Not knowing what to expect can be a great thing, and it has to be said that it was a pleasant and welcomed surprise that Animalesque, at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, was a magnificently trippy experience to which I would happily visit again and again. This exhibition urges you to reflect on your position and relationship with animals in this ever-changing world that we live in.
We embrace diversity, but usually with the human race and not with other life forms that we share our lands with. The atmosphere is hard to explain, but it is enthralling. Housed on floor 4, the space is vast and sparse, with the soundtrack on floor 5 creating a muffled soundscape, adding a calm, slightly disturbing feel.
It’s often said that language is exclusive to Humans, but Yerkish by Amalia Pica explores the lexigram language of the same name, which was developed for non-human primates to communicate. This large-scale piece, with paper and paint on timber, shows the symbols in all their glory. Striking to the eye, this vocabulary is exactly how it would look to apes, showing their intelligence and capability.
On the back wall, there seems to be a colossal mural. It is only as you near that you see the sheer detail and brilliance of the piece. Mary Beth Edelson has used photography, collage, drawing and murals to present women in history including iconic feminists and ancient goddesses. Tying in especially well with the theme, she has managed to orchestrate her work, so the ravishing images look like mythical beetles and creatures.
Taking centre stage is the humorous Hope Hippo by Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla. The clay sculpture of a hippopotamus represents when they decide to go on a lengthy trek and create a path behind them, which becomes new homes for birds and insects. This gives a message to humans that the simple act of supporting each other and creating good fortune matters. By the Hippo’s derriere was a newspaper about Brexit. Strategically placed? I reckon.
A part of the exhibition that blew me away, whilst making me feel strangely content, was 2 or 3 Tigers, by Ho Tzu Nyen. This CGI video installation played out on two screens facing each other and tells the story of George Drumgold Coleman being attacked by a were-tiger, and the history behind it. With dialogue and monologues, the audience is taken on a beautiful, soothing journey. Both characters orbit the sun and moon whilst transcending from each of the screens at different points. The room was pitch black, and it absorbed you fully, incredible.
I have only scratched the surface here for this collective endeavour. Animaleqeque is a cross-disciplinary event nudging at how delicate our planet is, and showing that we are not so far removed from animals as we sometimes believe. Perfect for all ages, there’s enough to satisfy young people without needing to understand the concepts fully, whilst proving utterly fascinating for those that do.
Article by Beverley Knight