Animals. Cognition, Senses, Play
Mayeri Maja Smrekar
27 May, 2016, 8PM
Artists talk: 29 May, 2016, 3PM
Dialog and closing reception: 17 July, 2016, 3PM
runs: 28 May 17 July, 2016, Fri-Sun 2-6PM and by appointment.
June open until 9PM)
Left: Maja Smrekar, I Hunt Nature and Culture
Hunts Me, 2014, performance and video; right Rachel Mayeri,
Apes as Family, 2012, Film
Laboratory Berlin is pleased to present the new series Nonhuman
Subjectivities. Based on current philosophical theories of the
object and a critique of anthropocentrism, our attention is focused
on non-human actors. This show presents recent works on the two
groups of animals that are closest to us: primates, our nearest
'relatives', and dogs, with whom we have made a symbiotic contract.
The works share Donna Haraway's con-cept of "cooperative actions":
overcoming conventional dichotomies of nature/culture, human/animal
or subject/object is all about joint action.
exhibition On Animals. Cognition, Senses, Play presents two
strong artistic positions on primates and on the wolf-dog-human
continuum, making use of certain narrative strategies and the phenomenon
of immersion, to approach the perspective of a nonhuman counterpart.
The works of both artists place the instinct and the senses of the
nonhuman at the centre of artistic research, while aiming to translate
the nonhuman cognitive ability by means of the performance, film
and art/science collaboration.
Maja Smrekar's performance I Hunt Nature and Culture Hunts
Me was developed during a research residency at the Jacana Wild
Life Studios in St. Montaigne, France. It forms the second part
of the artist's project K-9_Topology in which the artist
investigates the phylogenetics of the wolf, the wolf-dog-human relationship
and animal ethics. During the performance, the implied risk and
intimacy of Smrekar's contact with two wolfdogs and one wolf is
contrasted by a voice reading texts from Joseph Beuys, Oleg Kulik,
Susan Silas and Smrekar herself. In addition, a documentary film,
part of Smrekar's research, also explores the complex evolutionary
story of the canine.
In her work Ecce Canis, the first work of her series K-9_Topology,
she explores the metabolic pathway processes that trigger emotional
motifs, and bind humans and dogs enabling them to successfully coexist
together. The installation, some parts of which are exhibited here,
contains serotonin from both the artist and her Scottish border
collie Byron. This has been transformed by chemical protocols into
an odour - the chemical essence of their human-canine relationship.
The two tubes on the wall are normally used in biochemstry as protein
columns, but in Smrekar's installation Ecce Canis they function
as serotonin filters: the two tubes, labeled "K9" and
"M7," were used to filter the individual serotonin out
of the blood platelets of Byron and Smrekar respectively. On the
plinth we encounter different samples of a scent derivative of human
and dog metabolism. Indole, an aromatic organic compound used in
the perfume industry, is also (as tryptophan) the final derivative
of the serotonin pathway (and exists not only in the brain, but
also in flowers). In this case it is the mixture of Maja's and her
dog's serotonin, combined and synthesized with indole.
"The interaction of biology and culture is the central concept
in the understanding of human evolution, geographical dispersion,
diversity and health", says Smrekar: "Within this frame,
I am interested in metabolic pathway processes that trigger the
emotional motifs which connect two species, humans and dogs, [and
allows them] to successfully coexist together." (Maja Smrekar).
The films of Rachel Mayeri are the result of years of collaboration
with primatologists. In her series Primate Cinema, Mayeri
has made films for (and about) chimpanzees and other primates. The
fact, that captive chimps commonly watch video as a form of enrichment
has not previously been explored by artists. In Apes as Family
(2012) we watch a drama based on a tale of both chimpanzee social
customs and domestication. While, as humans, we find the plot emotionally
compelling, we also become caught up with watching the reactions
of a chimpanzee audience watching the same film on a large TV (the
first time the film was shown to chimps in the Edinburgh Zoo). Indeed
the film is both an example of 'Primate Cinema' - a film made for
nonhuman primates, and the complexities of cross-species understanding.
Mayeri intensely researched chimpanzees' reactions to different
television genres and consulted primatologists, and came to the
conclusion that: "Chimps seem to like to watch the same things
as human primates - dramas around food, territory, social status,
and sex. By watching a movie through chimps' eyes, we can imagine
think and feel. Chimps are, after all, our closest relatives. Known
for their complex social, cognitive and emotional lives, they also
share with us a fascination with cinema."
Mayeri's film Baboons as Friends (2007) juxtaposes footage
of baboons with a re-enactment by human actors, who translate a
tale of lust, jealousy and deceit from the animal to the human.
On the left we watch field footage of baboons in Kenya, that was
shot by primatologist Deborah Forster, who explains this tale of
desire and betrayal. On the right monitor, Mayeri has filmed a sort
of Human re-enactment with professional actors in a film noir setting.
For her video Movies for Monkeys (2012) Mayeri intended to
produce a film that would appeal to a more distant audience: the
squirrel monkey. This primate is thought to have a very short (two
second) attention span. After a number of experiments, Mayeri found
the right subject matter, exploring the magic connection between
time, visual based media and primates along the way.
Regine Rapp & Christian de Lutz (curators)
on the Nonhuman Subjectivities series
view of works by Maja Smrekar
view of works by Maja Smrekar
Smrekar, I Hunt Nature and Culture Hunts Me, 2014, video
of the performance
Smrekar, Serie K-9_Topology, 2015, video of the performance
Mayeri, Movies for Monkeys (from the series Primate Cinema),
video, 2012, 2:50 min.
Mayeri, Baboons as Friends (from the Series Primate Cinema),
Two-Channel video installation, 2007, 5:33 min.
Mayeri, Apes as Family (from the series Primate Cinema),
video, 2012, 11:27 min.,
possible in part by a generous gift from Michael Schröder.