of the event and the catalogue. She explains this idea on the studio’s website:
The motif of a lamb was used in the materials due to its symbolical load in Christianity and in general. Associated with an offering, a renewal and new beginning, it may also read in relation to posthumanism and its revisionary stance when it comes to humans’ approach to other species.
On the inside cover, there is the golden head of a lamb printed onto a grey canvas surface. The dust cover is plain white – possibly hinting at the process of purification of soul and the body of a lamb – with the only decoration being the golden-lettered title of the show/book at the top. The white and gold are broken by sea-green elements throughout the book – possibly an association with the green of grass and natural environments, but one also can't help but think of the use of turquoise in medicine and science (as a surface which best serves reflecting textures and colours, especially red).
By applying such simple yet bold and multi-layered solutions, the designer of the book and visual identity seems to have successfully matched the ambiguity and thoughtfulness of this curatorial endeavour.
Centre of Polish Sculpture in Orońsko 2014
150 x 200 mm, 144 pages
Language: Polish and English
Author of texts: Dorota Łagodzka
Graphic Design: Alicja Kobza / Poważne Studio
Featuring artworks by: Magdalena Abakanowicz
, Steve Baker, Basia Bańda, Kuba Bąkowski
, Jan Antoni Biernacki, Mary Britton Clouse, Cheto Castellano, Beata Czapska, Tatiana Czekalska & Leszek Golec, Józef Gott, Wiktor Górka, Justyna Górowska, Małgorzata Gurowska, Kathy High, Antoni Kenar, Piotr Kurka, Czesław Makowski, Artur Malewski, Jarosław Modzelewski, Stanisław Kazimierz Ostrowski, Antoni Janusz Pastwa, Adam Procki, Józef Robakowski
, Zygmunt Rytka, Filip Sadowski, Angela Singer, Tomasz Skórka, Andrzej Szarek, Marek Targoński, Tomasz Tatarczyk, Jerzy Truszkowski
, powaznestudio.com, obieg.pl
, krytykapolityczna.pl, animalstudies.ibl.waw.pl
, own materials
Ed. Ania Micińska 11.08.2014