An exhibition titled Animal Nation may, on the surface, presuppose a simply figurative display of animal life. While the exhibition does gravitate toward the relationship between humans and animals through questions of animal consumption, human intervention and the moral codes that define how we engage with animal species, the show goes beyond mere representation toward a more philosophical understanding of animal life.
Animal Nation is curated by Simon Pericich and stems from his previous (often macabre) works and curatorial projects featuring animals. Bringing together 11 artists across video, sculpture and photography, the exhibition eschews any idea of animals as mere decoration or symbolism.
Instead, for Brie Trenerry, writer of the exhibition catalogue essay, the show considers animals in a manifold of contexts. “The exhibition comes from the heightened awareness of the Anthropocene epoch that we’re in now, and the fact that there’s a sixth mass extinction – we’re looking at the politics around that,” she explains. “We’re looking at the human-animal relationship and the questions around our territories.” While some of these territories are physical, such as habitat loss and landscape transformation through human-made materials, they are also psychological and ethical, drawing upon moral codes that have allowed humans to ‘other’ animal consciousness. This manifests through sculptural excursions exploring colonial histories to photographic works of ants and meat trays, alongside leather sculptures and performance-driven pieces.
While the exhibition may read like a pessimistic commentary on the world, Trenerry centres on the poignancy: “I think in the use of materials and within the way that people approach the works there’s a sense of real beauty and a respect for animals and animal territories. There’ll be moments of joy as well as despair.”
This article was originally published in the November/December 2019 print edition of Art Guide Australia.