None, the zebra finch refuses this stalk for its work. Only the next fiber, placed on a white surface by the hand of the artist Björn Braun, does the bird accept and fly out of the picture with it in its beak. Presenting, recording or leaving behind, Braun’s video shows nothing more of the interaction between humans and animals in just under an hour. The results of the cooperation from 2012 are only waiting in the next room: nests made of twigs and feathers, colorful plastic sticks and plastic ribbons, sometimes delicately knitted, sometimes compact. Objects that appear artistic and are raised on a pedestal in the Art and Culture Foundation Opelvillen Rüsselsheim.
“Every animal is an artist,” asserted Rosemarie Trockel in 1993, thus turning the egalitarian but anthropocentric dictum of Joseph Beuys from the artistry of every human being to the feminist and zoological. In Rüsselsheim, a Trockel’s dog, Hannah, looks at photographs that alternate between classic portraits and identification documents. In the display case next to it, a picture shows Peter Weibel on a dog leash, held by his partner Valie Export, crawling through a pedestrian zone: Document of a typical excitement of the sixties, when the women’s movement aroused masculine fears.
For other reasons, but still with an emancipatory claim, artists today are on all fours. Krõõt Juurak and Alex Bailey act crawling, resting or crawling in front of dogs and cats in performances presented and filmed specifically for the show. The pets, alien to the artists, are neither pressured nor manipulated; you can volunteer. Only humans are capable of appreciating such exercises of mindful approach at eye level as art: the Animal symbolicum, which has at least partially freed itself from the cage of behavioral biology by producing and interpreting complex signs. A deep rift separates us from the rest of the fauna.
Encounters at eye level
And yet we have always lived in such intimate, complex coexistence with her that three coordinated exhibitions of contemporary art and design under the heading “Artentreffen” in Rüsselsheim, Wiesbaden and Offenbach can only scratch the surface. The animal as danger and food, companion and object of disgust, as supplier of raw materials, totem, revered or hated being; the animal as a fragile existence, endangered by us in its continued existence or already extinguished: to break down all of this would be an endless undertaking. But the climate crisis has given human-animal relations a new urgency. On the other hand, the rise of veganism from being a whimsy to a lifestyle phenomenon is just a symptom. Moreover, in times when biological dichotomies such as that of man and woman have become questionable, the willingness to perceive the once sharply drawn boundary between man and animal as a blurred line also seems to grow.
In “Art for Animals”, the title of the exhibition in Rüsselsheim, which aims to achieve a “change of perspective for people”, the focus is on the animal counterpart as an actor, partner, co-creator, whose status far exceeds that of an object or an object Props. Perhaps that’s why she doesn’t waste a thought on the Dobermans in Anne Imhof’s “Faust” installation or the coyotes that Beuys made part of an action. Instead, the animal itself is creative. Lickstones of elk, goat, zebra, giraffe and bongo, cast in bronze by Jan Schmidt in 2014, turn out to be involuntarily formed sculptures, appropriated ready-mades of animal origin, worlds away from the brushwork of occupational therapy zoo monkeys.