Exhibition Project
Becoming Animal, Becoming Human
Animal Perspectives
Iris Schieferstein

Sculptor Iris Schieferstein’s Hubby Series assembles hybrid creatures as if from unfamiliar myths. Parts of hoofed animals turn up frequently, as do ears or tails of large mammals, and pieces of fur. In this bestiary “Hubby III” is a comparably gentle creature, an androgynous elf. Cords reaching from the base to her elbows create the impression of fragile dragonfly wings. Were this creature human, it would have just entered puberty. This reminds us that those beings inhabiting the animal kingdom are not the only ones to undergo various metamorphoses over the course of a lifetime. The human body, too, is in a state of constant change – the female body shown here at a tender age will be fundamentally altered and subjected to a modification affecting the entire physique.

Our physical existence is a continual becoming. Who knows, then, whether one day a hoof or charmingly stubbed tail might actually grow on us? The genetic information for such growths lies encoded right there in our genes, and Franz Kafka long ago explored the hypothetical question of just how such an experience might feel. In human cultural history, there are some examples of similar fantasy creatures undergoing pubescent metamorphosis. Ancient genies or cupids, humorous fairies in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream – in the end the Romantic visual world is populated by capricious figures, sometimes lovable children of nature, sometimes creepy spawns of hell. From Pan to Beelzebub, hoofed feet and animal ears have enjoyed a long pagan and later Christian tradition.

At a time when combinations of physical characteristics that cross the borders of individual species have become possible by means of genetic experiments, however, Iris Schieferstein’s life-sized figures engender different associations than those arising from chimeras in the depths of history. Today, living mice can be produced which have human ears growing on their backs – so why not also a girl lost in her own thoughts, with donkey ears, perhaps as a punishment similar to that which Pinocchio received? Or possibly in the context of a physical optimization program designed to outwit the sporting bureaucracy’s doping regulations? Human beings, as imperfect creatures, have often dreamed of possessing traits observed in animals: To be as agile as a deer, as strong as a lion or able to fly like an eagle. What desires might have inspired “Hubby III”?

Fantasy, the imaginative capacity, the ability to put oneself in another person’s shoes – these are traits Western philosophy has reserved for human beings, as compensation for all their physical shortcomings. Just like melancholy. While viewing Schieferstein’s work, one might think that the fantasy genre’s visual world suggests that such a human existence is only realizable in becoming animal.

Friedrich Weltzien

Hubby III , 2006, steel, plaster, acrylic, fur, hooves, wood, thread. Photograph: Stephan Rabold
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2010


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