ENCLOSURES / ENCIERROS (1999-2003)
These series of images are the result of an inquiry into animal iconography while working at the Banff Center for the Arts in Alberta, Canada. They include photographs taken at the Glenbow museum, the Calgary Stampede and at a petting zoo (1999 -2003).
These photographs reflect the structures of our systems of knowledge aimed at communicating our understanding of the animal world. For example, the natural history exhibit at the Glenbow museum is an expression of the techniques and processes of preserving animal species for the purpose of study. Birds such as owls and seagulls are kept in special glass cases, and seen by the hundreds of visitors to the museum. Taxidermic animals such as bisons, bears and elks are transformed into objects of contemplation for people who may never have the fortune of encountering them in the wild. But, what can we learn from the process of collecting, classifying and preserving animals for the purpose of study? Does our empiric methodology that stems from the age of enlightement suffice to answer questions of who we are in relationship to non-human animals?
The exhibits of farm animals, commonly inlcuded in fairs such as the Calgary Stamplede, could be seen as an expression of the underlying values of our systems of production and treatment of animals in the show. For example, the cows that are on display are the best specimens of selective breeding aimed at maximising meat production. Alpacas, which originated in the Andean region are now part of the North American wool industry, lliving in human-made adapted envirionments. During the exhibits, prime cattle specimens are treated with special medications and diets in order to control their digestion and prevent any unwanted bodily functions from happening during the public visits. Human concepts of beauty, such as braiding and decorating with colourful ribbons, are applied to the animals to make them seem more appealing to the eye. Seen in this context, the trophees of the winning animals become symbols of a system we commonly support.
In addition, the aesthetics of the petting zoo also mirrors the educational values we hold, as when we place animals from very different geographic origins in a single cell. This is the case of the emus that share the same enclosure with the donkey and the goat. What do these animals have in common and what do we want our children to learn from the experience of looking at them?
The photographs of the Enclosue series are aimed to be viewed as documents that reflect the values and question the contraditions inherent in the culture we live in.