Primate Cinema: Apes as Family

Rachel Mayeri, Primate Cinema: Apes as Family, dual screen still 2011
Rachel Mayeri, Primate Cinema: Apes as Family, dual screen still 2011
Rachel Mayeri Primate Cinema Apes as Family 2011 Photo by Matt Chaney
Rachel Mayeri, Primate Cinema: Apes as Family, (still) 2011 cindy kitchen
Rachel Mayeri, Primate Cinema: Apes as Family, (still) 2011 bedroom
Rachel Mayeri, Primate Cinema: Apes as Family, (still) 2011 bedroom

A two-screen video installation made for and with chimpanzees by artist Rachael Mayeri in collaboration with comparative psychologist Dr Sarah Jane Vick.

This documentary outlines their project.

The Project

In Primate Cinema: Apes as Family, the artist imagines a primate social drama in a contemporary urban context and shows this to a chimpanzee audience. Her two-screen video installation juxtaposes the drama enacted by humans in the guise of apes (of a young female city ape befriending a group of outsiders) with mesmerising footage of the reactions of its ape audience at Edinburgh Zoo.

As the watchers of the watching chimps, we perceive - or we imagine - fascination, puzzlement, and flashes of anger in their responses. Sited in different spaces in Los Angeles and Edinburgh we are never sure whether we are seeing a lab, zoo, wildlife park, rumpus room or post-apocalyptic landscape inhabited by half chimp/half humans. Mayeri’s intriguing and amusing story-and-response structure contains darker undercurrents in its contemplation of the lives of our captive close relatives.

To make Primate Cinema: Apes as Family artist Rachel Mayeri collaborated with comparative psychologist Dr Sarah-Jane Vick, testing different styles and genres of film to gauge chimps’ responses and discussing issues around cognition and communication in research primates.   

Rachel Mayeri is a Los Angeles-based artist working at the intersection of art and science exploring subjects ranging from the history of special effects to the human animal.  Her ‘animated documentaries’ often combine motion graphics, live action, documentary, storytelling and Hollywood-style genres.  In 2009 her Primate Cinema: Baboons as Friends (2007), a film noir re-enactment of a baboon social drama with human actors, was presented by The Arts Catalyst as part of Interspecies: artists collaborating with animals in London and Manchester.


Primate Cinema: Apes as Family, a collaboration between Rachel Mayeri and Dr. Sarah Jane Vick, has been commissioned by The Arts Catalyst.


Wellcome Trust Arts Award, Mediterranean Institute of Advanced Studies and Arts Council England. With the kind support and collaboration of Edinburgh Zoo's Budongo Trail.


Rachel Mayeri

Edinburgh Art Festival

Exhibition tour

Exhibition & Symposium, The Arts Catalyst, London

Primate Cinema: Apes as Family will be shown in a solo exhibition at The Arts Catalyst, 50-54 Clerkenwell Road, London
19 October-13 November 2011
Cinema as Primatology symposium with Rachel Mayeri and Sarah Jane Vick
Tuesday 18 October 2011, 4-6pm
The Crypt, St James Church, Clerkenwell Green, London EC1R 0EA
Admission free, booking essential. Online booking here:


Primate Cinema: Apes as Family screening and talk with curator Rob La Frenais
7pm Wednesday 7 December 2011, Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham

Nottingham Contemporary

Exhibition & Salon, Abandon Normal Devices Festival, Liverpool

Primate Cinema: Apes as Family première at AND Festival, Liverpool
29 September-2 October 2011, 11am-6pm
TAO Gallery space, Slater Street, Liverpool

Simian Safari - AND festival Salon event 
Sunday 2 October 2011, 3-5.30pm
Hosted by Rob La Frenais, with Rachel Mayeri and Sarah-Jane Vick.  
What is it that makes us human? Does trying to understand other intelligent species such as chimpanzees or dolphins tell us something about ourselves, our belief that we are somehow unique? In this salon and bus tour of Knowsley Safari Park we explore interspecies communication and whether we can break free of what John Berger called the “loneliness of man as a species”. 

Abandon Normal Devices Festival