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Artist Kira O’Reilly lying on a sleeping platform leaning over to stroke the head of Deliah a pig sleeping in hay below, part of Falling asleep with a Pig for Interspecies Cornerhouse for The Arts CatalystFalling asleep with a Pig, Kira O’Reilly, 2009. Photo: Kristian Buus.

Interspecies, Manchester

Nicolas Primat, Kira O’Reilly, Antony Hall, Ruth Maclennan, Beatriz Da Costa, Rachel Mayeri

Cornerhouse, 70 Oxford Street, Manchester M1 5NH

24/01/2009 – 22/03/2009

Can artists work with animals as equals? It has recently been discovered that humans are closer to the higher primates than was previously thought. This exhibition, organised by The Arts Catalyst on the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth brings together a group of artists who actively question the sovereignty of the human species over the all other animal species. 

Four artists were commissioned to develop projects with non-human animals.

Kira O'Reilly, one of the most experimental and controversial performance artists in the UK, presented an action/installed performance featuring herself and a sleeping female pig. The work addresses the ethics of human and non-human animal interaction, acknowledging the implicit ambivalences and violence in the appropriation of animals as a resource.

Nicolas Primat worked with primatologists and zoos to make a new work in which higher apes are taught video skills. The apes make the creative decisions, with humans simply providing guidance and training. Primat's work explores how the animals' ‘natural’ communication skills can be extended into the realm of human/ape creative collaboration.

Antony Hall encouraged the public to directly communicate with live electric fish in the gallery space, through mild electrical impulses (both tactile and visual). The artist's motivation for this project relates to his long term interest in aquariums. Typically installed as calming objects, on closer inspection they are revealed as contained environments of both aggressive conflict and submissive tolerance.

The Department of Eagles (Ruth Maclennan) is produced a participatory project, examining the communications between falconers and falcons. For centuries, these birds have served to naturalise human surveillance.  Arguably, their existence only continues today through human intervention such as tagging, breeding programmes, and the construction of artificial nesting environments.

Two other works were shown: Rachel Mayeri's Primate Cinema, which casts human actors in the roles of mating non-human primates, Beatriz Da Costa's PigeonBlog which investigates the military use of homing pigeons.

All the artists in Interspecies question the one-sided manipulation of non-human life forms for art. They instead try to absorb the animal's point of view as a fundamental part of their work and practice.

Interspecies is part of the Darwin 200 celebrations in 2009. 12 February 2009 marks the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth. A series of talks and debates between the artists, writers, scientists and animal welfare experts accompanied the exhibition.

Interspecies was later shown at the A Foundation's Rochelle School in London, 1-4 October 2009

Related websites: Kira O'Reilly, Antony Hall, Ruth Maclennan, Rachel Mayeri, Beatriz da Costa, Snæbjörnsdóttir/Wilson, Cornerhouse

The Guardian
Human Features
Open Dialogues Blog

Exhibition supported by Arts Council England, Darwin 200