The zoological apparatus : Chris Marker, Simone Forti and Joan Jonas’ artistic engagement with animals

Goncalves Ramos, Ana (2021) The zoological apparatus : Chris Marker, Simone Forti and Joan Jonas’ artistic engagement with animals. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


Zoos make animals visible. By exhibiting, editing, framing and fixating the living beings they detain, zoological gardens—and by extension other apparatuses of exhibition of animals, namely aquaria, dolphinaria, safari parks, wildlife “sanctuaries” and petting farms—activate specific modes of looking and being looked upon, which transform the status and nature of the displayed animals and condition the ways in which they are observed, conceptualised and considered. My research is set to investigate how the conditions of exhibiting living animals in zoological gardens create specific modes of observation and inquiry—not only for viewers during their leisure time but also for artists who chose this environment as a source of intellectual, affective and creative input. The research is rooted on the work of three germinal artists—Chris Marker, Simone Forti and Joan Jonas—whose time-based practices (film, video, performance, dance) consistently engaged with zoological exhibitionary apparatuses. Through the discussion and contextualisation of their work, I aim to comprehend the conditions, possibilities and limits to their engagement, responses to and critiques of the zoo, in order to analyse contemporary art as an exhibitionary practice parallel to that of the zoo. I therefore consider discourses about the format of the exhibition, which are largely framed within the disciplinary ambit of art history, architecture and exhibition studies, expanding them towards a realm where the museological, the artistic and the display of the living contribute to one another in thinking the exhibitionary. Discussing the three artists’ work, I observe how the zoo’s agenda combines entertainment allure, educational aims, colonial narratives and scientific legitimisations, which support one another in entangling animals, infrastructure, optical devices and visitors, thus feeding an important thread of theory across critical animal studies about the effects and purpose of zoological gardens. I also reflect on how confinement, torture and spectacle work hand-in-hand across an exhibitionary logic in which the exhibition of living beings relates to other configurations of display, distribution, and interaction of the museological experience of “nature”.

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