Previously at the ICA - Events

Phillip Warnell, Ming of Harlem: Twenty One Storeys in the Air, 2014. (Still)

Symposium: Wild Minds

31 Mar 2017

This symposium is focused on the ambiguities and co-operations that define our relations with other species. Bringing together filmmakers, theorists, curators and those working directly with animal groups, the symposium combines presentations, conversations, film screenings and notes on performance. The various presentations consider processes by which co-presence, proximity, encounters and (impossible) relations with ‘wild minds’ are established: from the origins of wildlife photographic representation, the generational transformation of zoos and animal conservation, one-to-one encounters and the image-making solutions of contemporary artists' film and other cinema. Participants share from their research, experience, theoretical frameworks and practical references, traversing livelihoods and project-based work with other creatures.  

The symposium is convened by Phillip Warnell (artist-filmmaker, Kingston University)  

Speakers include Jean-Christophe Bailly (poet and philosopher, author of The Animal Side), Michael Lawrence (Sussex University, editor of Zoo and Screen Media: images of exhibition and encounter), Charlotte Corney (Director, Isle of Wight Zoo), Honor Beddard (Wellcome Collection Curator), Éléonore Saintagnan and Grégoire Motte (filmmakers), Ben Rivers (filmmaker and programmer), Fevered Sleep (performance company), Myrto Farmaki (filmmaker), Lynn Turner (Goldsmiths University, editor of the Edinburgh Companion to Animal Studies) and Filipa Ramos (Writer, editor of Animals, Whitechapel Gallery Docs/MIT).  

The symposium programme includes a UK premiere of Les Bêtes sauvages (The Wild Beasts, 2015) by Éléonore Saintagnan and Grégoire Motte. In this short film, society’s impact on the animal kingdom and the animals’ unique ways of adapting are revealed in three dramatized tales of the feral.  

The symposium is followed by a screening programme co-curated by Phillip Warnell and Ben Rivers.


  • 11.15-11.30 Introduction

    Opening remarks by Philip Warnell

  • 11.30-12.00 Animal choreography – Jean-Christophe Bailly

    Animals: they have long been here on Earth, but we know now that they may disappear. This threat, directly caused by Man, changes the way we have to consider them. The diversity of the species, the way each animal exists and the arising aspect of these forms of life, the mute and thrilling proof which is repeated through the encounters we share with them – all these sensitive facts, instead of being common and regular, tend to become like the vestiges of a lost Paradise. It means that it’s now time to insist on the importance of animal existence and to consider the way they live as an inventive and mindful process. Nothing better than the way they behave at night gives a proper idea of the threshold which lays between us and the animal side. The wonderful black and white pictures, mostly of deers, taken more than one century ago by George Shiras near Lake Superior, show a choregraphy which will be the guideline of our approach.

  • 12.00-12.30 Animal Existences and American History on Screen: Framing Cattle in the Western – Michael Lawrence

    How might cinema respond to the position of animals through its organisation and presentation of animal being in generic sequences and in specific shots? In The Animal Side Jean-Christopher Bailly reminds us of the need to recognize animals as ‘existences’: ‘… there is the whirlwind of all those lives and the beating of each and every heart …’ (2011: 5). In this presentation, I examine representations of cattle in two Westerns to consider how animal existences are presented as both frenetic multiplicity and contemplative singularity. The Western genre’s stampede sequences illustrate how animals are conventionally reduced to ‘a legend that traverses them’ wherein they cannot be ‘perceived in their pure singularity, as distinct beings that participate in the world of the living and that regard us in the same light’ (Bailly 2011: 13). With reference to Raoul Walsh’s The Tall Men (1955), I explore how classical examples of the genre reproduced the original exploitation of cattle during the development of the beef industry in the 1870s in their recreation of cattle drives as big screen entertainment. Focusing on the film’s climactic stampede sequence, I examine the ideological factors that determine the film’s capitalisation of the commotion of the cattle in the name of providing human audiences with the kinetic and yet generic spectacle of massed animal movement. In The Tall Men, moreover, the stampede is deliberately staged so as to overpower the Native Americans who threaten to impede the cowboys’ delivery of the cattle to the buyers; the legend that traverses these cows is one that justifies and romanticises colonial expansion as well as capitalist endeavour. Moving to consider a series of shots from Kelly Reichart’s revisionist Western Meek’s Cutoff (2010), I explore how this film offers an entirely different and corrective choreography of human and animal existences within and across the film frame, one in which the settlers’ taking captive a Native American man is intersected by the interested ‘regard’ of an individual cow.

