Interrogating reciprocal gaze: the animal and human in contemporary art

Dover, Barbara Ann (2008) Interrogating reciprocal gaze: the animal and human in contemporary art. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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The research considers and appraises issues pertaining to the human relationship with animals, particularly in relation to companion animals, primarily focusing on the nature of their non-verbal communication and mutual gaze. It applies a contemporary visual arts perspective to animal advocacy and to aesthetic and ethical questions implicit in the human-animal relationship. The research is developed from an analysis of the literature, which evaluates interdisciplinary and scholarly perspectives on animals across such fields as philosophy, anthropology, psychology and ethology as well as visual art, predominantly contemporary international and Australian art. It also builds from the context of the researcher’s extensive experience and parallel interests in animals, animal advocacy and the arts.

The literature contextualises and defines the parameters and working principles of ethical aesthetics, impartial advocacy, imaginative insight and experiential discipline, which are interlocked with the key principles of reciprocity and participation, proximity, responsibility, empathetic agency, connectedness and continuity, subtlety and restraint that form the conceptual framework and the visual art questions, both of which are fundamental drivers for the research.

Specifically, the research probes the nature of the human-animal interchange and underlying relations, and the continuity evident in this exchange, by means of the reciprocal gaze, through interrogation of the engagement of visual artists with the sensitivities and aesthetics of such interactions. At the macro level, the research seeks to probe how a selection of contemporary Australian artists contextualises and realises the potential of the animal-human gaze in their artwork.

Conversations with these artists together with selections from their work formed the basis for a focal exhibition, Eye to Eye, in which each artist interrogates the nature of the animal-human interaction, principally focusing on the animal-human mutual gaze. The works also connect through their conceptual bases of the animal-human interface within the consideration of ethics and aesthetics as well as by their use of digital technologies.

Against the backdrop of Eye to Eye and the resultant analysis of works which explore reciprocity of gaze between the animal and human as evidence of the animal-human relationship, the micro level research focused on artistic work deliberately designed to re-align animal-human interactive looking and mutual gaze and, in doing so, to establish a more harmonious balance between the two. A critical phase in the methodology of the research is the prototype phase from which the resolution, scope and direction for the focus, media and methods are established for artistic practice. The public outcomes of this research are the exhibitions entitled Face to Face and Interrogating Gaze which comprise a group of installations, together with a series of wall works focusing on companion animals and their humans. This research questions the moral and physical boundaries of our relationship with animals, and, in redressing the balance between the two, recognises and celebrates the sentience of the reciprocal gaze.

The implications and future directions of the research offer possibilities within four key areas. First, the research provides a solid conceptual and practical base and impetus for further and ongoing development of personal art practice addressing the nexus of animal-human relations, particularly within the consideration of animal sentience, animal advocacy, ethics and aesthetics. Second, the research opens up opportunities for curatorial work particularly within the genre of contemporary visual art and animals and animal-human relations. Third, given the dearth of publications within the field of Australian contemporary art and animals, potential publication and/or publication collaboration on contemporary art and animals present a viable option to address the deficiency. Finally, within the emerging interdisciplinary area of animal studies, the sphere of the animal and animal-human relations and contemporary art offers significant potential for further scholarly research.

Item ID: 17278
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: human-animal relationship, companion animals, non-verbal communication, gaze, contemporary visual arts, animals in art
Date Deposited: 27 May 2011 04:55
FoR Codes: 19 STUDIES IN CREATIVE ARTS AND WRITING > 1905 Visual Arts and Crafts > 190504 Performance and Installation Art @ 50%
19 STUDIES IN CREATIVE ARTS AND WRITING > 1905 Visual Arts and Crafts > 190502 Fine Arts (incl Sculpture and Painting) @ 50%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9501 Arts and Leisure > 950104 The Creative Arts (incl. Graphics and Craft) @ 100%
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