How To: Art Made Together with Non-Human Animals
How to Philosophically Deconstruct the Issues Surrounding Collaboration in Order
By Mark Batongmalaque Nichole van Beek (05/09/06 14:34:32)
Related animals: Bird, Deer, Whale

How to Philosophically Deconstruct the Issues Surrounding Collaboration in Order to Begin Inter-Species Collaboration as an Art Making Endeavor

Do animals make art? If so, is it similar to human art? For example, are the whales that respond to Jim Nollman's guitar playing singing along or are they complaining about the noise? Since there is no absolute common language between humans and non-humans, the answers to this line of questioning will remain purely speculative. Even so, the question of whether animals make art is of ultimate importance in order to foster consideration of non-human thought.

Must the human artist and the alternate species collaborator have analogous motives for participation in the project? Is the installation space created by Boursier-Mougenot titled From Here to Ear a collaboration considering we can imagine that the finches are not making art, but instead are engaging in daily activity such as eating and flying? Thinking about any collaboration in general, it is to be expected that individual parties involved have their own motives. With non-human species it is a given that motives will be different from those of humans.

Is there a moral question in collaborating with non-human species? Is it necessary for the non-human species to ‘enjoy’ their part in the collaboration? Can the simple act of responding to a human action, whether benign or malicious, be considered collaboration? For example, is chasing a deer through the woods any less of a collaboration than playing an electric guitar to whales or giving a paintbrush to elephants? In the case of chasing a deer, we can imagine that the deer feels threatened and generally ‘negative’, while we imagine that the whales enjoy the sounds of the guitar because they respond through their vocalizations. Unfortunately we cannot be absolutely certain that the whales are having a ‘positive’ experience.

What about the hierarchy of humans over other species? Is the human collaborator always dominant or is it possible to create a situation of equality? In 'I Like America and America Likes Me', do Joseph Beuys and the wolf have equal power? Both are in a situation of danger because the wolf may attack Beuys at any minute while the wolf has lost its ability to escape. In the end though, in this project Beuys has ultimate control because he has designed the situation and has the ability to communicate with the structures that enforce the situation. The wolf has no agency beyond that which Beuys has allowed it.

How do the issues of domesticity, tameness, and wildness affect the collaborative endeavor? In the instance of elephants painting, it is obvious that they engage in art making simply because they are tame. Would this project function with wild animals? Is it possible to consider a tame or domestic animal as having independent action since it is ultimately controlled by its dependence on humans for necessities?

The attempt to answer these questions as the initial step in collaborating with non-human species brings up many issues that may not have a resolution. This should not be an ultimate discouragement in collaborating with non-human species. Forge ahead. And remember, just collaborating with animals does not make art or interesting art.

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