4 The Companion Species as Artist

The Companion Species as Artist

IN CONVERSATION WITH GIJSJE HEEMSKERK AND WISKE

Gijsje Heemskerk discusses the installation work that she made together with canine companion Wiske for the Artistic Research Graduation Show ‘‘50/50: I don’t like common ground as a title for anything”.

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Companion Species

The sculptures depicted here are made in collaboration with my canine companion Wiske. Wiske is not a ‘pet’ or a ‘companion animal’. Wiske is, like myself, a companion species. A term that refers to all beings of the world, including humans, non human animals and other organisms. The term was invented by philosopher and biologist Donna Haraway. According to her, all beings are dependent creatures and co-evolve with other beings. Humans, for example, need the fungi in their guts for our food to process. Flowers obviously need their bees and the sparrows in their turn need the humans for their bread crusts. Companion species show us the denseness and complexity of our world, wherein everything is entangled with something. All the beings, or as Haraway puts it, all the critters, bring their own unique vulnerabilities and capabilities to the table.

Animals in the Art World

Within the art field, working with nonhuman animals has become very popular. Think for instance of artists like Damien Hirst, Pierre Huyghe and Suzanne Anker. This evoked many scholars to write about animals and art, as expressed in journals like Antennae and Aeon. Many of them contribute to the field of animal studies and aim to refute its anthropocentric attitude. However, I believe that in almost all these artistic instances, the nonhuman animal does not get the acknowledgement she deserves. The animals in question are often described as merely forms of inspiration or as a symbol, but almost never as artists themselves. Art is often perceived as something that makes humans unique, emphasizing the anthropocentric and human exceptionalist world view. Through investigating the possibility of nonhuman animals as artists I hope to alter this perspective.

1 The Companion Species as Artist

Nonhuman Animals as Artists

Throughout my thesis ‘The Companion Species as an Artist’ I argue that animals are capable of having an artistic practice. They are able to co-create art works with other beings, such as humans, and create artworks on their own. They do not only have the creative and cognitive capacities for this, they also have unique talents of which humans can be jealous. Think, for instance, of bowerbirds. These birds make the most beautiful bowers in order to impress females. These bowers are not nests; they are made as aesthetic sculptures. During their upbringing, the female birds learn how to appreciate the bowers, what to look for and what to dismiss. The style of each bird is unique, but within specific areas trends have been spotted.

Digging Holes as Land Art

Also my canine companion Wiske has an impressive set of artistic skills. Wiske enjoys digging holes, especially at the beach. When dogs do not live with a human companion they often dig one large hole to sleep in. They maintain this hole and return to it. Wiske does not have to do this. She digs the holes out of pleasure. When we visit the beach she immediately starts to dig and mostly ends up with around ten shallow, narrow ones.

One could perceive this intervention as a form of land art, as an artwork produced by Wiske. Wiske and I also made a work together. Some of her holes were our basis. After she was finished digging I poured plaster into them, which resulted in fourteen sculptures. During the Artistic Research Graduation Show these sculptures were presented. Next to the sculptures a video was placed, a documentation of Wiske’s land art, the way she works and the collaboration between Wiske and me.

Gijsje Heemskerk is part of the Animals & Art Group, consisting of artists, researchers and curators who examine artistic representations of non-human animals in relation to equality and difference.

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Images:

Boekestijn, Veerle and Gijsje Heemskerk. 2018. Dig a Hole and Fall in it Yourself. Amsterdam: Nieuwe Dakota.

Wiske and Gijsje Heemskerk. 2018. No Title. Amsterdam: Nieuwe Dakota.

This installation was part of the Artistic Research Graduation Show ‘50/50: I don’t like common ground as a title for anything’, Nieuw Dakota (Amsterdam), 2018.

Artist’s website: https://cargocollective.com/gijsjeheemskerk