Despite the similarities between animals and humans, a hierarchy has developed that classifies the animal body with a different set of aesthetic and ethical dimensions. Through a particular combination of art works and craft traditions that examine the ongoing shifts in animal-human relations, the Second Life exhibition will consider various historical and contemporary approaches for reconciling human estrangement from the animal, and equally the natural world. For over 40,000 years, as the earliest cave paintings indicate, the non-human animal has functioned as a primary source for artistic visions that help mediate our understanding of the surrounding nature as well as ourselves. Combining ceramics, collage, design, installation, painting, photography, sculpture and video with taxidermy and other uses of the vestiges of animate beings, Second Life will present artistic interventions that disrupt our expectations of animal identity and illuminate the current role that animals play in contemporary art and craft practice. Knowledge of science and anatomy are employed in order to address the themes of control, preservation and survival.
's exhibition borrows its name from the online virtual world Second Life, launched in 2003. Second Life users create an avatar, an often-idealized stand-in for an individual's actual self. The avatars become creative representations that exist only in the virtual realm where the user is provided with a second life and where they may spend as much or more time than they do interacting in their actual daily life. The fantasy dominates the real. Similarly, native cultures around the world engage in folk rituals that use bones and other animal matter to create avatars, masks and totems, allowing for individuals or groups to connect and identify with a power or spirit animal that signifies access to an ancient past or alternate reality. These folk traditions relate to similar occurrences in the wider culture via superhero narratives like Spiderman and X-Men, where mutant bodies, depicted as having both animal and human traits, give humans access to the force and power of earths fiercer creatures.
The shift among many artists away from a dependence on anthropocentric thinking, or human speciesism, is reflected in the growing use of animals in contemporary art. The natural beauty of animals inspires artists who employ the display and craft of natural history museum taxidermy and hunting trophies, but they move beyond these antiquated presentations of 19th-century objectification into the 21st century by creating artworks that are filled with dynamic meanings and interpretations. The Second Life exhibit will look at how artists have explored the human impulse to give life to the lifeless, to reanimate the deceased, and to transcend the body.
Artists included in the exhibition: Jennifer Angus, John James Audubon, Bigert & Bergström, Drew Conrad, Mitch Eckert, Carlee Fernandez, Charles Fréger, Adam Fuss, Kay Polson Grubola, Edward Hart, Laura A. Hartford, Jochem Hendricks, Damien Hirst, Jacob Heustis, Lonnie Holley, Jessica Joslin, Katie Parker and Guy Michael Davis, Vladimir Peric, Rosalie Rosenthal, Andrea Stanislav, Turner + Guyon, Meyer Vaisman