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Joni Doherty, IDSVAFollow





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This dissertation considers the ways in which artists working with living animals articulate the complex and paradoxical nature of human-animal relationships. The examples used are from signature moments in the more recent past, with an emphasis the interactions of contemporary European and American artists. Works considered include circus acts, natural history dioramas, and pieces by Bartabas, Joseph Beuys, Carolyn Carlson, Catherine Chalmers, Hubert Duprat, David Nita Little, Joanna Mendl Shaw, and David Wojnarowicz.

Various discursive and knowledge systems are at play in these works, and affect how the animals are treated and how they are represented. This project also challenges the cultural construction we call nature. Much effort has been put into avoiding the hazards of positivism, duality, and relativism. In spite of the inevitably limiting cultural and historical constraints, my aim is to generate some usable knowledge that informs how we understand the languages of art and philosophy and engage with systems of knowledge, especially as it concerns our ethical and aesthetic relationships with animals, including other humans.

Combining artistic and deconstructive practices within the theoretical framework of situated textualities reveals the richly complex yet tenuous nature of our relationships. The art works considered here express misunderstandings, tensions, connections, and the potential for transformation, sometimes simultaneously. Deconstruction is used as a prism to reveal a spectrum of insights, where what once seemed familiar now points toward the unknown, ignored, or overlooked. Situated textualities, which insists that a complex matrix of practices, materials, beings, and contexts must also be taken into account, offers openings for tacit and sensory ways of knowing, which both complement and resist the limits of rational analysis. My theoretical approach is influenced by the ideas of Mikhail Bakhtin, Matthew Calarco, Jacques Derrida, Donna Haraway, Lynette Hunter, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Jakob Von Uexküll and, of course, by the artists whose work is considered here.

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Aesthetics | Animal Sciences | Art and Design | Philosophy


Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts


Portland, Maine

Animals, Ethics, and Aesthetics: Expanding Lexicons



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