With the outstanding presence of canine companions and vegan cuisine, it’s no secret that Williamsburg is a sanctuary for animal lovers and animals themselves. In recent years, the WAH Center (Williamsburg Art and Historical Center) has made several efforts to display the relationship between humans and animals to further levels.
Three years ago, WAH hosted an exhibition, “Wildlife in the Post-Natural Age,” which included works that probed “the persistence of wildlife in American culture and individual imagination.” Cara De Angelis, an artist known to include the rotting corpses of recently ran over rodents in contradictory settings within her work, was invited to curate this exhibition. Not afraid to get her hands dirty, De Angelis goes out of her way to search for a fresh batch of roadkill to include in her work, creating a truly authentic experience.
While fellow artist Kate Puxley has a similar approach to conveying messages with impactful, at times brutal, imagery through her art, she chooses to kee
p her own hands clean by making sculptures out of taxidermy animals. Her featured work “Take-Out,” confronts the viewer’s dietary norms by presenting an animal’s unbutchered and uncooked corpse in a takeout case, forcing those people who eat meat without thinking about the animal that was killed to produce it to consider the origins of their food.
Not all of the art relied on the grotesque to convey their messages however. In a more subtle case, Rachel Bensimon’s piece “Out of Place” encapsulates one’s distance from nature due to urbanization; we no longer fit in our original surroundings. With her pink dress and stuffed animal in stark contrast to the never-ending leafless trees, the girl in this painting seems lost, as if she’s been running away from home. Even if she’s just taking a short walk into nature, not all seems to be right.
Soon after exhibiting “Wildlife”, a new exhibit opened with a similar theme entitled “The Animals Look Back At Us.” While the works presented were more subdued, the works themselves gave those in attendance the idea that animals are as interesting subject as humans, perhaps even more so.
Unlike when two humans find themselves involved in a prolonged period of mutual eye contact, which usually proves to be an uncomfortable situation for both parties, there’s something enchanting about this concept when it occurs between a human and an animal. It’s almost as if staring into one another’s soul is how both human and animal tells the other that although they come from different species, they recognize the fact that they are both living and breathing beings.
The differing demeanors shown heavily reflect which animal is being portrayed. Terri Amig portrays her ram with a calm demeanor to show that while this ram in particular may be large and locked and loaded with a hefty set of horns, it is ultimately a “peaceful, and approachable” animal, which Amig attributes to the ram’s domesticated status in the animal kingdom.
Photographer Lee Deigaard characterizes her subject matter, in this case raccoons, through personified imagery. Forever labeled as bandits, the raccoon in Deigaard’s photograph seems like they are about to pull of the biggest heist of their career, as they look into a washed-up security camera. Due to the lack of color and the obscuration of the animal’s eye details, the viewer is left with a curious void as to the inner workings of the raccoon. Other pieces in this gallery may or may not evoke more ambiguous tones, but as human beings, is the body language of animals really translatable to our own?