"Man is the animal that must recognize itself as human to be human."
The exhibition HOUNDED by Johanna Arco consists of the works of Ferine, 18.11 and Bankett, and explores the connection mankind within their environment – wild as well as his wild as well as tamed. In search of a deeper understanding of cultural structures, the artist focuses her magnifying glass on complex networks of relations such as human and animal, materiality and immateriality, or between concrete matter and identity or memory.
As flora and fauna of Austrian forests are deeply shaped and influenced by mankind, animal and human kingdom have to coexist next to each other, each following certain sets of rules in how to behave.
In a performative manner, Ferine tries to stretch and challenge these rules and distinct behaviours that so strictly separate human from animal. Followed by the gaze of a drone, a woman runs through the forest while breaking these principles of conduct. Is she trying to join the group of wild deers, does she follow the herd or is she the persecuted? The questions are emphasised by the sound of the local radio, highlighting human expectations in the search for wilderness.
[Ferine: wild, untamed, derives from Latin "ferinus" - belonging to wild animals]
Throughout human history, myths and stories established the norm and “reality” of a society. The stories we tell each other form the context through which we experience life, they define the way we see our selves and how we relate to others. In other words, myths form the foundation of mankind`s “cultural hallucination”, they form the way we experience the world and our place within it. These hallucinations give the individual the impression to live in a parallel reality, to feel separate from all other beings.
18.11 deals with the subjective feeling of isolation caused by seemingly uncontrollable thought processes. The video visualises mental projections that capture the consciousness and carry its host into a “reality", in which the actual physical environment plays an abstracted and subordinate role. The movement and speed of the woman moving within the four screens disregards any obstacles given by the artificial landscapes she is navigating through.
Bankett is inspired by a passage from Giorgio Angamben's book "The Open", which describes a miniature Hebrew Bible from the 13th century. The scene represents the messianic banquet of the righteous on the last day. The miniaturist depicts the crowned creatures seated on the banquet, not with human faces, but with animal heads. The philosopher raises the question of why the representatives of concluded humanity are depicted with animal heads. He does not exclude the possibility that on the last day, the relationships between animals and humans will take on new forms and mankind will be reconciled with its animal nature.
In order to avoid meeting the animals as strangers at the banquet on the last day, Johanna Arco offers the beasts a meal, as a first steps to gain intimacy. The offering is placed in a feeding crib - a place that is accepted by animals and humans as a meeting point. The response of the initially suspicious animals is captured by cameras that are attached to the feeding crib, in order to follow the advances.
Within her research, Johanna Arco aims to connect and compare mankind with other non- human beings, while focusing on both symbolical similarities and differences. In order to investigate the borders of the human self, dealing with animals has become a key element in her research. Mankind’s connection with the wild, the tamed and the domesticated beast displays how humanity has placed itself in the ontological centre of beings. In our relation to animals countless entry points into the fantasy of human exceptionalism are to be found.
Carolus Linnaeus, the founder of modern taxonomy believed that the most outstanding characteristics of mankind is that human beings are human beings, simply because they choose to call themselves that way. ”Man is the animal that must recognise itself as human to be human.” He must be raised above the animal to become himself. The simple wish of wanting to define ourselves against the rest of the world is the biggest difference to all other beings. Through performative gestures and experiments, distance and closeness to animals is revisited and shifted, positioning mankind sometimes closer and sometimes further apart from their neighbouring species.
Next to living beings, Johanna Arco addresses mankind ́s attitude towards inorganic matter such as objects. The separation of the world into dead and living things reveals once again how mankind is celebrating its own uniqueness, while being bound up with the fantasy to be in charge of all those “its”. Deeply integrated in human culture, objects are approached as vessels for individual experiences, desires and moods.
Through artistic experiments, Johanna Arco uses objects in order to get a deeper understanding of the cultural structures they inhabit, while focussing on so-called “dead” matter as an active being with tendencies on its own and the ability of entering into a dialogue. From a human perspective, objects are things we surround ourselves with, a way of expressing one’s inside world. Objects strengthen and represent our being as human individuals. They function as a secret protest against nature; holding form against the extinction of all form, through death. The creation and collection of objects is a confirmation of life, an instrument for vitality and animation. We gather forms around us because of their functionality or to distract ourselves but ultimately, objects function as a gateway into life.