People tend to personify. As children we acquaint our stuffed animals with powers to protect, to be our best friends, sharing in our deepest secrets and most fantastic dreams. As adults, the need to personify, it is argued, manifests itself in our pets. In western culture, we imbue in our pets, traits only we think we have the ability to possess. Conversely, we tend to treat farm animals and those used for science with a cruel sense of objectification and disregard. Wild animals, on the other hand, take on a level of mistrust and mystery – as they are independent of us. These tend to become archetypes in the Jungian sense. The latter are the animals that most frequently dominate the work of Kristen Bjornerud and Tamara Bond. Our relationships and understanding of animals are as complex and varied as our dealings with them. What we understand about animals is filtered through a cultural lens, and ultimately, the way we interpret their actions tends to be about us.1 However we view animals, they fill our lives and sometimes invade our dreams with their presence. Both artists use their dreams of animals to create detailed works on paper that speak to a collective unconsciousness, drawing the viewer into further introspection. When first viewing these works, one tends to think of the paintings that came out of Dorothy Dunn’s studio or 19th c. illustrations from children’s fairy tales.2 With amazing attention to line and detail, animals and the artists themselves float on white backgrounds. While locating a subject on a blank background could have an isolating effect, here it causes the viewer to maintain a keener focus on the subjects. Depicted animals can be unusually small, but never do they take on enormous size. Both human and animal take on peculiar importance within these curious relationships established by the artists. Both artists have used animals and humans combined in one form, either through the process of transformation or through hybridization. In My Baby Owl, Bond’s character looks down to a sleeping hybrid baby that is both human and bird. The baby, with the helpless quality of a newborn, lays observed by a woman clad in a fancy dress. The woman has the power to care for the baby – or let it perish. She does not seem shocked by its appearance; her expression is one that does not question the curious existence of such a creature. The baby’s existence implies an unusual relationship between human and owl, but only if we think of them as they exist in their usual wakeful form. The image could be hinting at a paradigm shift, the hierarchary of humankind over animals is destroyed– we are made of the same substance. In La Loba, Bjornerud is juggling a paper cutout of a woman transforming into a wolf. She is in control of the dream, the process of making. Becoming a werewolf is a curse in western thought. They roam under the light of a full moon preying on hapless victims. In one regard, the werewolf myth is about the dangers of allowing animal instincts to take over human rationality. A completed transformation would be a loss of control to a wild, therefore unmanageable nature. In this image, the artist is the master of the transformation, creating it, never allowing the figures to escape her fingertips. She writes that this dream is connected to the myth of La Trapera (the gather) and Little Red Riding Hood. Myth appears as an important factor for both. In Bear in Bed, Bond’s character lays postulate in bed with a large bear. Their expressions are one of indifference; each appears lost in their own thoughts. The image recalls the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. In the tale, Goldie runs away in order to avoid contact with the bears, thus evading physical harm. The image leads one to speculate, that the artist is literally ‘in bed’ with the animal that inhabits her dreams, in this case a bear. She does not run for fear. In her unconscious mind the bear is at ease in their relationship. Bjornerud writes that she would be comfortable “if it were possible to reassign the literary genre of magical realism to visual art."3 Indeed, the images are magical and mysterious, allowing for interpretations where reality seeps into the complex symbolic process of imagination and into the unconscious act of dreaming. Back to the Studio school and the western fairy tale. It may be argued that there is a clear understanding of the differences between human and animal from the work of artists or Dunn’s Studio. In fairy tales as in dreams, lines are blurred, boundaries crossed and skewed. These complex, layered works have many interpretations, for both the artists and the viewer. The works provide opportunities to empathize with similar experiences. The works share both our adult and childhood fascination for kinship with animals. The drawings and paintings also point to a broader cultural unconsciousness from which people draw, which is ultimately about us, as that is what we are most familiar with. Leanne L’Hirondelle Director/Curator
Friday, April 25, 2008 to Saturday, June 7, 2008Opening
1.Brown, Alice. Dreams and Picture-Writing: Some Examples of Comparison from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol.44 (1981), pp. 90-100. 2.Dorothy Dunn was influential in North American Native art in the early 20th c. developing The Studio at the Sante Fe Indian School. 3.Bjornerud, Kristen, in email corespondance March 11, 2008.
- Friday, April 25, 2008