The Human Animal

“Man is the only creature that refuses to be what he is.” 

Albert Camus

I have often explored the idea of the “Animal” in my work and the relationship between man and other life has been on my mind recently for one reason or another. As I contemplate the direction my life and my art practice will take in the coming months I feel somewhat compelled to return to this concept to see how I can evolve my thoughts on it and what insights I can gain from exploring it through a freshly developed performative practice.

I find it interesting that such a divide is made between nature and culture and especially between human animals and non human animals. There is often a negative reaction to the notion that man is an animal, as though to acknowledge this is to somehow degrade man. It is seen as an insult by a species which has declared itself privileged among the life on earth.

It seems paradoxical that the same men who will argue adamantly that we evolved from apes will also attest to our apparent elevation from the natural to the cultural. While it seems true that we have “artificially” interfered with our physical evolution through the development of medicine and technology; allowing us to cure diseases and prolong life which may otherwise have altered the human gene pool, these changes merely indicate an alternative direction in our evolution. We are a species of inventive tool users, our tools have just got a bit more complicated over the years.

Culture is natural. The human city is no less natural than a beehive or termite colony. We build ourselves shelters and interact with each other to survive just as all animals do. We are still driven by the same primal instincts that we were millions of years ago; to live and eat and reproduce. It is these drives that are at the heart of all our advances.

Despite this, and to the other extreme, there is often a tendency to villainize man amongst ecological circles; to suggest that we are unworthy compared to other animals as we are “destroying the planet”.  This is untrue. We are in the grand scheme of things a blip on the surface of the world, life has existed for millions of years and will continue to exist when we are gone. That is not to say that we aren’t having a significant effect on the species we share the planet with; neither does this give us the right to abuse the planet, but the arrogance of assuming that we could bring about the destruction of life on earth serves only to perpetuate the myth that we are somehow above nature.

We are the biggest danger to our own existence. We should not be worried about destroying the planet but rather about destroying human life on the planet. We need to reconnect to our animality; to see ourselves as part of nature in order to rebalance our relationship with the planet and our relationships with each other. Once we stop seeing the world and the life on it as commodities for our own convenience and allow ourselves to recognise our place in the ecosystem, we can begin to reach an equilibrium with the world we live in.

What is needed it would seem is a re-evaluation and a re-education and then perhaps there will still be a place for the human animal on Earth.

The ExcreMENTAL Philosopher

“As children, we have all suspected it: perhaps we are all, moving strangely beneath the sky, victims of a trap, a joke whose secret we will one day know…

Only a few of us, amid the great fabrications of society, hang on to our really childish reactions, still wonder naively what we are doing on the earth and what sort of joke is being played on us. We want to decipher the skies and paintings, go behind these starry backgrounds or these painted canvases and, like little kids trying to find a gap in a fence, try to look through the cracks in the world.”

Georges Bataille, The Cruel Practice of Art  (1949)

Referred to as the excremental philosopher, Georges Bataille writes about stepping outside the social norms and accepted behaviours of society. He celebrates base materialism, the low and the dirty without trying to elevate its status.

This is what I aim to do within my performances. To allow the base and the low to communicate without elevation or idealisation, to step outside the norms of behaviour and explore what can happen when one allows oneself this freedom.

Because of this disregard for accepted modes of behaviour, performance artists often seem slightly unhinged. As I embark on this journey of artistic discovery I am prepared to put my dignity and sanity aside. It’s all in the name of art.

That’s my excuse anyway.