Exhibition Project
Becoming Animal, Becoming Human
Animal Perspectives
Jo Longhurst

In her multi-part work “The Refusal,” British photographer Jo Longhurst has produced a photographic monument to her own whippet as well as the entire race of whippets. In her large-format whippet portraits she examines the idea of perfection with reference to racial standards as well as the identity construction of breeders, carried out via dogs. In “Sightsound,” however, she has created an installation which requires a certain type of becoming animal from viewers: A number of pairs of eye-holes set approximately at breast-level before which observers must bend down and forward. This stooping forces them out of their normal upright position to adopt a more horizontal view. For a long time, walking upright with a glance potentially focused upwards represented the most important difference between humans and animals and is even today still occasionally cited as a hierarchically-conceived unique feature of humans.
Exhibition visitors now briefly assume a forward-leaning position, an unintentional imitation of a hunting dog, to render their own field of vision similar to that of an animal. At first glance nothing concrete is to be seen in some of the motifs. Visitors’ eyes must first adjust to the unusual stance and the vexing optical experience of stereometric pictures in order to, as it were, hunt the subject down in the labyrinth.

Longhurst thus not only offers an ironic commentary on the proverbial resemblance between dog and owner but also a critical observation on the power relations between working animals and owners as well as an imaginative approach to the wealth of experience of our apparently close companions. In addition to the outstanding olfactory sense possessed by all canines, greyhounds, in particular, who use their vision to hunt, also have a strongly developed sense of sight which has been deliberately enhanced through breeding.

Merely the attempt to lean forward and see with the eyes of a whippet, which has been trained to assist people in hunting, thus lending the dogs social status, suggests an empathic approach to animals and implies the theoretical acceptance of an animal perspective independent from that of humans; a point of view which human observers can briefly make their own in a rudimentary fashion through performatively becoming animal.

Jessica Ullrich

Sighthound, 2004 / 2005, 3-D Installation

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