Photography: Rob Battersby

And Say The Animal Responded?

FACT

If there’s a word to take away from this exhibition, it’s ‘biomimetic’. It means, according to FACT, “the imitation of systems used in nature”. It’s fitting, as I could think of no word closer to the common thread that runs through the work on display at And Say The Animal Responded?

The artists, to integrate their animal muses into the exhibition space, seem to have first integrated themselves into the space of the animal. ARIEL GUZIK’s Nereida is a prime example of this. The object, Nereida, an instrument of sorts, is so clearly human-made that its function (to mimic the sound vibrations of whales in an effort to communicate) is both so far-fetched and yet so obvious. An animal couldn’t have created this object, and it’s remarkable how we, using an object so alien to the animal, can capture something so close to its true being.

Guzik’s instrument is not the only machine in the room. Sitting beside it is KAUI SHEN’s Oh!m1gas, a piece I could best visually describe as an intricacy of clear plastic tubes, tubs and cameras, connected to two turntables. Inside, a colony of leaf cutter ants reside, whose activities control the scratching of the records on the turntables. In a way, the piece replicates the scratching of ants, a method they use to communicate, but translates it into a medium which we can receive, giving them a form of musical expression, albeit an odd one.

The exhibition utilises audio and video masterfully. In the first gallery, recordings from Nereida serve as the backdrop to three video pieces, including a short film charting an expedition of Nereida’s younger brother, Holoturian.

Pan troglodytes ellioti and cousins, by AMALIA PICA and RAFAEL ORETEGA, features a family of chimpanzees. It is a short, looping clip, but it captures something dignified, almost human, in the interaction of the chimps and the camera whose sensors they have triggered.

AND SAY THE ANIMAL RESPONDED? Image 2

DEMELZA KOOIJ’s film, Wolves From Above, sits on the floor in the corner of the room. The camera hovers above a pack of wolves, whose curiosity and attention towards the drone capturing them from above is sporadic, broken by bursts of energy directed at each other. They are more animal, more hostile than the chimps, sitting further down the spectrum which we seem to place ourselves on top of.

Upstairs is dedicated to the digital work of ALEXANDRA DAISY GINSBERG. The Substitute resurrects the extinct northern white rhino. It spawns in an enclosure on screen, boxy and pixelated, becoming more real as it understands the space it is in. It exists for only a short period of time, before it disappears once more. Machine Augeries resides in an adjacent room. The 10-minute sound installation is a sad conversation between the birds increasingly estranged from our urban spaces, and a chorus of artificial ‘birds’, who threaten to make the disappearance of their natural counterparts all too easy, and perhaps even unnoticed. It’s certainly a piece that chimes with the quietness of the early weeks of lockdown.

My worry was that FACT’s commissioned artists would answer the exhibition’s titular question themselves. To my enjoyment this was not the case. The exhibition is a meta-exhibition of sorts, with two levels of commission: first, the mandate by FACT for the artist’s to present a piece of work, and then the artist’s ‘commissioning’ of the animals, who answer the question ‘And Say The Animal Responded?’ in their own way, via the work of these artists.

Through biomimicry, the artists could provide the conditions to allow the animals to do this: in none of the pieces did I feel that the animals were spoken for, this exhibition is not a zoo, yet in all they speak for themselves, in languages closest to their own.

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