Duke & Battersby

Mylène Ferrand
  • Duke & Battersby, Here is everything, video still, 2013. Photo: courtesy of the artists
  • Duke & Battersby, Here is everything, video still, 2013. Photo: courtesy of the artists
  • Duke & Battersby, Here is everything, video still, 2013. Photo: courtesy of the artists
  • Duke & Battersby, Here is everything, video still, 2013. Photo: courtesy of the artists
  • Duke & Battersby, Lesser Apes, video still, 2013. Photo: courtesy of the artists
  • Duke & Battersby, Lesser Apes, video still, 2013. Photo: courtesy of the artists
  • Duke & Battersby, Lesser Apes, video still, 2013. Photo: courtesy of the artists

Subtitling their website with the motto “Art is for Empathy,” Canadian artist duo Duke & Battersby take a philosophical interest in the relationships between human and non--human animals. Emotion lies at the heart of their video installations and experimental short films, in which they mix animation, shot sequences, and found footage to present animal characters expressing reflections that are both satirical and poetic.

In Here is Everything (2013), ethical lessons are delivered by a cat and a rabbit that have come from the future. They make use of video, which they consider an essential form of communication for Homo sapiens. In their philosophical-mystical discourse, the two characters conjure death in the following terms: “Trauma is the problem, not death itself…. It’s a mistake to think death is the enemy…. Fight suffering.” By foregrounding the question of suffering, common to all beings endowed with sensitivity, Duke & Battersby detach the work from an anthropocentric point of view to broach an ethical perspective that embraces all living beings.

Pushed to its limits, the question of empathy and interspecific attachment mutates into love in Lesser Apes (2011). This video recounts the love story between Farrah, a primatologist, and Meema, the female bonobo she is studying. The mutual affection is not exclusively platonic but has a sensual dimension. With its tinge of humour, the work is sometimes reminiscent of Nagisa Oshima’s film Max, mon amour (1986), which tells of a romance between Margaret, a young woman, and Max, a chimpanzee escaped from the zoo. Lesser Apes pushes more on the limits of anthropo-heteronormative union, however, as the protagonists, though of different species, are of the same sex.

Duke & Battersby challenge the deeply suprematist idea that there is a single way of being in the world. Their work brings to light the fact that modes of appearance and physical realities of living beings are incomparable, composite, and yet symbiogenetic. The concept of empathy that they envisage reconsiders equality and difference, the particular and the general, within structures of domination or power relationships. Although some modes of existence are still unimaginable today, the effect of foreign contagion that Duke & Battersby develop gives birth both to the monstrosity of art and to potential discoveries.

Translated from the French by Ron Ross

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