Animals and Us is the current exhibition being displayed at Turner Contemporary in Margate. This exhibition explores many different perspectives surrounding the evolution of human relationships with animals, through the vast range of work being shown.
The exhibition begins with the statement: “Early humans were both predator and prey, deeply embedded in a world of animal life”, an idea which is explored and developed throughout the exhibition and is particularly interesting when reflecting on the show at the end. Moving through the West Gallery, the attempt made by humans to take ownership of animals is visible, with the book Historia et Figurae animalium displaying Adam naming the animals depicted. This act of naming is a way in which we as humans take possession of animals, and continues to be done to this day, with people naming their pets. In a similar way, Bay Hunter by a Lake by George Stubbs reveals how the ownership of animals, and even the exhibiting of images of animals, was used to show status. Meanwhile, Laura Ford’s sculpture A King’s Appetite goes even further in showing the impact of the human desire to own animals. The large sculpture displayed on the floor shows the first giraffe ever sent to Britain in 1827 as a gift, and how it was injured while travelling and died two years later. This reveals the reality of displaying animals for human benefit, something which is explored to a greater extent later in the show. In the second half of this room, the relationship between humans and domestic animals is observed, with work by Emin, Freud and Warhol revealing the most familiar human-animal relationship: between us and our pets. In particular, Tracy Emin’s video, Love never wanted me, exposes how we as humans are almost desperate to see our love and fascination of animals reciprocated, and questions the expectation of animals to provide us with this gratitude.
When moving into the South Gallery, we are instantly met with Michal Rovner’s Ofel, which displays a night image of a jackal. This encounter gives a sense of fear and uncertainty, something which is commonly held accountable for the Human-Animal Divide. This idea of separation is explored in a number of ways in this room, for example Joseph Beuys’ film I Like America and America Likes Me, shows an attempt to break down this divide, with Beuys stating, “Humans need to use freedom to reconnect with animals”. Another piece of work which I found very interesting in this room was Candida Hӧfer’s series of photographs showing zoo animals in their enclosures across Europe. The images present these animals in spaces designed for them, which raises questions concerning who really benefits from these designs: is it the animal being enclosed? Or is this done in an attempt to reduce the guilt felt by visitors, by making us believe that their natural habitat has been replicated? Moving on with this theme, our fascination of animals is explored further through the work of Keith Arnatt and Pablo Picasso, in the way that our view of animals as captivating and intriguing almost increases this animal-human divide.
Finally, in both the North Gallery and the Irene Willet Gallery, the previously explored divide between animals and humans is broken down, thus revealing how We Are All Animals. Something which is very striking in the final room is the presence of Stephanie Quayle’s monkeys as part of her work called The Narrow Abyss. This series of sculptures presents the creatures taking over the space, meanwhile making an interesting comment on the human experience, and how similar expression of emotion by humans and animals really is. This is also shown through the work of Shimabuku as well as Andy and Peter Holden, which explore the nature of the way in which humans and animals similarly choose, collect and create.
Overall, I found this exhibition extremely interesting for a number of reasons. In particular, I enjoyed the way that the exhibition not only explores the relationship between humans and our pets, but goes beyond this and questions our need and desire to possess and protect our pets. The way in which this is done is very intriguing and allows us to choose which works we would like to follow the story of, whilst provoking questions we may have never considered before. In many ways, this exhibition forces us to acknowledge our place in the animal kingdom, and exposes our attempt to almost remove ourselves, as a species, from it. The current show at Turner Contemporary presents the human race as the protector, predator and consumer of animals, and is an experience I thoroughly recommend to visitors of any age.