Simian art

Pri­mates prowl­ing in an ur­ban jun­gle

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at dengzhangyu@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Hu­mans can re­ceive blood from chim­panzees since we share nearly 99 per­cent of DNA.” Lisa Roet, Aus­tralian artist and ex­pert on ape re­search

Agiant golden mon­key climb­ing a green glass build­ing in Bei­jing’s down­town at­tracts a lot of eye­balls, and by­s­tanders liken this scene to King Kong look­ing at an ur­ban land­scape from the top of a build­ing. For its maker, Lisa Roet, an Aus­tralian artist whose in­spi­ra­tion comes from pri­mate re­search, the gi­ant in­flated golden mon­key is a sym­bol of global warm­ing — to re­mind hu­man­ity we’re dis­plac­ing an­i­mals, in­clud­ing our rel­a­tives that share 99 per­cent of our DNA, says Roet. The first golden mon­key show was staged in Fe­bru­ary in Mel­bourne.

Then, a 9-meter-high golden mon­key was placed atop the par­lia­ment to mark the Chi­nese Year of Mon­key in Mel­bourne.

Now, a 14-meter ver­sion of it is in China, climb­ing a wall of Op­po­site House, a ho­tel in Bei­jing’s San­l­i­tun area.

The in­flated golden mon­key work is based on the golden snub-nosed mon­key dis­cov­ered in 2010 on the bor­der be­tween China’s Yun­nan prov­ince and north­ern Myan­mar. No more than 400 sur­vive.

They were found be­cause vil­lagers heard them sneez­ing.

Typ­i­cally, snub-nosed mon­keys are found in high-al­ti­tude ar­eas.

But they have moved away from their orig­i­nal habi­tat thanks to cli­mate change, which is caus­ing the snow to melt in the moun­tains, and also due to grow­ing hu­man set­tle­ments.

Roet got the idea of a public sculp­ture of a mon­key in Bei­jing three years ago when she did her artis­tic res­i­dency pro­gram in the city.

She then spent some time at the Bei­jing Zoo ob­serv­ing the golden mon­key.

But ob­serv­ing apes is not new to her.

For the past 30 years, Roet has been study­ing the pri­mates at zoos and re­search cen­ters across the world.

All her art works — sculp­tures, pho­tos, videos and jew­elry de­signs — are based on apes.

“Hu­mans can re­ceive blood from chim­panzees since we share nearly 99 per­cent of DNA. But I am­inter­ested in the 1 per­cent dif­fer­ence,” says Roet.

Roet once played with a baby go­rilla dur­ing her time in Berlin in 1998.

The go­rilla called Bok­ito made head­lines in 2007 when it re­port­edly es­caped from its en­clo­sure in the Nether­lands and at­tacked a woman, leav­ing her with hun­dreds of bite wounds.

Be­fore the at­tack, the woman reg­u­larly vis­ited Bok­ito, tak­ing flow­ers and food for it.

“Bites were a way for Bok­ito to show his love. Maybe he wanted her to join his group of fe­males,” says Roet.

Ac­cord­ing to the artist, Bok­ito was be­ing raised by a zookeeper in an apart­ment in Berlin after he was aban­doned at birth, when the artist made friends with it.

Roet later spoke to the wounded woman’s hus­band about his wife’s love for the go­rilla and learned that he thought it was bet­ter than lov­ing a man.

Roet says that some­times the apes’ ways of ex­press­ing things are dif­fer­ent from hu­mans, but in­many in­stances they are very sim­i­lar.

When she was at the Lan­guage Re­search Cen­ter at Ge­or­gia Univer­sity in At­lanta in the United States, she en­coun­tered a chim­panzee trained to use a spe­cial key­board to com­mu­ni­cate with hu­mans.

And the chim­panzee re­peat­edly asked her: “Where is my mom? I want my mom.”

The chim­panzee had been trained by a woman sci­en­tist for years since its in­fancy.

But then the sci­en­tist shifted fo­cus to another an­i­mal and this chim­panzee was, to some ex­tent, aban­doned, says Roet. “It was re­ally sad,” she says.

Born in a coastal city in Aus­tralia, Roet has been in­ter­ested in mon­keys since child­hood although there were no mon­keys where she lived.

She first learned about mon­keys through TV doc­u­men­taries and books.

When she grewup, she trav­eled to zoos around the world and took up artis­tic res­i­dency pro­grams in pri­mate re­search cen­ters.

Mean­while, us­ing her art to ex­plore the re­la­tion­ship be­tween hu­mans and other pri­mates, Roet hopes to re­mind peo­ple of their duty to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment.

Sep­a­rately, she is also fas­ci­nated by sci­en­tific dis­cov­er­ies about apes.

Her lat­est project in­volves get­ting palm lines from pri­mates and trans­lat­ing these for­tune lines into an art project.

She is also work­ing with Chi­nese artist Shen Shaomin to ex­plore the iden­tity of pri­mates in hu­man so­ci­ety.

“While watch­ing our rel­a­tives, I of­ten re­flect on hu­mans,” she says.

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Top: Lisa Roet’s sculp­ture of a golden snub-nosed mon­key is show­cased on a build­ing in Bei­jing’s San­l­i­tun area. Above: Gold­enApe.

Chim­panzee bust, South­ernIce, by Lisa Roet.

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