Fieldworks. Animal Habitats in Contemporary Art

In Featured Events / July 31, 2014

Fieldworks is an exhibition of Irish and international contemporary artists whose work explores the environments inhabited by different species of animals. From remote woodlands to urban locales to artificial or scientific displays, the study and observation of animals often requires us to experience these creatures in the wild or through a careful re-creation of their natural dwellings. This exhibition takes a closer look at such places, offering insight into how animals forage, nest and play and how their habitats are represented in contemporary art.

Throughout Fieldworks, a number of artists address the hidden presence of animals, their proximity to human civilisation and the ways in which we interact. Ciarán Murphy’s paintings reveal darkened caves, treetop nests and snow-capped mountains, with his subjects portrayed in compositions that suggest infrared vision or overhead, aerial perspectives. The viewer is granted access to the unseen activities of these habitats’ denizens and this approach also informs Adam Chodzko’s Night Shift series, where the nocturnal habits of rats and toads, snakes and stags, are vividly captured through night-vision photography. Petra Feriancova employs a different photographic tactic in her work, reproducing the small colour snapshots of distant birds taken by her aunt in 1970s east Africa, while her new series of sculptural works evoke the abstract forms of various habitats through their incorporation of nests and shells.

Wesley Meuris, Crocodile Range - A freshwater Swamp in the Wetlands, 2006. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.
Wesley Meuris, Crocodile Range - A freshwater Swamp in the Wetlands, 2006. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.

In recent times, the incursion of wild animals into urban locations represents a shift in their patterns of living, as they discover new sources of food, different terrains and forms of co-habitation with unfamiliar neighbours. This juxtaposition of nature and urbanism is approached through works that look at the tentative adaptation of animals to modern life. F l o M a a k digitally manipulates his photographs to introduce images of zebras and polar bears into man-made artificial shelters, while Sonia Shiel‘s sculptural installation of everyday objects and materials combines elements of the natural environment and contemporary consumer society. In Ho Rui An’s film Incursion, an attempt to make a wildlife documentary is continually interrupted by the distractions of mobile phones and modern dilemmas. The subtle portrayals of migrating birds in Jochen Lempert’s photographs reveal the artist’s original training as an animal biologist, as he documents these nomadic animals in their temporary habitats of city streets and concrete architecture.

The domestic setting is captured in a short film by Chris Marker, which observes his pet cat as it lounges across a household piano. Like his other video pieces in Fieldworks, which take place in zoos and wildlife parks, the interaction between people and animals involves ideas of domestication and leisure. Vanessa Safavi’s sculptural installation of taxidermy birds suggests a similar sense of the animal as a household object or furnishing, with their brightly coloured plumage displayed across the gallery floors. The hamsters, rabbits, and guinea pigs portrayed in Ruth van Beek’s photographic collages have been folded and spliced together, creating strange new hybrids that are simultaneously endearing and disturbing.

Wesley Meuris, Enclosed Habitat Area for Medium-sized Rodents, 2006. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.
Wesley Meuris, Enclosed Habitat Area for Medium-sized Rodents, 2006. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.

The ways in which we observe animals are represented in artworks that acknowledge the role of the scientist in our understanding of different species. From museum displays to zoological dioramas, their research depends upon a holistic, contextual treatment of the ways in which animals adapt and react to their surroundings. Petrit Halilaj uses materials borrowed from the Natural History Museum of Kosovo to create sculptural installations and drawings, while Julia Schmid’s intricate pencil drawings portray the displays of animal habitats from a range of museums. For Wesley Meuris, the zoological enclosure represents an idealised image of the natural environment, and, in his large sculptural work and series of drawings, the architectural qualities of these spaces are emphasised while their animal occupants remain nowhere to be seen.

Developed in collaboration with researchers from University College Cork’s school of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences (BEES), Fieldworks includes an educational display of artefacts from UCC’s Zoology Museum as well as an extensive programme of lectures, workshops, tours, courses and events.

Wesley Meuris, Aquatheatre 3: An Amazing Show with Three Gigantic Walruses, 2006. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.
Wesley Meuris, Aquatheatre 3: An Amazing Show with Three Gigantic Walruses, 2006. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.

Notes on the artists and artworks

Fieldworks includes work by the Irish artists Ciarán Murphy and Sonia Shiel. Ciarán Murphy’s work has been shown internationally, with solo exhibitions in Amsterdam, Chicago, Dublin, Philadelphia and New York. Sonia Shiel is currently a resident artist at the Irish Museum of Modern Art and recently returned from a residency at the International Studio & Curatorial Program in New York.

Petrit Halilaj and Petra Feriancova both represented their respective countries of Kosovo and Slovakia at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013.

The acclaimed filmmaker Chris Marker (1921-2012) was the recent subject of a retrospective at the Whitechapel Gallery in London. His many films include Sans Soleil (1983), Level Five (1997) and La Jetée (1962), the basis for Terry Gilliam’s 1995 film Twelve Monkeys.

Jochen Lempert originally trained as a biologist in the 1980s and began to use photography in the early 1990s to study the natural world. He was nominated for this year’s Deutsche Börse Photography Prize, which included an exhibition at The Photographer’s Gallery, London.

Adam Chodzko’s work Night Shift, included in Fieldworks, was originally created as an artist commission for the 2004 Frieze Art fair in London. His numerous exhibitions include shows at Tate Britain, the Royal Academy, the Venice Biennale and the Istanbul Biennial.

Julia Schmid was the recipient of the 2013 Kunstpreis der Sparkasse Hannover, awarded since 1984 to outstanding artists based in the Hannover region.

Ruth van Beek’s photographs have been published in magazines worldwide such as Time, Capricious, Foam, Fantom, Rodeo, It’s Nice That, and recently in the British Journal of Photography where she was selected as one of their 20 photographers to watch.

It is possible to arrange for press interviews with the curator and some of the participating artists. For further discussion of the exhibition, press images or more detailed information, please contact: Chris Clarke, Senior Curator, c.clarke@ucc.ie or +353 21 4901822. Lewis Glucksman Gallery, University College Cork, Ireland.

Wesley Meuris, Aquatheatre 4: The Funniest Humboldt Penguis Performing in a Great Show, 2006. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.
Wesley Meuris, Aquatheatre 4: The Funniest Humboldt Penguis Performing in a Great Show, 2006. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.

Notes on events in the exhibition

The Lewis Glucksman Gallery makes great art available to everyone. A wide range of events and activities are programmed for all abilities throughout the exhibition run. You can view the entire programme in he gallery’s seasonal brochure.

For an expert audience: Perspectives: Artist Talk series
 1pm – 2pm, Thursdays throughout October 2014. Developed in partnership with CIT / Crawford College of Art & Design.

To make your own masterpieces: Bird’s Eye View: Drawing Tour of UCC Artworks 1pm, Saturday August 23, 2014
. Part of Cork Heritage Open Day.

To introduce young people to art: Family Sundays: making art together 
3-4pm, Sundays from September 7 – November 2, 2014.

Wesley Meuris, Cage for Saimiri Boliviensis, 2006. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.
Wesley Meuris, Cage for Saimiri Boliviensis, 2006. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.

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