Encounters: Honoring the Animal in Ourselves
Exhibition dates: September 14—December 29, 2019
Opening Celebration: Friday, September 20, 2019, 7-10 p.m.
Corey Arnold, Untitled, image courtesy of the artist
In the summer sun of the hillside, with my eyes
Far more than human. I saw for a blazing moment
The great grassy world from both sides
—James Dickey, “The Sheep Child”
“Defining the animals as a way of defining the human is as old and common as beer.”
—Onno Oerlemans, “Poetry and Animals: Blurring the Boundary with the Human”
Humankind was born living alongside other animals, studying their behavior, sharing resources, fighting for land, sleeping under the same sky. As civilization progresses and cultural paradigms shift, it is inevitable that our relationship to our nonhuman brethren would also change. Today, other animals possess an endless number of positions in society. They are political pawns, commodities to be bought and sold, and pests to be eradicated. As often and as much they are beloved companions, symbols of beauty and innocence, and essential to environmental stability. They are worshipped and slaughtered in what is, unfortunately, unequal measure. If human activity continues at its current rate, we will lose half of all species by the end of this century.
Our artist ancestors, who painted in blood and carved into stone the likenesses of the animals with whom they shared space, had no choice but to locate themselves within the context of the greater ecosystem Today, encountering an undomesticated creature as we go about our daily lives is, at least in most urban areas, an event of note. Watching a coyote cross a busy street, glimpsing a bobcat on a hike, following a hawk as it circles above, or even finding a salamander in a backyard, can be a singular occurrence in the course of a human life.
All the artists in this exhibition have had, or imagine they have had, revelatory encounters with other animals. Even more, they find meaning for their own lives by interpreting these occurrences. Drawing freely from the characteristics, behaviors, and architypes of the nonhuman animal world they examine the events and emotional content of their lives, exploring themes of kinship, identity, hybridity, death, and love.
In her animated short Ascend, Shiva Ahmadi uses animal imagery to rage against and memorialize the real life death of a 3 year old Syrian refugee. Photographer and fisherman Corey Arnold documents the interactions between animals (human and nonhuman) he witnesses and experiences as a fisherman on the Bering Sea. Patricia Piccinini sculpts arresting, hyper-realistic creatures that are both human and other, speaking to the mutability of form. Printmaker Belkis Ayón Manso draws on the power of the animal architypes in African-Cuban myth to tell her own story.
As John Berger puts it, “animals first entered the imagination as messengers and promises.” And if the artists in this exhibition are any indication, this they remain.
Rooted: Trees in Contemporary Art
Exhibition dates: January 18—April 5, 2019
“Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.”
—Herman Hesse, Bäume. Betrachtungen und Gedichte
Perhaps more than any other elements of the landscape, trees represent nature. Their greenery breaks up the hardscape of our suburban or urban environments, reminding us of the natural world. Trees remain the largest living organisms on earth. They also serve as relics of a prehistoric world, with some trees in California dating to more than 2,500 years ago. For these reasons and more, trees have continued to inspire artists, generating artwork that encourages us to consider the power of trees in our lives and communities.
Our City is named for a tree—El Palo Alto—a 110-foot-tall, 1,100 year old Coastal Redwood. In the 1890s, early tree advocates in our community planted our initial tree canopy. At that time, members of the Palo Alto Women’s Club transported milk cans filled with water in horse-drawn buggies to irrigate these early trees. Today, the City of Palo Alto grows and maintains approximately 36,000 city-owned urban trees. These trees remain a vital part of the Palo Alto landscape.
Trees provide a variety of benefits to people and our larger ecosystem. They trap dust and air pollution, shading harmful solar radiation. Trees absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, reducing the overall concentration of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere and slowing climate change. They are natural air conditioners, reducing summer temperatures. Trees help people live longer, healthier, and ultimately happier lives averting an estimated $6.8B in health care costs. Research indicates that exposure to trees reduces blood pressure, slowing heart rates and reducing stress.
The Palo Alto Art Center has its own collection of unique and wondrous trees on our property. After seeing the show, we encourage you to pick up a tree map and explore the trees around you.