Animal I Become
by Treacy Ziegler
Human beings have been relating to animals for thousands of years. Yet, it is a unique, strange relationship that turns closeness between a person and an animal into the ownership of one over the other. I own my dogs, parrots, and cat as pets. I even own chicken in the freezer as my food. But I don’t think of the spiders in my house as part of my ownership. Without ownership - albeit, the chicken in the freezer - the spiders fare less than my pets and are vulnerable to being killed. We, as humans, have deemed that animals can exist in only two ways– either as ownership or subject to human negotiations.
Through this power, animal existence has historically been made inferior in order to elevate human existence. Consider the phrase, “You’re no better than an animal.” Sometimes, we expect animals to exist like us in anthropomorphizing an animal. Donald Duck is not important because he is a duck, but because he is a duck with human qualities.
Traditional thinking has given lots of reason why animals are less valuable. Animals don’t understand morality, they don’t have language, they don’t understand death, they don’t have agency. But when it is remembered that some of these same arguments have been used to establish superiority over certain minority human groups, the arguments don’t seem so reasonable. Hopefully, if society is moving towards inclusiveness, these arguments can be seen for what they are – a means to subjugate a group.
For this exhibition, I selected artists who create art phenomenologically; art emerging through process instead of a planned goal whose implementation is dictated by the artist. In relinquishing power to materials, process and emerging imagery, the artist’s voice is just one of several in creative activity.
Can this abandonment to the creative process be a model for how we learn to relate to animals? Consider the cow in India where the relationship between cow and person is dependent upon an outside authority, forcing the person to give up power over that cow. While western artists have used animals imagery in art developing new understanding of animals – think of Audubon’s art fueling the field of ornithology – this understanding is analytic. Thus, Audubon’s birds remain objects to be manipulated instead of existing within the respectful and honoring relationship manifested in India’s cow.
Will art help forge new relationships that are not a dominion over but a becoming with animals?