Identity is based on difference, extrapolated into separations of race, gender, class and species. In art it leads to stylistic differentials and exclusions. By definition we lose something. Given that we face major environmental challenges, we need to rethink our assumptions.
Religious and social conditioning initiated many taboos. Humans see themselves as conscious, sentient beings separate from animals. They imagine a teleological process leading towards perfection or salvation. Theories of evolution share this myth with faith-based initiatives.
Descartes famous statement: “I think therefore I am” provokes me to ask: What is consciousness? Do we think and where does the self come from? There are a lot of assumptions underlying our cultural beliefs. What is the true nature of reality and individuality? How do animals fit in?
Descartes defined consciousness and the unconscious, giving us the mechanical metaphor. The brain is perceived to be of substantive matter but the mind is considered to be immaterial (Dualism). Thus the mind activates the brain, which causes the body to act like a machine. The mind was immaterial and linked to God. He also considered animals to be devoid of feeling and thought. Humans have language, which animals lacked, implying they lacked reason. Only beings endowed with a mind and soul are rational, thus animals could not have a soul. They cannot experience hunger, thirst or pain but produce squeals of pain merely as a mechanical response.
Descartes assumes that behind the thought there must be a thinker. Neurologist Antonio Damascio’s book Self Comes To Mind considers how we fabricate our own conscious minds: “Consciousness is the result of adding a self function to mind that orients the mental contents to one’s needs and thus produces subjectivity. The self function is not some know-all homunculus but rather an emergence, within the virtual screening process we call mind, of yet another virtual element: an imaged protagonist of our mental events.”
What is consciousness then? Philosopher David Chalmers recognizes that consciousness cannot be quantified and therefore, scientifically measured. It exists beyond the brain. He suggests that it can help us to understand our quantum reality. Scientist Dr. Robert Lanza presents Biocentrism: Rethinking Time, Space, Consciousness, and the Illusion of Death. He thinks that the entire thing is just in our heads. It only exists when we observe it and he extrapolates this to the universe, asserting it is consciousness that gives rise to everything, not the big bang. Clearly, nobody really knows.
Unfortunately, we are locked into the Newtonian idea of space, object and time. We use this system because it seems to be objective reality. We observe objects in space and absorb interpretations of the data. However, quantum theorists have made astounding assertions about reality being both particle and wave, with the subjectivity of the “observer”, which is actually a detecting device, predicting the outcome. The double slit experiment sees the interference wave effect transformed into particles if a detector monitors the slit.
It nevertheless points to a deficit in our cultural language that we cannot accommodate ambiguity and contradiction. Things are exclusive as black or white, yes or no, never inconclusive. Cultures like the Kalahari Bushmen or the Australian Aborigines have no problem reconciling alternative versions of reality. They see experiential reality as part of an overall Dreamtime or Spirit- world. Animals and environment are part of the extended “spirit-self”.
Logically, art is a biological expression of the body/mind complex because it is part of our matrix of seeing. Other animals will also project a matrix of seeing to satisfy their ends. To claim human superiority, because of manifestations like reason and art, is extremely arrogant. It is to ignore the strong forces which surge through all life in subliminal form and for which we have no language. The shape that our culture takes is informed by the same energies that compel small fish to swim in formations creating the illusion of a larger fish.
My Primal paintings challenge because they transgress cultural norms and evoke aspects like bestiality. Bizarre narratives with hybridized animal/humans provoke thought. They are tragicomic, in that they deal with life and death, or existential issues, but with humour.
Rethink uses August Rodin’s famous statue, The Thinker, floating ambiguously, with a hamadryas baboon head reminiscent of Albert Einstein. The Chimpanzee in the background observes and “apes” the Thinker’s pose. Bonobos are complex animals that use sex as currency for social interactions. The female sex organ is external, very prominent and prehensile. Their society is matriarchal, benign and very tolerant of diversity. The animals gaze at the viewer. They communicate their sentience and question the viewer.
Rue is a pun on the slang for kangaroo, “Roo” with the added dimension of gravitas or remorse, as in “rue the day”. Stephen J. Dubner and Steven Levitt’s book called “SuperFreakonomics” suggests we eat kangaroos instead of cows who have seven stomachs and emit more methane, which is blamed for global warming. The image is set in a parched land since the environment consumes humans just as much as we devour it. Large snakes are able to unhinge their jaws and expand to swallow the entire animal. This painting is symbolic of Capitalism, constricting and consuming everything in its path. The snake-man’s erection is symbolic of that sexual and unreasoning will to power.
We need to delve into our innate “blueprint” to cope with our environmental catastrophe. Art is a biological manifestation of the species body/mind. I believe that if we can activate new perceptions, which already exist in the so-called subconscious or archetypal mind, we can influence cultural change. Animals have sentience and humans need to increase empathy for our own survival. Individualism is reductive while a quantum mechanical reality would be fluid, thus space is not empty, the “self” contains “others” and time is embedded in the present. The boundaries of individuality need to be loosened to include the environment. We need to see a tree or endangered species as an inherent part of our communal, hybridized identity.