Coinciding with the 200th anniversary year of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a new exhibition at RMIT Gallery will explore our enduring fascination with the merging of human and animals into one hybrid creature in My Monster: The Human Animal Hybrid, on display from 29 June 2018.
Shelley’s seminal monster novel explores life and death and reanimating flesh. It is also the story of a hybrid outcast, for Frankenstein’s creature was made as a new species, from a combination of both human and animal parts.
Mythology and fiction have long entertained the fantasy of the animal and human fused into one being, and the metaphorical hybrid is embedded in mythology and folklore. The hybrids that appear in art can be whimsical, alluring, and confrontational.
While hybrids shock and jolt with their appearance, they also offer an unsettling recognition of the disquieting unease we all feel about our place in the world. An ultimate metaphor for the outsider, their very existence is a political act, an affront.
Like monsters of old, they are harbingers of a future we may not like, but are intent on creating through each twist and tweak of our species through biotechnology. Our fear of hybrids stems from the historic view that such creatures are unnatural and monstrous and should not exist, and this revulsion extended to Frankenstein’s ‘hideous creature’ manufactured by science.
The trouble with hybrids is that they disturb our moral compass, reminding us that we are animals, and animals are like us. This is the power of the hybrid creature. When we look into its human eyes, we see ourselves looking back from the animal body we deny we inhabit.
The desire to preserve distinct categories for animals and humans can be traced back to the Middle Ages. Humanity’s perceived uniqueness and dominance over the natural world was defined by its separation from the animal, and still lingers. Witness our current obsession with body hair removal.
Curated by Evelyn Tsitas, My Monster: The Human Animal Hybrid examines the artistic representation of the human-animal hybrid from mythology to movies; taxidermy to biotechnology; painting and photography to multi-sensory immersive sound installations.
“What visual artists can do so powerfully is simultaneously take the viewer into the conflicted and internal world of the hybrid, while at the same time giving a face and identity to the hybrid within the physical but imaginary world,” said Tsitas. “A single artwork can literally replace thousands of words of written text or pages of academic references.”
The 35 Australian and international artists represented in the exhibition use the hybrid as a varied and powerful metaphor, exploring our complex relationship with maternity and domesticity; segregation and alienation; fractured relationships with the natural environment and other animals, as well as struggles with our public and private personas.
Highlights of the exhibition include: a large hybrid sculpture by renowned New York artist Kate Clark, who uses taxidermy to create animal bodies with human faces, cavorting across a vast expanse of faux grass; Sam Jinks’ enormous, hyper-real Medusa, with a hair of writhing snakes which is as intimidating as the stories about her from Greek mythology; and works by Norman Lindsay and Sidney Nolan that examine the erotic aspects of the human animal hybrid that have long intrigued artists.
Artists on display include Rose Agnew, Jane Alexander, Janet Beckhouse, Peter Booth, Jazmina Cininas, Kate Clark, Catherine Clover, Beth Croce, Julia deVille, Heri Dono, Peter Ellis, Moira Finucane & Shinjuku Thief, Rona Green, Ai Hasegawa, Rayner Hoff, Sam Jinks, Deborah Kelly, Bharti Kher, Deborah Klein, Oleg Kulik, Sam Leach, Norman Lindsay, Sidney Nolan, Eko Nugroho, Kira O’Reilly & Jennifer Willet, Patricia Piccinini, Geoffrey Ricardo, Lisa Roet, Mithu Sen, Maja Smrekar & Manuel Vason, Ronnie van Hout, and (((20hz))).
My Monster: The Human-Animal Hybrid
RMIT Gallery, 344 Swanston Street, Melbourne
Exhibition: 29 June – 18 August 2018
For more information, visit: www.rmitgallery.com for details.
Image: Kate Clark, And She Meant It (2010). Medium: Ram hide, apoxie, clay, foam, thread, pins, rubber eyes. Size: 26 x 25 x 21 inches – photo courtesy of the artist.
Note: Some parts of the exhibition contain works that contain adult themes which some visitors may find confronting. Adults may wish to view the space first before accompanying children or students.