On the Role of Animals in Pictorial Representations
Prague, National Gallery, May 15th, 2015
The one-day conference Portraying Animals explored the role of animals in contemporary art. The genre of the animal portrait is of particular importance here: the portrait does not simply show an animal, but always this one animal. Lending its motif both face and figure, an individual aura, the portrait invites the viewer to speculate about the subject’s biography, character, emotions, and passions. In short: the portrait lends the animal subjectivity.
Contemporary art loves the beast. Non-human animals are increasingly prominent in works of visual art, photography, film, sculpture, and performance. Why? Where does this need for new images of animals stem from? Perhaps because we currently do not exactly know what an animal actually is. Our notions are out of joint.
When things get complicated, then almost inevitably art appears on the scene. It explores the field of philosophical vagueness and creates images of possible realities. With regard to animals, this often revolves around the relationship to humans. What are the similarities? What are the differences? What does this mean for our interaction with them? How to live together?
Moreover, the animal portrait also poses questions: what role does the model play in its depiction? Wherein lies the practical contribution of the real animals, the creatures of flesh and blood, in how they are pictorially rendered? What influence do they have on the outcome? And consequently: are animals merely material for or rather active collaborators in the process of artistic work?