“We humans like to think that we have capacities that make us not only distinct from all other creatures on the planet, but also superior to them. We eat them, kill them for sport, drink their milk, wear their skins, ride on their backs, ridicule them, house them in zoos, and breed them to our own specifications”
Michael Corballis in The Recursive Mind: The Origins of Human Language, Thought and Civilization
The aping blinking seeing series is inspired by the resistance against the often unethical practices on living beings through the application of transgenic art and biotechnology. The subject-matter reawakened in me the consciousness for the individuality of all living beings and the unfairness of suffering introduced to these beings in manipulated circumstances in laboratories or forced social structures. More specifically, my work has been shaped by research of the mental state of primates used in scientific experiments and the proven fact that they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. The Pan troglodyte, common name chimpanzee, was the chosen species used in the images. In particular, the life story of Oliver, a chimpanzee first mistaken for the missing link, and his subsequent suffering in lab experimentation, was an inspiration for the work. Oliver was known as the “Humanzee”, because of his unusual human-like face and features. For many years, Oliver was the subject of intense and cruel experimentation.
Each portrait consists of approximately 50 layered images of chimpanzees used in laboratories for research experiments. Small illuminated and dissolved pieces of these chimpanzees were carefully repurposed to construct an entire new identity, a new species through digital manipulation. Transgenic art methods are applied conceptually in a non-bioart manner. The method is symbolic of how a scientist or transgenic artist would identify, select and repurpose a genetic trait or characteristic. Careful selection, manipulation, pairing and subtraction occurred to create a new identity for the sake of art. The portraits came into existence as the process continued; eventually developing its own identity, expressing individual emotion.
In order to maintain the integrity and the skeletal nature of the subject-matters used, no filters, additional colours, shading or any artificial elements were applied. Instead, I chose to use parts and elements of photographic material, as is, only in transparent form and layered over one another. Images of different parts of the chimpanzees were used with new definition, for example, the hair on the shoulder of one chimpanzee would form part of the eyelid of the simulacra, or the iris of one chimpanzee would form part of the inner brow of another. All unnecessary information is stripped from the portraits and they are left with minimal combined elements to mostly represent the eyes of the chimpanzee. The colours of the portraits are a result of the transparent layering; interestingly they reflect the colours of bruising.
Only when it was finally established that Oliver was not a human hybrid, he was transferred to a sanctuary where he spent his last years. All his years as a test subject left him unable to interact with other chimpanzees, blind and arthritic. Oliver’s human-inflicted condition towards the end of his life ironically contributes to the title aping blinking seeing. Do we as a society blindly support scientific and artistic practices where animals are experimented on to a point where they turn blind?
For more information on the creation process, please download the exhibition catalogue below.
Digital Portraiture on Soft White Illovo Paper
841 x 1189 mm
Edition of 12
Copyright reserved by the artist. Price upon request.
Master's of Visual Arts graduation exhibition
Unisa Art Gallery
Albert van Abbehuis