Encounters with significant others, (Superb Lyrebird). Woodcut, ink and pencil. Julian Laffan, 2020
More than Human: The animal in the age of the Anthropocene
Evana Ho reports on an exhibition that examines the role of animals in our current world.
In this ‘age of the human’, is there a place for other animals in this rapidly changing world?
The age of the Anthropocene is marked by significant change to the world’s ecosystems through human activity. It began with industrialisation in the 1800s, was entrenched by mining and deforestation, and is fueled by our insatiable appetite for consumption.
An exhibition underway in the ANU School of Art and Design Gallery examines the impact of our actions on the other species of living beings we share this planet with. It asks the question: In this ‘age of the human’, is there a place for other animals in this rapidly changing world?
Dr Natasha Fijn and Julian Laffan co-curated the exhibition, which arose from their “concern for animals and their significance as beings in the world in the current age of the Anthropocene.”
They reference the devastation of the latest bushfires, with its effects on animals both domestic and wild, and how they highlight the urgency of the situation. The fires, they say, “make the effects of climate change very real on a practical and emotional, rather than just on a conceptual, level.”
The theme is addressed by more than a dozen artists (most of whom are alumni and/or staff from the ANU School of Art & Design) in a wide range of media. Dr Fijn, who is a Research Fellow based at the ANU Mongolia Institute, features some of her filmmaking in the exhibition. She has a piece that takes the perspective of both human and horse, through a GoPro camera mounted onto the helmet of the rider, while moving through burnt forest in Australia on horseback. This is juxtaposed with images from a herder on horseback negotiating a snowstorm, while searching for horses amongst the forest in Mongolia. The burnt charred surroundings are in stark contrast to the white snow-covered, forested landscape, highlighting the devastating effects of climate change under two very different scenarios.
“I wanted to reveal how climate change is not just about ‘warming’ but is about climatic extremes with more frequent snow storms and icy conditions in Mongolia, yet here in Australia we have been experiencing heat, drought and fire. Humans are deeply affected but also animals, such as horses, who are intertwined with and bound to our lives,’ Dr Fijn says.
Laffan, who is a graduate of the School of Art and Design, specialises in hand-cut and painted wood cuts.
“I am interested in the concept of animals making contact with humans and I have chosen to focus on birds, based on my own personal encounters,” he says.
“This includes a lyrebird that brushed past my face and a powerful owl displaced by the recent fires near Braidwood. The impact on bird habitat and as species in the recent fires across NSW has brought an additional dimension of concern and urgency for animals, and I am aiming to reflect that in my work.”
Sculptural works in the exhibition include two life-size dogs standing watch near a field of smaller dogs. These are the creation of the Warlukurlangu Artists Corporation, of Yuendumu in the Northern Territory. The corporation runs a program that supports the health of dogs in their community – which in turn, Laffan says, supports the health of the humans living within the community.
“The individual identity and story of each dog is acknowledged by the artists and they are further individualised with the specific, totemic mark making of each artist.”
Through the different representations of human interaction with and impact on all manner of animals, the exhibition provokes the viewer to consider what our perceptions mean for the more-than-human in this age of the Anthropocene.
More than Human: The animal in the age of the Anthropocene, was held at the ANU School of Art & Design Gallery, 13 February – 13 March 2020.