Opening remarks by Philip Warnell
Previously at the ICA - Events
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.
Opening remarks by Philip Warnell
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.
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.
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.
With Jean-Christophe Bailly, Michael Lawrence, Lynn Turner and Phillip Warnell
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.’
Honor Beddard (Wellcome Collection curator) and Charlotte Corney (Director of Isle of Wight Zoo and tiger expert)
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.
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.
Honor Beddard, Charlotte Corney, Filipa Ramos, Éléonore Saintagnan, Grégoire Motte and Fevered Sleep, woith one-minute video inserts during the sessions by Myrto Farmaki.
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
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.