87_DO03_Zhong_Haeg_Animal Estates
Fritz Haeg Animal Estates Regional Model Homes #1: New York, NY, installation view, 2008 Biennial Exhibition, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2008.
Photo : Sheldan C. Collins

From Critical Art to an Art of Reconciliation: Cohabitation with Non-Human Animals

Estelle Zhong
In Par-delà nature et culture (2006), anthropologist Philippe Descola sheds light on one of the means by which art has helped shape the Western notion of “nature” as inert matter, thus paving the way to considering life as a whole as an exploitable resource. Drawing on Erwin Panofsky, he explains how the symbolic form of linear perspective in landscape painting contributed to the objectification of an outside world, one of pure exteriority set against the spectator’s interiority, a duality that configures existence. This bifurcation of the world into humans, on the one hand, and all other living creatures on the other — what Descola calls naturalism — is revealed by current environmental crises to be a toxic conception of the world that must be transformed if we wish to live on a livable planet.

If art has been instrumental in the formation and sedimentation of the naturalist conception of the world, it also has the power to break it apart by participating in the invention of viable relationships with living beings. But what paths may we take to replace the naturalist relationship with healthier, more enriching, and more intense connections with non-humans? By what means and under what conditions can art best produce an enduring transformation in our rapport with other living creatures and the rest of the world? It is from this perspective that I will examine the work of contemporary American artist Fritz Haeg.

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This article also appears in the issue 87 – The Living - The Living

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