Body in the gallery: posthumanist ethics and the nonhuman animal body in contemporary art
Binnie, Ronald James
This research examines how the manifestation of the nonhuman animal in contemporary visual art is often entrenched in prevailing human systems and practices of violence against nonhuman species. Furthermore, the divide based on species is symptomatic of socially constructed binary divisions such as the ‘natural’ and ‘cultural’, the ‘rational’ and ‘emotional’, in addition to privilege based on gender, race and species. This thesis proceeds from a foundational hypothesis that the killing or abuse of nonhuman animals as a methodology in art practice (even where this is intended as a means to critique killing or abuse) is ethically problematic. It suggests that posthumanist philosophy challenges anthropocentrism and that a radical reassessment of the use of nonhuman animals as an artistic resource, is necessary. Bringing together posthumanist thinking that challenges anthropocentrism (Cary Wolfe, John Gray) and the historical dialectic between feminism and nonhuman animal rights (Carol J. Adams, Josephine Donovan, Lisa Kemmerer), this thesis seeks an alternative ethical, interspecies approach to art practice. This strategy is expounded from particular poststructuralist (Jacques Derrida), posthumanist (Rosi Braidotti, Cary Wolfe) and ecofeminst theoretical ideas, (Val Plumwood, Judith Butler, Lisa Kemmerer) which offer the potential for an interspecies ethic of care approach. Whilst the animal rights movement has made many advances in the protection of nonhuman animals within human systems since the mid twentieth century, the field of Animal Studies, for example the cluster of activity based in Australasia, has more recently begun to radically reconsider prevailing practices. This thesis argues that such an approach should be applied to contemporary art practice to explore new possibilities in human/nonhuman interspecies relations.