Animal Acts | Act 2: Zalophus californianus

May 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

Animal Acts, Act 1: Zalophus californianus

Animal Acts | Act 1: Zalophus californianus

“Tom Norman and his talking fish: hear him sing and also play the pianoforte! Witness this most extraordinary spectacle and take delight in the music of this amazing trained fish; caught alive, in nets, by HMS Galapagos off the wild and rocky shores of Southern California. Without benefit of fingers, and exhibiting the most adroit balance, this piscid performer will demonstrate his most beguiling virtuosity and musicality, through an oceanic repertoire of melodies from popular song and the classics. Only 5/6d, gentlemen will be in attendance.”
Because of their intelligence and trainability, California sea lions have been used by circuses and marine mammal parks to perform various tricks such as throwing and catching balls on their noses, running up ladders, or honking horns in a musical fashion. Trainers reward their animals with fish, which motivates them to perform. For ball balancing, trainers toss a ball at a sea lion so it may accidentally balance it or hold the ball on its nose, thereby gaining an understanding of what to do. A sea lion may go through a year of training before performing a trick for the public. However, its memory allows it to perform a trick even after three months of resting. Some organizations, such as the Humane Society of the United States and the World Society for the Protection 0f Animals, object to using sea lions and other marine mammals for entertainment, claiming the tricks are “exaggerated variations of their natural behaviors” and distract the audience from the animal’s unnatural environment.
Marine biologist Ronald J. Schusterman and his research associates have studied sea lions’ cognitive ability. They have discovered that sea lions are able to recognize relationships between stimuli based on similar functions or connections made with their peers, rather than only the stimuli’s common features. Sea lions have demonstrated the ability to understand simple syntax and commands when taught an artificial sign language. However, the sea lions rarely used the signs semantically or logically.
The California sea lion is used in military applications by the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Programme , including detecting naval mines and enemy divers. In the Persian Gulf, the animals can swim behind divers approaching a US naval ship and attach a clamp with a rope to the diver’s leg. Navy officials say the sea lions can do this in seconds, before the enemy realizes what happened.

Animal Acts
 
These sketches represent the first stages of preliminary work for a series of paintings that I am creating to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the National Fairground Archive, based in The University Library, University of SheffieldThis commission will form part of the Twentieth Anniversary Exhibition which will open in September 2014 and run for four months.
 
This new body of work has been inspired by a number of lively discussions with Professor Vanessa Toulmin, director of the archive. They reflect a shared interest in the changing perception of Animal Acts that has occurred in human consciousness over the last few decades. This change in consciousness towards performing animals has had broad implications throughout society, and acts (in itself) as a powerful indicator of the ambiguities that surround the relationship between the human animal and other species. 


 

Oncomouse

May 13, 2013 § Leave a comment

Oncomouse by K-PÉ, 2013, oil on board

This small, round painting in oil on board is typical of the provocative work created by street artist K-PÉ. Entitled ‘Oncomouse’, the painting has resulted from a process that the artist refers to as “in-appropriation”; it is made using materials and techniques that he has borrowed from the tradition of icon painting.

The OncoMouse or Harvard Mouse is a type of laboratory mouse that has been genetically modified using modifications designed by Philip Leder and Timothy A Stewart of Harvard University to carry a specific gene called an activated oncogene (v-Ha-ras under the control of the mouse mammary tumour virus promoter). The activated oncogene significantly increases the mouse’s susceptibility to cancer, and thus makes the mouse suitable for cancer research. The rights to the invention were owned by Dupont until recently. The USPTO found that the patent expired in 2005, which means that the Oncomouse is now free for use by other parties (although the name is not, as “OncoMouse” is a registered trademark).

Patent applications on the OncoMouse were filed back in the mid-1980s in numerous countries such as in the United States, in Canada, in Europe through the European Patent Office (EPO), and in Japan.

“Depending on the source of information, we are led to believe that humans share between 95 and 99% of our DNA with mice. This shared set of genes is what makes research on what scientists call the ‘mouse model’ effective. What I wanted to do is make an experiment. I wanted to transfer this “OncoMouse” gene into the DNA of  a very famous mouse – the world’s most famous mouse – and see what happened as a result.”

