Interspecies, Manchester

Kira O'Reilly, Interspecies, Falling Asleep with a Pig, Cornerhouse 2009
Kira O'Reilly, Interspecies, Falling Asleep with a Pig, Cornerhouse 2009
Photograph of girl wearing a headset emitting mild electrical impulses.
Antony Hall, Interspecies, Enki Experiment 4, 2009.
A gallery showing three taxidermied pigeons presented on plinths and a projection of a film.
Beatriz da Costa, Interspecies, PigeonBlog, 2008
Primat makes signals to Bonobo monkeys.
Nicolas Primat, Interspecies, Demo Bonobo, 2009.
Participants watching a large split screen projection of Mayeri's film. The film shows humans on a date alongside baboons mating.
Rachel Mayeri, Interspecies, Primate Cinema: Baboons as Friends, 2009
Interspecies uses artistic and participatory strategies to stimulate dialogue and debate, showing artists in contact with real animals and negotiating a new power relationship, questioning the way we view our interactions with animals during Darwin's anniversary year.
Interspecies asks: Can artists work with animals as equals? If not, what is the current state of the human-animal relationship? It has recently been shown that humans are closer to the higher primates than previously thought, with chimpanzee and gorilla behaviour reflecting politics, deception and even possibly creativity. What does this mean to the way we see ourselves as one species inhabiting a planet in crisis?
This exhibition centres around a durational work by Kira O'Reilly and draws together projects by Nicolas Primat and other artists who question the one-sided manipulation of non-human life-forms for art, and have tried to enter the animals' point of view as a fundamental part of their practice. It has to some extent been inspired by Donna Haraway'sWhen Species Meet but was triggered by discussions with the late Nicolas Primat.


Kira O'Reilly, one of the most experimental and controversial performance artists in the UK, presented an action/installed performance Falling Asleep With A Pig featuring herself and a sleeping female pig. The artist and pig (Deliah) cohabit a living space, partially viewable by the public for 72 hours. At some point the pig and artist fall asleep. 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. In Portrait de Famille, he is playfully swarmed by a tribe of squirrel monkeys, in Demo Bonobo, he established a relationship via sexual signals with a group of Bonobo apes and in The Making of Les Petits Hommes Vers he and his colleagues make a science fiction film with a group of monkeys. 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's Enki Experiment 4 allows visitors to communicate with an electric fish on the same level, avoiding the use of language, instead stimulating a shared empathy through a physical connection. The work 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) 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. Ruth Maclennan's films Harry and Three short films on Hawks and Men explore the relationship between a bird of prey and the human being who trains it, capturing the rapt gaze of hunter and bird, recalling ancient ideas of shape-shifting and shamanic transformations. 

Rachel Mayeri's Primate Cinema: Baboons as Friends juxtaposes footage of baboons taken in the field with a re-enactment by human actors, shot film noir style in a bar in Los Angeles. A tale of lust, jealousy, sex and violence transpires simultaneously in non-human and human worlds.
Beatriz da Costa's work PigeonBlog proposes an alternative way to participate in environmental air pollution data-gathering through equipping urban homing pigeons with GPS-enabled sensing devices. PigeonBlog is intended as a social experiment between humans and animals.
Snæbjörnsdóttir/Wilson's Radio Animal involves a specially designed caravan in which the artists to travel to various locations in the UK to gather material from people about their relationship to animals. They are particularly interested in animals that are considered ‘unwelcome’ visitors but have for whatever reason found their way into what we may consider our own territories.  Animal Radio is a Story Gallery, Lancaster commission funded by the Henry Moore Foundation.


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.

Interspecies, Manchester - Symposia, Talks, Workshops

Sun 20 December 2009

A series of talks and debates between the artists, writers, scientists and animal welfare experts accompanied the exhibition.

ESOL Exhibition Tour: This gallery tour of Interspecies provides an introduction to the artists and works on show with a discussion on the issues involved in the exhibition.
Artists' Open Forum: Antony Hall, Ruth Maclennan, Rachel Mayeri and Beatriz Da Costa: A two hour drop-in opportunity to meet the artists and discover more about the ideas behind Interspecies.
Artist's Talk: Kira O'Reilly in Conversation: Artist Kira O'Reilly and curator Rob La Frenais discuss Kira's exhibition piece in relation to her work on sleep and dream research with humans and pigs.
Workshop: Primate Cinema - How to Act Like an Animal Performance workshops led by Interspecies artist Rachel Mayeri, exploring how primates communicate, primatology and discussing animal behaviour in the wild and in cinema.
BSL Interpreted Exhibition Tour led by artist Andrew Bracey, BSL interpreted by Siobhan Rocks.
Open Forum: Animals in Art As Animal Studies continues to grow as a focal point of academic enquiry, this forum opens up discussion around the question of animals in art and delve deeper into the underlying concepts of Interspecies.
Interspecies Exhibition Tour: An informal tour of our current exhibition Interspecies.
Artist's Talk: Antony Hall An opportunity to hear artist Antony Hall discuss his Interspecies project in which he experiments with cross-species communication; allowing exhibition visitors and electric fish to communicate on the same level but avoiding the use of language.
Viva: and Interspecies present: How to Kill a Lobster: Capitalising on Non-Human Animal Slaughter  As artists continue to consider ethics in relation to the role of animals within their work, this talk explored the increasing presence of animals in theatre and performance art, addressing issues such as activism, reality and animal representation. 


Becoming Bowerbirds workshop with artist Sally Hampson (based on an Arts Catalyst project at Zoological Society London), 2-5pm Sunday 4 October 2009
Interspecies Tales with poet and storyteller Shamin Azad, 2pm, 3pm and 4pm Sunday 4 October 2009


Beatriz da Costa was an interdisciplinary artist, based in Los Angeles, who worked at the intersection of art, politics, engineering and the life sciences. Da Costa’s work usually took the form of public participatory interventions, locative media, conceptual tool building and critical writing. In 2010, Beatriz presented “A Memorial for the Still Living” at the Horniman Museum in London, a project commissioned by The Arts Catalyst as part of the Dark Places project. The exhibition showcased British animal and plant species on the edge of extinction, focusing on “still living” species. The ‘dark place’ refers to the storage rooms of the museum and consequential oblivion, sparingly illuminated by memories of the dwindling few who have encountered the specimens over the years. To realize this exhibition, da Costa worked in collaboration with collection curators at the Horniman Museum and the Natural History Museum in London. In the exhibition, taxidermied specimens of endangered animals lay alongside botanical samples of plants under threat. Each specimen was given a “birth date” (the date of classification and inclusion into the corpus of western science) as well as a “death date” (the date of projected extinction).

Ruth Maclennan is a video artist who is interested in the use of public spaces, a fascination which stems from her days studying Russian at Maurice Thorèse Institute of Foreign Languages in Moscow in 1989-90. Here, the artist witnessed conceptual art installed and performed in squatted Baroque studios and unofficial public spaces. In 2000, Ruth completed an MA in Fine Art at Goldsmiths College, which led to a Leverhulme artists residency at the London School of Economics where she discovered how architecture and design affect human behaviour.

Rachel Mayeri is a multi-media artist specialising in videos, installations and writing projects. Mayeri’s research spans topics ranging from the history of special effects to the human animal. In her video and documentary work, Mayeri uses motion graphics, live-action and storytelling to create compelling films exploring the primate continuum.

Kira O'Reilly is a performance artist, who graduated from the Cardiff School of Art in 1998. Between 2003 and 2004, O'Reilly undertoook a residency with SymbioticA, a bio-art project based in the department of Human Anatomy at The University of Western Australia.

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