  • 12.30-13.00 Podcasting (the becoming-space of voices) – Dr Lynn Turner

    Moving between philosophical and cetological frames of thought, this paper speculates on the conditions of whale song. Paradigmatically charismatic megafauna, the naming of the sounds recorded at first incidentally by the US military as ‘song’ enabled the mobilization of conservation efforts on behalf of whales. Today ‘everyone’ knows that whales ‘sing’ even as the significance of their vocalisations remains substantially mysterious. In his recent magnum opus, The Sounding of the Whale, D. Graham Burnett cautioned that using the term ‘song’ in reference to cetacean vocalisations risked being ‘too Lilly:’ an anthropomorphisation of non-human sounds beholden to the hallucinogen assisted work of scientist and psychonaut John C. Lilly in 1960’s America. But what is a song, and what articulation does it perform? While a philosophical legacy ranging from Aristotle to Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Jacques Lacan may seem eccentric to the study of cetacean vocalisation, by means of the late writing of Jacques Derrida, we can see how key ideas supporting human exceptionalism can repeat even in the context of cetological research. One such idea relegates whale vocalisation to behaviour in the service of sexual reproduction. Sometimes curiosity in observation can disrupt such predictable conclusions, as in the short but highly suggestive essays on cetacean communication by Gregory Bateson. Taking Bateson’s speculation that such communication may ‘resemble music’ seriously, this paper repositions the connection between human and non-human vocalisation not as the vanity of anthropomorphism but a common condition of vulnerability.

  • 13.00-13.15 Panel discussion and Q&A

    With Jean-Christophe Bailly, Michael Lawrence, Lynn Turner and Phillip Warnell

  • 13.15-14.15 Lunch
  • 14.20-15.00 Les Bêtes Sauvage (The Wild Beasts) UK premiere, 2015, 36mins

    Introduced by the filmmakers, Éléonore Saintagnan et Grégoire Motte. ‘On the border between France and Belgium, the population of foxes increased in a extraordinary way. In Brussels, the Rose-ringed parakeet colonized the parks of the city. In Colombia, hippopotamuses imported from Africa live now in wild nature, terrorizing the population. These animals were moved from their natural environment by men and bred quickly, producing ambivalent reactions in their new environment.’

  • 15.00-15.30 In conversation

    Honor Beddard (Wellcome Collection curator) and Charlotte Corney (Director of Isle of Wight Zoo and tiger expert)

  • 15.30-16.00 Three Tigers – Filipa Ramos

    Three Tigers considers three artistic renderings of tiger-human encounters—Heinrich Leutemann’s lithographic print Road Surveying Interrupted in Singapore (c. 1885), Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s film Tropical Malady (2004), and Phillip Warnell’s film Ming of Harlem (2014)—as a means to investigate the entanglement of human-animal relations that exists at the crossroads of cultural and environmental histories. Filipa takes into consideration the relations that these animal-images establish with the sites they occupy and with those who traverse them—how Road Surveying Interrupted in Singapore depicts a leaping tiger surprising an urban planner and his team; how in Tropical Malady a tiger haunts his feverish lover across the jungle; and how Ming, a Bengal tiger, becomes one with the house that hosts him—in order to test their capacity to follow Donna Haraway’s appeal to make kin across species and beings, and constitute zones of refuge where these alliances can become stronger.

  • 16.15-16.45 Phillip Warnell & Fevered Sleep in conversation

    Discussion using the findings from Fevered Sleep’s current research: ‘Sheep, Pig, Goat’ a performance project reflecting on the possibility of interspecies empathy and communication.

  • 16.45-17.00 Panel discussion and Q&A

    Honor Beddard, Charlotte Corney, Filipa Ramos, Éléonore Saintagnan, Grégoire Motte and Fevered Sleep, woith one-minute video inserts during the sessions by Myrto Farmaki.

  • 17.00-18.00 Break
  • 18.00-19.30 Film: from the pole to the equator, 1986, 96 mins, 16mm

    A film by Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi with music by Keith Ullrich and Charles Anderson. Print arranged from the collection of MOMA, New York, with an intro by Ben Rivers, filmmaker.

    “To watch From the Pole to the Equator is to feel that one has seen a ghost – many ghosts, human and animal from places all over the globe.” - Janet Maslin, The New York Times

Speaker biographies

  • Jean-Christophe Bailly
    Jean-Christophe Bailly is a French writer, poet and playwright. Bailly is also an art historian specializing in visual arts, especially paintings, as well as a director of collections and a teacher. He has taught the history of the formation of landscapes at the ENSNP (l'École nationale supérieure de la nature et du paysage) in Blois, in France since 2011. Bailly has edited Les Cahier de l’École de Blois (“The Journal of the School of Blois”) since 2003. He is a professor at the European Graduate School where he teaches an intensive summer seminar. His most recent book translated to English is titled The Animal Side.
  • Honor Beddard
    Honor Beddard is Wellcome Collection Curator and has most recently curated Making Nature, which examines what we think, feel and value about other species and the consequences this has for the world around us. The exhibition brings together objects from literature, film, taxidermy and photography to reveal the hierarchies in our view of the natural world and consider how these influence our actions, or inactions, towards the planet.
  • Charlotte Corney
    Charlotte Corney is Director and owner of the Isle of Wight Zoo. Charlotte had a far from ordinary upbringing on the Isle of Wight in the 1980s, from rolling around on the living room floor with bear cubs and walking tigers along the beach to watching her father extract venom from a cobra's fangs. Charlotte's engineer father, Jack Corney, heard that the Isle of Wight Zoo, at the time in a state of disrepair, was up for sale in 1976. Charlotte took over the zoo in 2003.
  • Myrto Farmaki

    Myrto Farmaki is a London-based Athenian artist. Her work has mainly focused on showcasing the development of the self under the influence of familial, communal and societal relationships. By using photography and film as mediums, she attempts to create an invisible link between “true imagery” and “portrayed truths”, neither of which might represent our own reality but may actually be an unconscious adaptation of another.

