Digital pigment print on Sekishu paper.
This work included in:
The Animal Gaze: Symposium and Art Exhibition
London Metropolitan University.
The Animal Gaze is an event developed from practice-led university research in fine art. The intention is academic: to exhibit and examine new ways in which animals appear in contemporary art and the contingent ethics and aesthetics to which such practice may be subject.
Mary Britton Clouse
When I was a kid I knew I was part dog. My empathic relationship with other animals has always been as central to my self identity as my need to draw. For the last 20 years I have been involved in animal rescue and advocacy. I struggle to weave these aspects together into a life that respects my creative potential and search for purpose.
My bird portrait paintings and sculptures are about real birds rescued from the darkest and most desperate of situations. The chickens in particular represent the most abused and invisible animals on the face of the earth. Each has a history told by lifeless stares and scars. As they heal and express instinctive urges that have been denied, the world begins to make sense. A spark appears in their eyes and their unique individual personalities unfold. This mysterious rebirth is like an elixir and I find such great joy in it that distinctions between portrait and self portrait become blurred.
Human portraits continue to hold an esteemed place in the history of visual arts. Animal portraits are nothing new and unless sanitized into metaphor or decoration, are marginalized as sentimental and not serious art. New knowledge in biological and behavioral sciences continually expands evidence of animal intelligence that was obscured by intellectual bias. That double standard says more about the anthropocentricity of the critic than the art. If anthropomorphism engenders empathy, enlightenment calls for more, not less.
My agitprop cages are perceived as innocuous by humans who create and use them but are weapons from the perspective of those inside. I want them to become obsolete relics of the past existing only in the context of a museum case.
Digital pigment print on Sekishu paper.
I was born in a crowded noisy place. I was shoved in a dark box and woke up at the Dodge Nature Center starving and thirsty, surrounded by dead bodies.
I grew up there and lost one eye in a fight and the other never worked too well. Winter came. Parts of my face froze and turned black and hard. Then I got sick when I couldn’t reach food and water- it was scarce, dirty and tasteless anyway and the others were always frantically fighting over it. I was grabbed and shoved in a wire cage and left in a closet. That was on February 21st. On February 27th, I was grabbed and jostled into the frigid air. I was so weak it took all I had to cry out.
I guess I must have died. Here its clean, bright and warm and there are others to look after. I’m still mostly blind but I know where I am now.
The art of Mary Britton Clouse is vitally linked to her compassion for nonhuman species, as well as her political and practical intervention on behalf of exploited animals. Following many years’ involvement in the animal rights movement, Clouse founded Chicken Run Rescue in 2001, a safe-haven and rehabilitation centre for abandoned, neglected and abused domestic fowl. Operating from the Clouse’s home in Minneapolis, Chicken Run Rescue locates caring, responsible adoptive homes for the chickens and other birds temporarily under its wing. Also the founder of Justice for Animal Arts Guild (JAAG), Clouse opposes art which harms or exploits animals; she is committed to creating and supporting art which advances the rights of nonhuman animals by prompting viewers to question their anthropocentric prejudices about other species. Much of Clouse’s own photography and paintings reflect her passion to revolutionize attitudes towards the most demeaned and manipulated creatures in the modern world: the chicken. Specifically, she strives to dislodge negative assumptions about domestic fowl, explaining: “I see my rehabilitation work with animals and my activism as much a part of my art as pushing paint around a canvas. Both demand science, discipline, creativity, stamina, a willingness to be emotionally vulnerable and risk public ridicule and failure for an ideal”.
The striking photographic images of Nemo - Portrait/Self-portrait (2005) and Hand in Hand (2007), both digital pigment prints on display at this exhibition, demonstrate the impact of juxtaposing human-chicken features, or linking chickens and humans by touch. Clouse’s art here is powerful, not because it celebrates a postmodern obscuring of the human/animal binary, but because it invites – and celebrates - an entirely accessible positive appreciation of the human-chicken connection. It shows this connection occurring close-up and personal, created in tandem by the human and chicken in each shot (indeed, the title of the Portrait-Self-portrait image involving Clouse and Nemo deliberately disturbs complacency about who this “Self” might be). Most importantly, the chickens in Clouse’s images appear as distinct beings, as unique avian co-artists in these pieces, thus challenging the overwhelming inclination for humans to view chickens as characterless, interchangeable and dispensable.
Some of Clouse’s art involving chickens has been fundamentally practical in its formation, obtained from fidgety birds being snapped for the adoption pages of her chicken sanctuary’s website. The arresting Nemo image, perhaps Clouse’s most famous, was the product of just such a process, whereby the faces of human and chicken were momentarily, without posing and entirely accidentally, captured by the camera, in perfect unison. Ultimately such images are persuasive in fostering respect for chickens as individuals. The overturning of humankind’s objectification and trivialization of chickens is central to Clouse’s work: “I hope others can see beyond what they’ve never considered … to see the birds as I do and be touched, letting their guard down because they were looking at art and the truth got in”.
Annie Potts PhD
Co-Director, New Zealand Centre for Human-Animal Studies
University of Canterbury
Aotearoa New Zealand
Wings: Avian Influenza and Me
Wings: Spent Hen (for Nellie)
Nemo- Portrait / Self Portrait
Wings: Eden (in collaboration with Heidi Greger)
Wings: Days Without End
Wings: Non lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch' entrate. View 3.
unasked questions #1
The Loathsome, Repugnant, and Grotesque Misdemeanor
Roseman as a young man
Albert's Circle of Fourths
animal rights, minnesota, cozzetto
River's Edge Dream
measure and pull
Fine Table for Birds
pets or meat
greater than the sum of our parts
Count Every One
What a surprise- exterior
Sticks and Stones: Other Nations Ponder the New World Order
work in progess
River's edge detail 1
River's Edge detail 2
Roberta and Sita
Frida and Diego
City Chickens, Bing
Hand and Hand- portrait / self-portrait
City Chickens, Gody
.000023 Acres of Art; the curse