28/10/11 – 27/11/11
Mike Bartlett, Anton Goldenstein, Cathy Lomax, Stephanie Quayle, Alli Sharma

‘Everywhere animals disappear. In zoos they constitute the living monument to their own disappearance.’

John Berger, Why Look At Animals?

Stuck in an uncomfortable axis between enforced captivity and the assumed need to preserve endangered species, the zoo is a problematic, almost obscene site that somehow does not fit with a century exploding with an ever-increasing call for human rights. Tainted with the whiff of colonialism and great white hunters, these melancholy menageries continue to exist.

The archetypal of all collections is Noah’s Ark and this template led the way for menageries of exotic animals, collected by wealthy people throughout history, as animals simultaneously disappeared from daily life. Collecting is an activity that allows for a certain amount of control and repositioning of the past, telling the story that the creator wants to be told. Susan Stewart in On Longing says that ‘the collection does not displace attention to the past; rather, the past is at the service of the collection’.

With their various interpretations of this subject the selected artists explore issues surrounding animal and human behavior, questioning why we look at captive animals, the natural and the artificial, and our physical and psychological relationships to animals.

Mike Bartlett’s autobiographical Empty Zoo paintings started with a chance hearing of actor Andrew Sachs talking about his love of zoos, which extended back to his memories of Berlin Zoo in the 1930s at the time of Kristallnacht. This contrasted with Sachs being interviewed at London Zoo after the Russell Brand / Jonathan Ross radio scandal.

Anton Goldenstein’s practice references art and anthropological history, mixing it with issues around empire and colonialism taken from his South African childhood. Added to this mix is a sprinkle of absurdity to give his sculptural animals distinctly anthropomorphic characteristics.

Cathy Lomax’s new series of paintings, Becoming Animals, depicts human animals – people who dream of and consequently become swans, mice, deer and rabbits.

Stephanie Quayle’s sculptural work focuses on the force of nature inherent within animals. Familiar yet distinct from man, the us-ness in their eyes masks an otherness which undermines it. A fascination for ‘animal-ness’ and pursuing what it is like to be animal, drives her making process.

Alli Sharma has taken observations of animals from old postcards in the London Zoo archive as a starting point for her series of small paintings, which suggest nostalgic memories of childhood visits to the zoo and an uncomfortable historical relationship with captive animals.

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