Forming an Intimacy with Animals as a means to Witchcraft, 2022

The Zoomorphic imagination as a ritual is typical in many different places in the world. Humans go through several stages in the imagination of the animal. One is representation, such as the image in Lascaux[1], which could be a way of witchcraft. Here still have some imagining animals that do not exist to sustain the fear of the unknown things and as a metaphor for future control as the description of animals in Bestiary[2] implies. However, Intimacy with Animals is a trending term in today’s world within animal rights activism culture, popularized to include animal advocacy among other historical-ongoing social justice struggles, to finally be taken seriously when talking about animal abuse, Vegetarianism, and Speciesism. How animals are abused and exploited is just as serious and urgent as how humans are abused and exploited, so fighting speciesism will also help fight racism and sexism.

When I see the deer in the park at night every day on campus, I think about the interlaced relationship in time and space between animals and people. It reminds me of Kate Clark's work, she sticks a black face on a deer's body as a strategy to address contemporary struggles for female identity. Rankine in Citizen cancels the difference between human and animal bodies.[3] Throughout the semi-autobiographical collection of poetry, Rankine revisits what the deer, as a metaphor for the hunted, and moaning means to black people. “To live through the days sometimes you moan like deer. Sometimes you sigh. The world says stop that. Another sigh.”[4] Maggie Nelson, in The Argonauts, combines her own and his partner's experiences with animals to imagine a "human animal" that uses language. Both author’s ambiguous imagination is enough to prove an intimacy with animals.

As with this daily ritual of intimacy that occurs between humans and animals, Wolfgang Tillmans recorded his partner and a deer looking at each other in the desert. The partner opened his hands as if performing a witchcraft ritual on the deer. At this moment, the hands took the same form as antlers. When I saw this work hanging on the wall of MOMA, I found that the huge photograph wrapped me in it, as if I was also bewitched by this kind of antlers and human hands. Similarly, in I like America and America likes me by Joseph Beuys, animals become equal creatures that can communicate with people. As Horton said in the description: “Peering in the mirror for a glimpse of the receding past, a viewer would encounter …Now Joseph Beuys’ Coyote appears to grin and wave, pleased to make a mockery of pathos.”[5] Beuys wrapped himself in felt and used a hook as a magic weapon as if using this behavior with animals to deceive the audience into performing witchcraft rituals on themselves.

The soulful treatment of deer is also shown in the work of artist Jimmie Durham. Animals are sometimes used in Native American relationships to convey indigenous communities' values and spiritual beliefs. Animal images are often used to share family, clan, and personal stories. Clan and kinship relationships in many communities reflect closeness to animals. Every animal has a history and meaning. In 1982, Durham built a storefront called Manhattan Festival of the Dead at Kenkeleba Gallery, displaying painted and decorated, deer, horse, rodent, human, and other bone sculptures placed on rough-hewn wood bases. The work parodies the encounter of totemic and tourist forms in packed curio stores, household "Indian nooks," ethnographic museums, and, lastly, an art gallery in New York, where some patrons missed the comedy and happily paid the suggested donation of $5 per person. [6] Durham often likes to use simple, ready-made words to make up his experience's cultural background, which seems to me like a way of using words and images to “hijack” the audience.

In a lot of writings about the origins of art, there is a definition of primitive art as witchcraft. In the early stages of settled life in the villages, witchcraft and religion were developed and systematized. The form we call art is known as sympathetic magic, which was used as a tool of witchcraft for visual or auditory animal figures, human figures, and the representation of natural images, often represented by pictures, idols, masks, and imitative dances. I think witchcraft also occurs from time to time in contemporary practitioners who use poetry, animal imagination, and fiction to confuse visual perception, hearing, creating an unspeakable personal myth, to play the role of psychic mediums and take the audience into an unknown world. My work is based on Humanism or Anthropocentrism, which is commonly known in the field of environmental ethics. When I was in the nomadic process of social territory, I found a lot of interesting materials, which appeared in modern society. It is the product of the technological revolution that is man-made, in which I found a similarity to some sort of mystical ritual, or animal, form. I decided to collect these fragments of history, outside the mainstream animal descriptions, while appropriating technology. As D.H Lawrence wrote,

     “Facing animals,

     surrender the initiative,

     Be a follower instead of a master,

     Transcending borders or the end of humanity.

     Would you like to be his shadow?”[7]

Could we imagine a time and space of possibility in which we could form an intimacy with animals and witchcraft that as a fable or precaution could reflect our world? Since, if not, where we would go?

[1] Lascaux is a network of caves near the village of Montignac, in the department of Dordogne in southwestern France.
[2] Bestiary is a compendium of beasts. Originating in the ancient world, bestiaries were made popular in the Middle Ages in illustrated volumes that described various animals and even rocks.
[3] Rankine, Claudia, Citizen an American Lyric (Geaywolf Press, 2014), 56
[4] Rankine, Claudia, Citizen an American Lyric (Geaywolf Press, 2014), 55
[5] Jessica L. Horton, Art For an Undivided Earth, (Durham, Duke University Press, 2017), 41
[6] Jessica L. Horton, Art for an Undivided Earth, (Duke University Press, 2017), 38
[7] D.H. Laurence, Snake, in The Beast and the Sovereign / Vol. I, Jacques Derrida,(Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2011), 236

ⓒ 2024 Tingting Cheng