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ANTENNAE

ANTENNAE

THE JOURNAL OF NATURE

IN VISUAL CULTURE

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THE JOURNAL OF NATURE IN VISUAL CULTURE

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As an invitation to undertake the labor of empathy, Zoospeak cannot make it easy for us. Looking at captive animals doesn’t amount to empathizing with them. To feel as another feels requires thought and sustained effort. Haunting Meade and McArthur’s collaboration is the eventual failure of every effort to feel as others feel—because, quite simply, “you” are not “I.” In McArthur’s photographs of animals languishing in captivity, few of the prisoners are clearly vis-ible. Instead their portraits are largely incomplete. Some are blurry or hazy. Certain faces are obstructed by fencing, rain and claw marks on the glass, or crowds of human spectators. Certain bodies are fragmented like the sawfish who cannot fit into the frame. McArthur’s subjects aren’t all “there” in these photographs—and it’s true, as Meade points out, an imprisoned bear is but a ghost of herself. The inconclusive quality of McArthur’s portraits also demonstrates the willful ignorance of zoo patrons and the limits of the most well-intentioned empathy. “We look but we don’t see,” she writes in Zoospeak’s Foreword.

 

As an invitation to undertake the labor of empathy, Zoospeak cannot make it easy for us. Looking at captive animals doesn’t amount to empathizing with them. To feel as another feels requires thought and sustained effort. Haunting Meade and McArthur’s collaboration is the eventual failure of every effort to feel as others feel—because, quite simply, “you” are not “I.” In McArthur’s photographs of animals languishing in captivity, few of the prisoners are clearly vis-ible. Instead their portraits are largely incomplete. Some are blurry or hazy. Certain faces are obstructed by fencing, rain and claw marks on the glass, or crowds of human spectators. Certain bodies are fragmented like the sawfish who cannot fit into the frame. McArthur’s subjects aren’t all “there” in these photographs—and it’s true, as Meade points out, an imprisoned bear is but a ghost of herself. The inconclusive quality of McArthur’s portraits also demonstrates the willful ignorance of zoo patrons and the limits of the most well-intentioned empathy. “We look but we don’t see,” she writes in Zoospeak’s Foreword.

 

And Meade’s poems are full of looks, stares, gazes, the reader is caught in a blitz of looks—remindful of the enfilade of looks that humans fire on captive nonhumans day after day. Meade contorts looks and as if refracts words for looking, as when he plays with the word “overlook,” meaning both ignored and overly looked at. The captives’ looks become despairing, pathologi-cally dissociative (“focused/unfocused”) to the point of shutting down: “My gaze remains turned inward. / My eyes have seen too much.” Meanwhile humans’ looking is distorted by deliberate insensitivity: people mistake a sawfish’s nostrils for his eyes so that (what isn’t actually) his face can seem to resemble a human visage.

 

Zoospeak is Meade’s tenth collection, following The Private Zoo, Les Animots: A Human Bestiary, and other poetic reflections on human-nonhuman relations. McArthur’s photojournalistic investigations of nonhumans’ fraught experiences in human territories are numerous and re-nowned, including her monographs Captive and We Animals. Anyone who wishes to engage with zoo studies and animal studies—or simply with complex and inspiring creative work—would find much to contemplate in Zoospeak.

 

 

In “Walrus…” and “Burmese Python…” the animals succumb to hysteria reminiscent of Stockholm Syndrome and, in “Minnow, Cuba, 2008,” to a paralysis worse than death:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A refreshing quality of Zoospeak is the artists’ solicitude towards all captive species. They acknowledge not only charismatic orcas and elephants, but also the dignity of the mouse who meets his end as a meal for some more photogenic animal; and in fact, “Minnow,” to this reader, is thoroughly devastating. This poem is unusual for Zoospeak in that, when Meade reiterates a line, he ever so slightly alters its punctuation. With each stanza slightly different from the last, it’s as if each revises the one before rather than building upon it, so it’s as if the poem is trying and trying to begin but cannot seem to get itself going—just as the minnow is trapped in a catatonic, probably trauma-induced stupor. Awake but not awake, the little prisoner is suspended between life and death.

