The lure of the animal

The Hijacked series of exhibitions and publications, currently in its third iteration, juxtaposes the work of Australian photographers with their international contemporaries from the USA, Germany, and now the United Kingdom. Hijacked III brings together thirty-two artists from geographically distant but historically linked places, and the diversity of work is pronounced. However, there are some discernible themes at play: the performance of identity within the urban landscape, the legacy of history in contemporary life, and the unreliable power of the photographic image. A number of artists in Hijacked III also demonstrate a shared interest in the constructed nature of human-animal relationships.

Luke Stephenson, 'Diamond Sparrow', 2009

Luke Stephenson’s ongoing series The Incomplete Dictionary of Show Birds attempts the impossible task of mapping domestic bird pedigrees in images that lie somewhere between portraiture and still life. The series shows the birds’ physical characteristics to their best advantage, emphasizing color, stature and markings, however, the intimacy of the scenes belies the formal beauty of the photographs.  Stephenson is drawn to the eccentric world of breeders, chipping away at the encyclopaedic task of documenting their labors with equally fanatical vigor. Small details like the bright yellow leg ring of a grey finch or the curious gaze of a parrot remind the viewer of the birds’ captive lives and the relationship that binds them to the breeder, and allows them to be viewed as both objects and subjects.

Petrina Hicks, 'Emily the Strange', Lightjet print, 2011

In Petrina HicksEmily the Strange, a young girl cradles a hairless sphinx cat, which clutches her shoulder with a wrinkled paw. A motif of mirroring seems to identify an otherworldly symmetry between the pair; girl and cat each have crystal blue eyes and wear the same pale shade of pink. These unlikely twins comprise a swathe of luxurious textures and vulnerability, and would fulfill that convention of female portraiture in which the subject holds some trinket or fancy that marks her as just one of many ornaments, were it not for the grotesque beauty of the wrinkled cat.

Justin SpiersZoo Series uses the camera’s gaze to highlight the physical barriers that enclose zoo animals while exposing them to scrutiny. Black and white images such as Enclosure VI conjure the aura of nineteenth century photography, offering a glimpse of something remote, exotic and diminished. However, such romance is diminished by the realization that our view is obscured by the sweaty blur of condensation on protective glass. Spiers states, “This mediating layer, which is meant to be clear and not seen, becomes a kind of third space, full of illusory reflections and a patina of scratches and marks.” These images record the unseen viewing apparatus that facilitates the zoo’s illusion.

Justin Spiers, 'Enclosure VI', Inkjet print, 2010

These artists examine ways in which animals are represented as objects of beauty, companionship and amusement, revealing the voyeuristic impulse at play in such constructions.

Hijacked III: Contemporary Photography from Australia and the United Kingdom

Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts 18 February – 8 April 2012

QUAD Derby 3 March – 6 May 2012