‘Animality’ at the Marian Goodman Gallery. And Some Foxes

'David's Squirrel - Clark Expedition' (2012) by Mark Dion with 'The Elephant' (1996) by Balthazar Burkhard

‘David’s Squirrel – Clark Expedition’ (2012) by Mark Dion with ‘The Elephant’ (1996) by Balthazar Burkhard

Dear Readers, I had never heard of the Marian Goodman Gallery until a few days ago and, on waking up to the news that Donald Trump had won the US Election, I felt a need for some distraction. And so I went to see the Animality exhibition, which explores the ways that we relate to animals, and comes up with a lot of questions but not many answers. Nonetheless, the questions themselves have bothered me for a long time, so it’s good to see that I’m not the only one.

Take the enormous eviscerated plush squirrel in the first room, for example.

img_8564Titled ‘David’s Squirrel – Clark Expedition’ and made by Mark Dion, an artist who uses a lot of scientific presentations in his installations, the squirrel is enormous, and ‘dead’. There is no such thing as a David’s Squirrel, but it seems to me representative of the questions raised when scientific curiosity and living creatures intersect. I think of the bird artist Audobon, who has an enormous conservation legacy in the US but who, during his lifetime, made his famous paintings from dead birds that he had shot and then strung up in ‘life-like’ poses.

By www.RestoredPrints.com, Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5644483

Bobwhite (Virginia Partridge) (1825) James John Audobon (Photo One – Credit below)

Much more recently there is the case of Dave the giant earthworm, discovered in Cheshire and shipped off to the Natural History Museum in a plastic box, only to be euthanized and added to the museum collection. Animals have much to fear from our thirst for knowledge, and our cold hearts.

Onwards! In the entrance lobby there is a small sculpture of a boy and a slug. This is the first time, to my knowledge, that the noble slug has been immortalised in this way.

Dawn, Fig 2 (2016) by Elmgreen and Dragset

Dawn, Fig 2 (2016) by Elmgreen and Dragset

Is the child contemplating the slug with wonder, or horror? The slug is just going about its molluscan business. Maybe this is about our total inability to comprehend what the lives of other animals are like. The boy looks at the slug, the slug looks for his breakfast, and neither are any the wiser.

img_8567In the corner, a pink octopus looks on, and we look back. It seems that we are separate from the natural world: we gaze at it, we dissect it, and we do what we like with it.


Pink Octopus by Carsten Holler (the maker of the tubular metal slides at Tate Modern a few years ago….)

Upstairs, though, the boundaries between humans and animals begin to breakdown. Roe Etheridge’s photographs of farm animals in a sanctuary are simply titled with the animals’ names.

'Joy'(2014-16) by Roe Ethridge

‘Joy'(2014-16) by Roe Ethridge

'Mark Jnr and Kayli' (2014-16) by Roe Ethridge

‘Mark Jnr and Kayli’ (2014-16) by Roe Ethridge

When I look at these photos, I am no longer looking at ‘a’ goat, I’m looking at Joy, an individual with likes and dislikes. I love work that is particular, rather than generic. I love work that honours what it looks at.

And then, there are the pieces that cross over, that point out that we are animals too, and that what separates us is not as pronounced as we would like to think. Take these two ‘column sculptures’ by Stephan Baukenhol, each one made out of a single piece of wood.

img_8580img_8583img_8581img_8582Am I alone in finding the combination of human body and animal head rather appealing? These figures wear their strangeness very lightly: they are poised, relaxed, thoughtful. They look as if they could hop down off their plinths and wander off around the gallery. As a species, we have been fascinated by creatures that are chimeras, neither human nor animal, since we could first create representations. It seems that we haven’t lost the wish to experience life as someone else, to get back under the skin of the creatures that we share the world with. We try and try to understand, whether through art or science, and yet these other worlds remain elusive. Maybe it we stopped trying so hard and had a bit more respect, we would have more success.

And, in other news, foxes have been spotted in the cemetery…

img_8534This is one of this year’s dog cubs, and very fine he’s looking too, though he has a bit of a limp at the moment. Foxes seem prone to injuring their feet and legs, I suspect it’s all that shimmying over garden walls that causes the problem. It generally doesn’t seem to last very long before they’re moving properly again, but I have the arnica drops out just in case.

img_8462And here is the original dog fox, the father of this year’s cubs, and a bold, calm creature. He was watching me put out my jam sandwiches and seemed remarkably unperturbed by all my messing about and cursing as I dropped forks and dog food and the camera at one point.

The cubs are gradually dispersing and, although I’ve seen the vixen, she’s not stuck around long enough for a photo. Suffice to say that the whole family seem to be doing well. And in about month, the whole cycle will be starting all over again! How on earth can it be November already?

The Marian Goodman Gallery is free, and well worth a look. ‘Animality’ continues until 17th December.

Photo Credits

Photo One – Audobon Painting – By http://www.RestoredPrints.com, Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5644483

All other photos copyright Vivienne Palmer. Free to use or share non-commercially, but please attribute and link back to the blog, thank you!


9 thoughts on “‘Animality’ at the Marian Goodman Gallery. And Some Foxes

  1. Katya Bauer

    Such an enjoyable post. Glad to see the fox family is intact and thriving. Hope this post goes through. Recently my previous ones were blocked; wondered if I had breached a rule or something.

    1. Bug Woman

      Hi Katya, no you certainly haven’t been blocked – I’ll have a look and see if your comments have gone straight into the spam filter on the blog for some reason. I love it when people comment, so thank you!

  2. Ann

    By using the same material for boy AND slug the sculptor implies their similarity, I think. A colour photo would have drawn us towards the boy’s experience and being rather than the slug’s.

    1. Bug Woman

      Sarah, I am so glad that you’re enjoying the blog. The main costs are in time and effort, but as I love writing and taking photographs this is a small price to pay! There is a cost associated with paying for the domain and the storage for the photos. I’ve been thinking for a while that maybe I should have a ‘donate’ button on the blog, so that if people enjoy it they can chip in if they want to, so I might follow that up. In the meantime, thank you for your generous offer, and I’ll keep you posted on my plans. You have made my day!

  3. Andrea Stephenson

    A thought-provoking exhibition. I’m particularly attracted to the crow-person, but then I’ve always been interested in shape-shifting between humans and animals. I’m glad to see the foxes in the cemetery doing well.

    1. Bug Woman

      Thank you, Jeannette! I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog. I haven’t seen the foxes for a while, but the sandwiches are disappearing and I’ve definitely heard them šŸ™‚


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