 

Meade’s formal strategies challenge readers to resist just walking by as humans tend to do in zoos, glancing at the listless cougar and plowing on in search of something not boring. Meade wants us to bed down in the cage. His reiterations and accumulations bind the reader to the present moment. We’re accustomed to reading as a progressive experience; we read to find out what happens, to see an argument develop towards its conclusion. But for captive animals nothing is happening, there’s no development, no horizon; there’s only endless waiting and pacing round and round—and that level of monotony, so utterly relentless, can be hard for a reader to bear. Consider Meade’s “Western Lowland Gorilla, Poland, 2016”: the poem does nothing but describe the gorilla’s enclosure again and again. The temptation is to skip ahead, find out what happens even though we know nothing will happen. But to skip ahead would be to miss the point of Zoospeak, for what the book dares us to do is tarry with the prisoner’s monotony, linger in the captive’s futureless present. What we must do is read and, if tempted to skip ahead, refocus on the line which is the same as the lines before, and then again, if tempted, drag our attention back and slowly forward through what we’ve already seen.

 

As an invitation to undertake the labor of empathy, Zoospeak cannot make it easy for us. Looking at captive animals doesn’t amount to empathizing with them. To feel as another feels requires thought and sustained effort. Haunting Meade and McArthur’s collaboration is the eventual failure of every effort to feel as others feel—because, quite simply, “you” are not “I.” In McArthur’s photographs of animals languishing in captivity, few of the prisoners are clearly visible. Instead their portraits are largely incomplete. Some are blurry or hazy. Certain faces are obstructed by fencing, rain and claw marks on the glass, or crowds of human spectators. Certain bodies are fragmented like the sawfish who cannot fit into the frame. McArthur’s subjects aren’t all “there” in these photographs—and it’s true, as Meade points out, an imprisoned bear is but a ghost of herself. The inconclusive quality of McArthur’s portraits also demonstrates the willful ignorance of zoo patrons and the limits of the most well-intentioned empathy. “We look but we don’t see,” she writes in Zoospeak’s Foreword.

 

And Meade’s poems are full of looks, stares, gazes, the reader is caught in a blitz of looks—remindful of the enfilade of looks that humans fire on captive nonhumans day after day. Meade contorts looks and as if refracts words for looking, as when he plays with the word “overlook,” meaning both ignored and overly looked at. The captives’ looks become despairing, pathologically dissociative (“focused/unfocused”) to the point of shutting down: “My gaze remains turned inward. / My eyes have seen too much.” Meanwhile humans’ looking is distorted by deliberate insensitivity: people mistake a sawfish’s nostrils for his eyes so that (what isn’t actually) his face can seem to resemble a human visage.

 

Zoospeak is Meade’s tenth collection, following The Private Zoo, Les Animots: A Human Bestiary, and other poetic reflections on human-nonhuman relations. McArthur’s photojournalistic investigations of nonhumans’ fraught experiences in human territories are numerous and re-nowned, including her monographs Captive and We Animals. Anyone who wishes to engage with zoo studies and animal studies—or simply with complex and inspiring creative work—would find much to contemplate in Zoospeak.

ZOOSPEAK cover

Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture

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Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture

Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture

Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture

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Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture

Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture

Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture

Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture

Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture

Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture

PAGE 49

DONNA HARAWAY

AND MANY MORE

Jenny Rock and Sierra Adler | Roberta Buiani  Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr | Jim Supanick  Melissa Dubbin & Aaron S. Davidson | Helen J. Bullard | Liz Flyntz & Byron Rich with Marnie Benney | Carolyn Angleton | Pei-Ying Lin | Jonathon Keats | Eugenia Cheng | Margaret Wertheim | Alex May | Andy Gracie | Daniela de Paulis | Bettina Forget and Gemma Anderson

WITH CONTRIBUTIONS BY

The interface emerges as an agentially charged field—it reveals itself as a productive material dimension through which our thinking, questions, and assumptions are formed, mapped, shaped, and tested. From this perspective, the interface manifests itself as an artistic material-surface—a creative and reactive field through which we modulate the bandwidth of a perceptual gap—the poetic and philosophical distance between us and the actants and systems we study. Because of its inherent agential potential, the interface is also prone to become an ethical battlefield.

Keith Armstrong | Elizabeth Atkinson | Sarah Bezan

Lee Blalock | Sougwen Chung | Anna Dumitriu Gilberto Esparza | Aki Inomata | Eduardo Kac  Roger Malina | Sam Nightingale | Laura Splan  Bernd Scherer | Dana Simmons | Sylvia Solakidi AndrewYang

 

WITH CONTRIBUTIONS BY

 

 

Pacing, swaying, rocking, rocking, staring into space, pacing, hiding, burying themselves in sleep, pacing, pressing up against the walls, the bars, the fence as if to wish away reality: captive nonhumans descend, as would any human prisoner, into slow madness manifesting as stereotypic behavior. Horrifying as it is for a free-roaming human to think them-selves into the nightmare of zoochosis, that is Gordon Meade’s challenge in Zoospeak, his poetic collaboration with the photographer Jo-Anne McArthur.

