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PostHumanities #25: Artist Animalby Steve Baker
Synopses & Reviews
Animals have always been compelling subjects for artists, but the rise of animal advocacy and posthumanist thought has prompted a reconsideration of the relationship between artist and animal. In this book, Steve Baker examines the work of contemporary artists who directly confront questions of animal life, treating animals not for their aesthetic qualities or as symbols of the human condition but rather as beings who actively share the world with humanity.
The concerns of the artists presented in this book—Sue Coe, Eduardo Kac, Lucy Kimbell, Catherine Chalmers, Olly and Suzi, Angela Singer, Catherine Bell, and others—range widely, from the ecological to the philosophical and from those engaging with the modification of animal bodies to those seeking to further the cause of animal rights. Drawing on extensive interviews he conducted with the artists under consideration, Baker explores the vital contribution that contemporary art can make to a broader conception of animal life, emphasizing the importance of creativity and trust in both the making and understanding of these artworks.
Throughout, Baker is attentive to issues of practice, form, and medium. He asks, for example, whether the animal itself could be said to be the medium in which these artists are working, and he highlights the tensions between creative practice and certain kinds of ethical demands or expectations. Featuring full-color, vivid examples of their work, Artist Animal situates contemporary artists within the wider project of thinking beyond the human, asserting art’s power to open up new ways of thinking about animals.
"In this compelling critical study, art historian Baker examines the use of animals in the works of several contemporary artists, grappling with posthumanist theory, aesthetics, and other ethical implications. The artists include Lucy Kimbell, who studied rats in every capacity, from laboratories to rat shows, with a 'curiosity-driven approach' that resulted in a performance lecture called One Night with Rats in the Service of Art. Investigating grief in Western society, Catherine Bell sucked the ink out of 40 dead squid and spat it all over herself. Others, like Sue Coe, deal directly with the ethical treatment of animals in society. Her 2005 book Sheep of Fools features grim images depicting the 'historical development' of the sheep export business. Responding to critics flummoxed by a lack of end goals, Eduardo Kac, who genetically engineered an albino rabbit to glow fluorescent green, remarked: 'It's not there to cause cancer, it's not there to cure cancer... she simply is.' The final chapters offer similar challenges to critics alongside theoretical speculation on a number of topics, notably on the animal as medium in an increasingly 'postmedium' art world. Baker's text is informative and challenging, though it tends to raise more questions than it answers. 64 color plates. (Feb.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Steve Baker is emeritus professor of art history at the University of Central Lancashire. He is the author of The Postmodern Animal; Picturing the Beast: Animals, Identity, and Representation, and, with the Animal Studies Group, Killing Animals.
Table of Contents
Introduction: The Idiot, the Voyeur, and the Moralist
1. An Openness to Life: Olly and Suzi in the Antarctic
On Drawing an Aardvark
2. Cycles of Knowing and Not-Knowing: Lucy Kimbell, Rats, and Art
3. Vivid New Ecologies: Catherine Chalmers and Eduardo Kac
On Artists and Intentions
4. Of the Unspoken: Mircea Cantor and Mary Britton Clouse
On Maddening the Fly
5. Almost Posthuman: Catherine Bell’s Handling of Squid
On Cramping Creativity
6. Art and Animal Rights: Sue Coe, Britta Jaschinski, and Angela Singer
On Relevant Questions
7. The Twisted Animals Have No Land Beneath Them
Afterword: Art in a Post-Animal Era?
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