Down at ACCA they’re trying to turn animals into people again. You’ve got to be pretty down on your herd to try this trick. Most animals aren’t even toilet trained yet. Maybe that’s part of the appeal: people love cleaning up a mess that isn’t their own.
ACCA says Menagerie is an art show that “…Explores the human tendency to anthropomorphize through animals and their behaviours as a process of metaphoric discovery of the self”. Artists are innovative like that, always extending parameters to the unexpected. So instead of locating a confidante of the same species, you open your mind and go all inter-species on it. Sack all your girlfriends and save a little kitty cat from being euthanized, (which is what happens a lot each January after people buy pets for Xmas presents) and tell them all your hopes and dreams.
My daughter Maxine really wants a doggy. But we missed jumping aboard the housing bubble and remain dirty rotten renters. With a No Pets clause in our lease agreement. As a substitute for our own fiscal mismanagement, I’ve churned out quite a few shell puppies. For Maxine. They distract her from what we can’t provide for her. They don’t bark at night either. And art is more important than property and money.
I’ve accidently dragged and dropped some of my shell puppies for you to look at now, within the Menagerie framework. I’ve always wanted to be in a show at ACCA.
Pets fit into this new theory I have which is linked to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It explains our recent cultural obsessions for Food and Housing (as evidenced in reality shows like My Kitchen Rules, Masterchef, The Block) into our realization that deep down, we’re fucking things up so bad and so quickly that in the foreseeable future, even the stuff that a lot of us take for granted will be threatened. Pets are in the equation too. They function to distract our logical thinking away from ensuing environmental catastrophe with their big puppy dog eyes. The rational replaced by the emotive. They function too as social indicators. You’re saying to your friends: “look, we’re so rich we can feed extra mouths.”
Aside from my shell puppies my other most favorite work that references an artist’s tendencies to substitute animals into roles traditionally allocated to fellow humans is by Richard Bell. It’s Richard’s performance of being an art judge for the Sulman Prize in collaboration with the Art Gallery NSW. It’s one of his best works. He conceptualized his own clever selection criteria to shortlist the finalists that put the emotive quality of animals to work for him. He out thinks his critics who want to challenge his dismantling of the ludicrous art judge system. Art prizes do to artists what Miss Universe does to attractive women. They’re hot babes and most can answer a swerve ball about World Peace on the spot.
Richard Bell, How to Judge an Art Prize; video
Anyway, Rich shortlisted more than 20 artworks depicting animals from over six hundred entries. Asked why, he said: ”I like animals. I was tempted to put in all animals. I was going to make that the criteria but I had to choose some of my friends.”
Was this method unusual?
”What, don’t you like animals?”
Bell said he could not believe the gallery had chosen him as a judge. His initial response, he said, had been: ‘‘make sure you shack me up in a good hotel and fly me Qantas.” Because of its in-flight meals? No.
”There’s an animal on the back of the plane.”
I wish the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art showed as much Aboriginal Art as it used to, before it moved to its rusted red second location on Sturt Street in 2002. Ah, the good old days, I’m sounding old. ACCA does have Australian in its name though.
MENAGERIE continues until 1 MARCH 2015