Agony Art

The exhibition currently showing at the Cornerhouse, Manchester  –  called Interspecies – sets out to examine whether ‘artists and animals can work together as equals’. Work together as equals, for heavens’ sake! As far as I can see, animals have no interest in contemporary art or any other scene – and as usual, are complying with human wishes through intrinsic good nature, unawareness or simply having no choice in the matter.

Perhaps it is unfair of me to criticise an exhibition which I have not seen at first hand, but I can’t help feeling there is something faintly obscene about it – relying heavily, as it does, on video screenings of  ‘intimate’ encounters with primates and other creatures. There does seem to be one exhibit that offers a shared and authentic experience of life, though, and it certainly raises some uncomfortable questions about our relationships with other species. That is Kira O’Reilly’s Going to Sleep with a Pig, where she spent three days in an enclosure in the gallery, living, eating and sleeping with a pig. She describes the experience very interestingly in her blog.

Kira O'Reilly - Going to Sleep with a Pig. Photo: Samscam
Kira O’Reilly – Going to Sleep with a Pig. Photo: Samscam

All the same, I can’t help agreeing with one review of the Interspecies exhibition, which simply said: ‘Why?’

You can see a review of Interspecies and my bad-tempered reaction to it on
a-n\’s Interface Reviews

As far as contemporary art practice is concerned, it seems that the move towards a deeper integration – with everyday life, our landscape, our fellow humans and other species – is gathering momentum.

Well… I used to think that, until I came across Mark Wallinger’s gigantic plastic horse, which has recently won the Public Art commission for the Ebbsfleet Landmark site in Kent, at a cost of £2,000,000. Apparently, the hooves of this giant will be the height of a man. Again, I can only ask ‘Why?’  A member of my family, who shall be nameless, reckoned it was extremely suspicious that the horse will be parked not very far from the Unemployment Office, and we are convinced that a giant trap door will open in the horse’s side, and pour out an army of illegal immigrants. 

Wallinger's horse. Photo: PAwire
Wallinger’s horse. Photo: PAwire

Now I have the opportunity to tender a proposal for an artwork that also functions as a wildlife habitat. Flandrumhill and Pamela would recognise this synchronicity as the ‘Connecting Principle’. I call it ‘Here We Go Again’.

I struggled for three days with this wretched proposal – trying to come up with something that would satisfy myself as an artist, as well as staying within the remit of the brief – and eventually I decided it could not be done. Art is a language, after all, with its own rules and disciplines. Creative activity, education, entertainment and encouraging wildlife are quite different things.

And, of course, as soon as I gave up on it all, a germ of an idea popped into my head, so I spent yesterday doing a series of bad drawings. I shall apply for the work, but I don\’t hold out much hope.


Oh, give me those wide, wide, wide open spaces… and a few stones, and a bit of seaweed, and some old seaworn bricks….

About throughstones

I am primarily a visual artist, living on the North Devon coast, a beautiful semi-rural area in South West England. I am interested in full engagement with 'place' and the eternal movement of life - particularly as it relates to what we call 'the natural environment'.
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4 Responses to Agony Art

  1. flandrumhill says:

    Why? is a question I’ve asked so many times while observing government-funded fine art.

    (I love your family member’s idea of a Trojan horse. ha ha).

    Good luck with your proposal.


  2. paula says:

    uh-oh – typo ‘too aware’ not ‘to aware’!


  3. paula says:

    Well, I’m with you here. The whole concept seems contrived and unnecessary. It’s so far removed from the real existence and lives of non-human animals.

    I started to read Kira’s blog but her hyperbole and analysis began to make me feel uncharacteristically irritated. Sorry Kira, but some of us do, out of necessity, sleep, spend the night and/or long lengths of time with our domesticated stock and I don’t believe we call it art or wonder too much about watcher becoming watched reverting to watching, though we are all to aware of the exploitation/care issues

    On the other hand time spent alone with non-human animals (wild or domesticated) gives us an insight to the way they work and think both as individuals and in a group. It’s humbling too. Maybe from this perspective ‘art’ can be made as it clears the human brain of detritus allowing the space to create.

    Love your comments about the white horse!


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