K-PÉ (from artist’s statement)

Mickey Mouse is an animal cartoon character created in 1928 by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, the Academy Award winning animator, at the Walt Disney Studios. Mickey is an anthropomorphic mouse who typically wears red shorts, large yellow shoes, and white gloves. As the official mascot of The Walt Disney Company, Mickey is one of the most recognizable cartoon characters in the world.

Mickey first was seen in a single test screening (Plane Crazy) but officially debuted in the short film Steamboat Willie (1928), one of the first sound cartoons. He went on to appear in over 130 films including The Band Concert (1935), Brave Little Tailor (1938), and Fantasia (1940). Mickey appeared primarily in short films, but also occasionally in feature-length films. Nine of Mickey’s cartoons were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film, one of which, Lend a Paw, won the award in 1942. In 1978, Mickey became the first cartoon character to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

“What interests me most about this Mickey character is the fact that he is a little machine designed to be replicated. He works on a system of easily drawn curves – you can find instructions on how to do this, no problem, if you look and the early animators were fully versed in this code … he has his own graphic DNA, if you like, that is easily reproduced, within a complex system that gives him life. That’s what animation means: the state of being full of life or vigour. In 1941 – before the famous animator’s strike that tarnished Walt’s reputation – there were about 1200 artists making drawings at Walt Disney Studios. It was one of the biggest machines for making art that the world has ever seen. The Disney studio was a very well organised labour force – like an organism – with each part having its role to play. My Oncomouse might be seen to have introduced a troubling note of disease into that organism …

What the actual OncoMouse says about human greed, cruelty and the scientists that tried to capitalise on it doesn’t really need any further explanation from by me.”

K-PÉ (from artist’s statement)

Animal Acts | Act 1: Ursus arctos

May 6, 2013 § 1 Comment

Animal Acts | Act 1: Ursa arctos

Animal Acts | Act 1: Ursus arctos

“Ursula, the brown Russian bear, will Twice Daily perform the most outrageous, courageous, charming and skillful circumnavigations of the circus ring – on a children’s bicycle! This bear, a fierce and formidable Wild Animal when captured, has undergone three years of training in the renowned Moscow State Circus. She is now completely tame and remarkably gentle. Ursula is unique amongst performing animals and is greatly admired by all those who see her perform!”

Evidence that various cultures have tamed bears and trained them for performance dates back as far as the Bronze Age Indus Valley Civilisation. Statues suggest that they were used for entertainment purposes. This ancient practice continues today in places such as India, Bulgaria and Siberia. Performing bear acts are criticised by some Westerners, especially animal rights advocates such as PETA.
Performing bears – usually ‘dancing bears’ – were a common sight in Europe during the Middle Ages. All of Europe had dancing bears during the 13th century. The practice began fading in Western Europe by the 15th century, but remained alive in Eastern Europe. Dancing bears were commonly seen in Bern, Switzerland. The depiction of a dancing bear occurs in the oldest known city seal (1224), and living bears have been kept in Bern at the town’s expense since 1513 (except for a brief interval when the French removed them to Paris in 1799). Dancing bears were also a common feature at traditional winter festivals in Poland throughout the 18th century. In 2007, incidents of dancing bears used as street entertainment in Spain caused a public outcry. It is unclear whether the practice continues. Dancing bears survived in Serbia and the Former Yugoslavia through the 1980’s, but it is unknown if the practise still exists and, if so, to what degree.

Animal Acts
 
These sketches represent the first stages of preliminary work for a series of paintings that I am creating to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the National Fairground Archive, based in The University Library, University of SheffieldThis commission will form part of the Twentieth Anniversary Exhibition which will open in September 2014 and run for four months.
 
This new body of work has been inspired by a number of lively discussions with Professor Vanessa Toulmin, director of the archive. They reflect a shared interest in the changing perception of Animal Acts that has occurred in human consciousness over the last few decades. This change in consciousness towards performing animals has had broad implications throughout society, and acts (in itself) as a powerful indicator of the ambiguities that surround the relationship between the human animal and other species. 

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