Within The Animal Other: The Greatest Spectacle On Earth, I continue my exploration of animal/human relationships by investigating the history of exotic animals or menageries, as entertainment within the circus spectacle.
A menagerie historically has been defined as a collection of wild animals kept in captivity for the curiosity and entertainment of the public. Questioning the cultural representation of these animal collections, I mimic circus billings with my giant charcoal drawings. In Wish You Were Here, I staged the animal performers in precarious and dangerous situations, thus creating an atmosphere of excitement and anxiety. The circus animals are forced into tightly composed group photos as if they are all BFFs posing within a photo booth.
The Simon Says Theater consists of a richly aged three-dimensional stage marred by use, a façade draped with stained and dusty drapery, and a background layered with tents, signs, and wagons. Only one marionette monkey lays lifeless upon the stage, refuge forgotten from the last performance, almost swept beneath the curtains. Off-stage is a cage filled with similar monkeys who are ready to perform at the crowds command. They hang lifeless, caged, awaiting the masterful tug of the chains that bind them. The crowd commands the performance begin and the lights dim. A nickel buys you a momentary distraction as you watch the exotic performance unfold.
This visual cacophony underscores the experience of many a circus-goer - the excitement and wonder, felt on the surface watching these amazing animals perform and the undercurrent of unease at beholding wild creatures dance: living pawns on a most unnatural stage.