 

The poems are deceptively simple. All are approximately the same length. All use the first-person singular in the present tense, imagining readers into the perspectives of captive nonhu-mans around the world. Each is as unique, dynamic, and self-conscious as any human “I.” Many of the poems address a “you,” implicating the reader as a past or potential zoo patron who as such is complicit in nonhuman trafficking. And all the poems experiment with the same developmental structure: each stanza is a copy of the one before with the addition of one new line. “Red Panda, Canada, 2008” begins:

ZOOSPEAK

poems and photography

 

 

BOOKS IN REVIEW

 

Gordon Meade and Jo-Anne McArthur . Enthusiastic Press . 2020

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Abbas Akhavan | Bergit Arends | Marc Beattie Giovanni Aloi | Honor Beddard | Emily Eastgate Brink

Aaron Delehanty | Mario A. Di Gregorio | Mark Dion  Maria P. Gindhart | Isabella Kirkland | Maria Lux Lorraine Simms | Regan Shrumm | Tamsen Young Doug Young

 

 

 

WITH CONTRIBUTIONS BY

 

#50 — remaking nature

 

How can we make people care for the natural world so that they might invest in its preservation? For natural historians of the 19th century, the answer was to kill animals in order to set up gorgeous, dioramas. Today, artists are proposing many different answers to the same question, while finding innovative ways to celebrate biodiversity and promote new conceptions of the natural world at a time of unprecedented environmental crisis.

3 making nature 5 making nature 4 making nature 2 making  nature

The prisoner’s experience makes less and less sense to

the prisoner the longer

it goes on

 

MANUELA INFANTE

quotation quotation two

 

 

The poems embody zoochosis; they enact zoochotic monotony not only with their content but also in their way of being, of manifesting before our eyes. The panda’s every move is a copy of the one before with the addition of another one just like it. And the same goes for the shark, the eagle, the buffalo…

 

I’m reminded of Alvin Lucier’s I am sitting in a room. Lucier recorded himself reading a text, recorded the recording of himself reading, recorded the recording of the recording of his reading, and so on; the recordings of recordings piled up on one another until what began as a man’s voice and words became a beautiful mush of completely nonsemantic sound. With repetition stacked upon repetition, the words, Lucier’s voice, and our sense of his presence become less and less discernible as what they are; our experience, as we listen, becomes steadily less intelligible, less and less definable according to the schemata of what is called sanity.

 

Reading Zoospeak is like listening to I am sitting in a room. Meade dares to imagine what most zoo — and aquarium — visitors resolve never to see: someone going insane before our  eyes. The prisoner’s experience makes less and less sense to the prisoner the longer it goes on: the monotony of the cage, how it is that time passes without anything ever changing — ever, unto death. In “Polar Bear, Canada, 2008,” the bear behind the fence can no longer discern what he himself is thinking; he can’t discern whether or not he is able to want or wish for anything anymore. The bear in “Brown Bear, Croatia, 2016” is starting to confuse her body with her “Perspex, metal, concrete” cage.

 

REVIEW BY  MANDY-SUZANNE WONG

...resist just walking by as humans tend to do in zoos, glancing at the listless cougar and plowing on in search of something not boring.

quotation quotation two

There are only so many times

that you can walk upon the same patch

of snow before it turns to solid ice.

 

There are only so many times

that you can walk upon the same patch

of snow before it turns to solid ice

or melts; I have walked that path.

 

This is what happens

during the early stages

of awakening. Things begin.

 

This is what happens

during the early stages

of awakening. Things begin

to stop; almost everything.

 

This is what happens

during the early stages

of awakening. Things begin

to stop. Almost everything

grinds to a halt—I have.

 

This is what happens

during the early stages

of awakening. Things begin

to stop. Almost everything

grinds to a halt. I have

been trying to awaken.

 

This is what happens

during the early stages

of awakening. Things begin

to stop. Almost everything

grinds to a halt. I have

been trying to awaken

now for almost two years…

 

MANDY-SUZANNE WONG, PhD, is the author of the novels Drafts of a Suicide Note (Regal) and The Box (Graywolf 2023) along with Awabi (Digging), a short-story collection. Her nonfiction on art and animals includes three books — Artiicial Wilderness (Selcouth Station), Animals Across Discipline, Time and Space (McMaster Museum of Art), and Listen, we all bleed (New Rivers 2021) — as well as essays published in Black Warrior Review, Cosmonauts Avenue, Entro-py, Permafrost, and elsewhere. Her work has been a Foreword INDIES finalist, International Book Award finalist, PEN Open Book Award nominee, and Best of the Net nominee.

 

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