Exhibition Project
Becoming Animal, Becoming Human
Animal Perspectives

Tier-Werden, Mensch-Werden / Becoming Animal, Becoming Human
9 May - 14 June 2009
Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst (NGBK), Oranienstraße 25, 10999 Berlin

Eija-Liisa Ahtila (FI), Catherine Bell (AU), Marcus Coates (GB), Kathy High (US), John Isaacs (GB/DE), Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid (US/RU), Angela Köntje and Peter Frey (DE), Daniel Lee (TW/US), Jo Longhurst (GB), Reiner Maria Matysik (DE), Aurelia Mihai (RO/DE), Patricia Piccinini (AU), Iris Schieferstein (DE), Deborah Sengl (AT), Jana Sterbak (CA).

The exhibition Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Human was concerned with the processes of dissolution and becoming of animal and human identities and thus also with new ways of looking at both animals and humans. It took the idea of becoming-animal formulated by Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus as a starting point, which the curators however then expanded and reinterpreted.

The artistic positions in the exhibition span a range of media covering sculpture and drawings, photography and video installations as well as assemblage and performance.

On the one hand the exhibition brought the ideas expressed by Deleuze and Guattari to fruition of a quite particular kind when it attempted to answer the question What does becoming animal look like? by presenting artworks to exemplify this. On the other, it also included a second focus, presenting works addressing a certain becoming-human on the part of animals and attributing quasi-human qualities to animals in order to question whether these qualities are in fact exclusively human.

In one example, an evolutionary process from fish, reptile and ape to a human being is shown in fast-motion, in order to demonstrate that the boundaries between these living beings are fluid (Daniel Lee); another allows one to experience the transformation from predator to prey within an animal body (Deborah Sengl); yet another presents transgenic beings who have left unknown processes of becoming behind them (Kathy High). Stalled processes of becoming and transformation are also to be found in the work of Patricia Piccinini. By contrast, Jana Sterbak and Jo Longhurst allow the viewer to slip into a dog’s pelt and thus to see through its eyes. Aurelia Mihai shows a shamanistic bear-transformation of young people as a traditional way of temporarily trying out animal identities. Eija-Liisa Ahtila and Marcus Coates imitate the body language respectively the acoustic forms of expression of animals; Catherine Bell exchanges bodily fluids with animals.

These positions ask, Where does the animal body end and where does the human body begin? – without presenting clear-cut answers.

Hardly a day goes by without human beings’ self image being shattered by reports of new developments in the realm of bioscience. Man may not be as exceptional as he thought he was. But probably human beings become only completely human, when they reflect on their own animal nature. Being-human is not a clearly defined state of affairs, the borderlines are blurred, and there are overlaps with both the animal and the anorganic world. In its emphatic sense, being human is not something which is self-understood, but is instead a performative act which is in a constant state of becoming.

Amongst other things Deleuze’s and Guattari’s idea of becoming-animal means the dissolution of forms. The concern is with diversities. Individual animals can be regarded as being such multiplicities. For Deleuze and Guattari animals are “packs”, which form, develop and transform themselves via contagion.

Becoming-animal is an idea which artists have seized on. Human identity is thereby replaced with forms of performance that transgress boundaries between species, the subject conceived of as being autonomous and resting in itself becomes destabilized and transformed into a constantly changing eccentric self.

An exhibition by the NGBK project group
Jessica Ullrich, Kassandra Nakas, Friedrich Weltzien, Antonia Ulrich, Séverine Marguin.

A catalogue in German language has been published to accompany the exhibition, including translations of two key texts on the exhibition’s theme: Donna Haraway’s When Species Meet and Steve Baker’s What does becoming-animal look like? The catalogue in German language is available through: Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst, Oranienstraße 25, 10999 Berlin, Germany. The English translation of the catalogue is published on this website. Translated from German by Staci von Boeckmann.

26.4. - 21.6.2009, Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Human in cooperation with the exhibition Tierperspektiven / Animal-perspectives at the Georg-Kolbe-Museum (GKM) (Sensburger Allee 25, 14055 Berlin).
29.5. - 28.6.2009, Part 2 of Tierperspektiven could be seen at Projektraum Souterrain (Sophie-Gips-Höfe, Sophienstraße 21, 10178 Berlin).
20.5. - 28.5., Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art, was showing a thematic film program (Potsdamer Straße 2, 10785 Berlin).

The exhibition and catalogue Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Human was funded by Stiftung deutsche Klassenlotterie Berlin.
NGBK would like to thank the Regierender Bürgermeister von Berlin, Senatskanzlei – Kulturelle Angelegenheiten for the support and Stiftung Deutsche Klassenlotterie Berlin for financing.

This project has been assisted by the Australian government’s arts funding and advisory body the Australian Council for the Arts. We are grateful for the kind support provided by the Québec Government Office, the Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ästhetik e.V.
Media partner: Kunstmagazin Berlin.