Aping Culture

A Few Thoughts on Haunting Art

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If I were to be asked to illustrate the phrase “hauting art”, two examples would spring to mind immediately. They are both by the same artist, both make use of the unveiling documentary functions of photography and both feature simians. That might either mean that Perttu Saksa’s art is especially hauting in the way it delivers the manners in which humans mistreat fellow primates. Or, what haunts me is how the products of this mistreatment – aged taxidermic exhibits in a museal context of natural history (Echo, 2011) and performances of monkeys dressed as dolls (A Kind of You, 2013) – can easily be put into an art context. Taxidermy is still, as Wikipedia examplifies, popularly defined as “the art of preparing, stuffing, and mounting the skins of animals […] for display […] or for other sources of study.” While pet owners thus conserving their loved ones for near-eternity might have known this forever, only the dark capture of these neglected simian exhibits, moth-eaten, blind-eyed and rudely stapled or sawn up, renders the material truth visible: That these are primate corpses, skinned, mounted on plaster and stuffed, it is arms and legs and hands and heads. Conservation, as Donna Haraway nicely dissected, first meant: getting an exemplary stuffed one for the collection before the live ones were extinct, in the process speeding up the extermination because what ape community would give up one of their own to texidermic-artistic and voyeuristic-educational pleasures without a fight? A more modern form of conservation is preservation with the slight tendency to paint the simian as childlike confidante, a consequence of the mean age of the main occupants of rehabilitation centers: orphaned and often humanized infants and juveniles. How matching that street performers in Indonesia take advantage of the human default tendency to look for the (inner?) child and its typical forms of endearment in the living (and for that matter, in the inanimate) world and render chained monkeys into begging dolls in rags. Haunting how these little enforced performers appear to be sad horror story children chained to a wall? Haunting how this is also an art form, that of begging performances as a form of street art as a means of survival?

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