  • Michael Lawrence
    Michael Lawrence is Reader in Media and Film at Sussex University. His research examines the work and representation of non-human animals in the cinema, film stardom and screen performance, especially child actors and child stars, popular Hindi cinema/Bollywood, and particularly the transcultural adaptation/remake, and global humanitarianism and the media, specifically fiction film. He co-edited The Zoo and Screen Media with Karen Lury in 2016.
  • Grégoire Motte
    Grégoire Motte does not work with a specific medium, but strives mainly to find solutions to problems that he often creates himself or which are linked to situations of uprooting. He co-founded the Artists Club in 2011 with Thibaut Espiau and Ivan Ist Husjan. The Artists Club also manages the Coffre Fort, an exhibition place that takes place in the chest of old jewelry from  Brussels.
  • Filipa Ramos
    Filipa Ramos is a writer and editor based in London, where she works as editor in chief of art-agenda. She is also lecturer in the Master of Arts at the Hochschule für Gestaltung und Kunst in Basel, at Kingston University and at the MRes Art:Exhibition Studies of Central Saint Martins. She is founder and co-curator of Vdrome, a programme of screenings of films by artists and filmmakers. In the past she was Associate Editor of Manifesta Journal and Curator of the Research Section of dOCUMENTA (13). She is the co-author of Lost and Found: Crisis of Memory in Contemporary Art (2009) and editor of Animals (Documents of Contemporary Art), Whitechapel Gallery, 2016.
  • Ben Rivers
    Ben Rivers is an artist and experimental filmmaker based in London. His work has been shown in many film festivals and galleries around the world and has won numerous awards. Rivers' practice as a filmmaker treads a line between documentary and fiction. Often following and filming people who have in some way separated themselves from society, the raw film footage provides Rivers with a starting point for creating oblique narratives imagining alternative existences in marginal worlds. Rivers uses near-antique cameras and hand develops the 16 mm film, which shows the evidence of the elements it has been exposed to – the materiality of this medium forming part of the narrative. Rivers' first feature-length film, Two Years at Sea, was presented in September 2011 in the Orizzonti section at the 68th Venice International Film Festival and won the FIPRESCI International Critics prize.
  • Éléonore Saintagnan
    Éléonore Saintagnan’s work is informed by a special interest in the way audiovisual media put a spin on information, including sensationalism and modern myths. Debunking myths and untruths isn't so much the point as teasing her audience's judgement and perception of what art may or may not be.
  • Fevered Sleep
    Fevered Sleep was founded in 1996 by David Harradine and Samantha Butler. The company makes new work in performance, publication and visual art, for children and for adults. Fearless about experimentation and passionate about research, they develop brave, thought-provoking projects that challenge people to rethink their relationships with each other and with the world. Their projects appear in very diverse places, across the UK and beyond, from theatres, galleries and cinemas, to parks, beaches and schools, and in the spaces of everyday life: in people’s homes, on phones, online.
  • Lynn Turner
    Lynn Turner is Senior Lecturer in Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths University. Her research explores how animal and sexual differences matter in visual and aural culture as well as continental philosophy, literature and psychoanalysis. She is the arts editor of parallax, one of the assistant editors of Derrida Today and sits on the board of several book series as well as Goldsmiths Press. Her edited book, The Animal Question in Deconstruction, was published by Edinburgh University Press in 2013.
  • Phillip Warnell
    Phillip Warnell is an artist-filmmaker and academic. He produces cinematic works exploring a range of philosophical and poetic thematics: ideas on human-animal relations, the politics of dissidence, the presence of those with extraordinary attributes and poetics of bodily and life-world circumstances. Warnell's own cinematic output has been internationally recognized in exhibitions, film festivals and also curated screenings that recently include Sharjah Biennial (2013), MOMI, New York (2013), and The First International Biennial of Contemporary Art of Cartagena de Indias (2014), among others. Outlandish (2009) also received a week long screening via the online platform Vdrome, conceived and promoted by Mousse Magazine in partnership with Lux Artists' Moving Image, 29 March – 7 April 2014. His most recent film, Ming of Harlem, won the Prix Georges de Beauregard at FID Marseille film festival in 2014 and the Universities Culturgest Prize at Indie Lisboa in 2015.

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