My Mon­ster: The Hu­man An­i­mal Hy­brid – Elli Walsh

Art Almanac - - Contents - Elli Walsh

Our on­to­log­i­cal sta­tus has, un­til re­cently, been se­curely ‘hu­man’. Yet in an era pred­i­cated on biotech­no­log­i­cal break­throughs and the ero­sion of the ‘nat­u­ral’, the Homo sapi­ens stands at the precipice of species change. Our strange hori­zon em­anates a bright ar­ti­fi­cial light sil­hou­et­ted by hu­manoid struc­tures and hy­brid crea­tures.

This tenor of tran­shu­man­ism is ex­plored in ‘My Mon­ster’, an ex­hi­bi­tion un­pack­ing the en­dur­ing fas­ci­na­tion with the hu­man-an­i­mal hy­brid that has long en­ter­tained mythol­ogy, folk­lore and fic­tion. Fea­tur­ing works by more than 25 lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional artists, the show co­in­cides with the bi­cen­te­nary of Mary Shel­ley’s novel Franken­stein, which fa­mously traces the tragic down­fall of a sci­en­tist who re­an­i­mates a fleshy patch­work of body parts into a grotesque be­ing. Noth­ing says hy­brid­ity like Franken­stein’s mon­ster, whose emer­gent iden­tity and long­ing for love derails the Western model of the hu­man self.

Span­ning sound art, paint­ing, draw­ing, ce­ramic, sculp­ture, photography and film, ‘My Mon­ster’ is cu­rated by Eve­lyn Tsi­tas as an ex­pan­sion of her doc­toral re­search into how the science fic­tion hy­brid em­blemises our anx­i­ety about the crossovers be­tween an­i­mal­ity and hu­man­ity. Each of the five spa­ces in the RMIT Gallery mir­rors a dif­fer­ent chap­ter of her dis­ser­ta­tion. Among the many con­tem­po­rary works in the show, Kate Clark’s taxi­der­mied half-deer-half-hu­man, Gal­lant (2016), in­car­nates Franken­steinian aes­thet­ics with fleshy and furry fa­cial seg­ments stitched to­gether like a post-mortem puzzle. Dan­gling from the ceil­ing, this bizarre be­ing ap­pears as an ap­pari­tion from our fu­ture, tele­ported mid-gal­lop from a dystopian land­scape con­cocted in our minds. When we look into its glis­ten­ing rub­ber eyes, we see our­selves look­ing back from the an­i­mal body we deny we in­habit.

In Bharti Kher’s di­asec print Choco­late Muf­fin (2004), a hu­man-horse hy­brid with a mon­strous mum­mi­fied-es­que face con­fronts us with un­canny anatom­i­cal sym­me­try be­tween man and beast, flesh and fur, hoof and high heel. The ab­surd plate of pink muffins and ‘50s hair-do brings to­gether cul­tural do­mes­tic­ity and do­mes­ti­cated an­i­mal. Mean­while, Mel­bourne artist Ronnie van Hout hu­mor­ously con­flates self and other in his ex­is­ten­tial pho­to­graphs Mon­key Busi­ness, Sculpt d. Dog and Self (2001), where bust por­traits of the artist don­ning chim­panzee and grey­hound rub­ber masks, fac­ing three dif­fer­ent an­gles, re­flects the facets of hu­man

iden­tity. Per­haps the bes­tial id and civilised super­ego aren’t as sep­a­rate as Freud thought.

‘My Mon­ster’ ex­am­ines the cog­ni­tive pro­cesses be­hind why hy­brid crea­tures send our mo­ral com­pass into a spin. The de­sire to pre­serve species di­vides can be traced back to an­cient an­thro­pocen­trism through to Re­nais­sance hu­man­ism and JudeoChris­tian tra­di­tions, where man’s dom­i­nance was de­fined by its sep­a­ra­tion from the an­i­mal; oper­at­ing on a higher plane of ex­is­tence. Such ‘oth­er­ing’ prac­tices have per­sisted to the cur­rent day – de­spite in­flu­en­tial sci­en­tific claims for con­ti­nu­ity be­tween the hu­man and an­i­mal worlds – and have jus­ti­fied a range of in­sti­tu­tion­alised ex­ploita­tions, lead­ing to new re­search into is­sues such as an­i­mal con­scious­ness, an­i­mal pol­i­tics, and speciesism. Deb­o­rah Klein’s in­tri­cate wa­ter­colours de­pict­ing var­i­ous in­sects capped with the hairstyled an­te­rior of women’s heads cre­ate a ‘homo-in­secta world’ full of glam femme-bugs that up­root species hi­er­ar­chies in a very pretty way, while Beth Croce’s in­taglio print Seeds of an idea (2018) posits a bi­o­log­i­cal prox­im­ity be­tween the hearts of man and swine, bring­ing to mind re­cent de­vel­op­ments in cloning and xeno­trans­plan­ta­tion (which make pig or­gans trans­planted into hu­mans pos­si­ble).

Hy­brids are har­bin­gers of a fu­ture we may not wel­come yet are will­ingly cre­at­ing through sci­en­tific in­ter­ven­tion and bi­o­log­i­cal man­u­fac­tur­ing. Just as Franken­stein’s crea­ture lingers on the edge of hu­man­ity and an­i­mal­ity, so too are we be­com­ing less and less de­fined. As new aware­ness of hu­man het­ero­gene­ity across gen­der iden­tity and psy­chol­ogy fill col­lec­tive con­scious­ness, per­haps the next ‘spec­trum’ to arise is that of our species.

RMIT Gallery Un­til 18 Au­gust, 2018

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.