A Left-handed Primer for Approaching Animal Art

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1 Scopus citations


Several unique concepts arise from artists' engagement with animals and from audiences' and critics' encounters with such art. This oblique primer will introduce and explore select concepts including surface, animal phenomenology, cross-species contact zones and fragility. Animals are said to live on the surface. What is meant by this phrase throughout centuries to our present day is that animals do not have the depths and privileged interiority found in humans. We distinguish ourselves from animals by our high degree of self-consciousness and capacity for recursive thinking. A range of contemporary animal art allows us to imagine an inversion and twisting free from such privileging of human interiority. By inversion, art poses the question of how animal surfaces are productive and how such production differs from reason and meaning located in privileged human interiority. While traditionally surfaces are less constructive than depths, a recent re-valuation of surface in art and philosophy has re-invigorated the site of animal surfaces. Second, through such difference in surface and depth comes a twisting-free in which artists ask what unknown interiorities and depths manifest themselves on the surface of the animal body. In other words, what is an animal phenomenology and how could we ever approach it? A frictional and productive site opens where the human world bumps up against the opaque and tenacious world of animals. In this contact zone, animals mark and re-mark upon our imposition into their worlds. As artists enter into such a space and develop a cross-species pidgin language, they help us to think not of our sovereignty but of human fragility as a mode of engagement with animals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)35-45
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Visual Art Practice
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2010


  • Animal
  • Art
  • Coates
  • Idiocy
  • Skin
  • Snaebjornsdottir/Wilson
  • Surface
  • Umwelt

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


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