Artists explaining their artwork is often overly pedantic, inaccurate and pretentious at best. But, since what I do is very odd for most people, I think it is worth explaining a little. It's a bit wordy and "iamverysmart", but bear with me for a moment.
I have an interest in body horror and mutation, particularly the distorted midpoints between species, the disturbing and uncanny. My art depicts human bodies being transformed into other things, whether other animals or other objects, focusing on the surreal physiology and psychological horror of such a change. Transformation Art (often shortened to TF) is itself a community that explores the self's relation to the nonhuman and fetishizes the idea of change, hybridity and becoming other.
The idea of transformation is ancient and pervades folklore and mythology throughout the world. Likely, the ideas were attempts at understanding the relation between the human and the natural world, or perhaps, as Steve Baker poses in "Picturing the Beast", suppressing behaviors, traits, ideas, and relations to the animal that were considered "uncivilized" in order to pose the human as distinct from the animal/nature (a distinction that ultimately fails because the human is an animal whose basic psychology is that of an animal). The project of civilization distinguishing itself from nature in philosophy took a dark and brutal turn with the advent of the early asylum (which was little more than a prison for political and social undesirables) and the effort to suppress "the uncivilized", which provided tools for torturing and maiming anyone that questioned the distinction between man and animal. Even in contemporary society, these ideas are taboo and go unexplored. The "properly human" can only be maintained through the punishment, suppression and antagonism against the "improper", the "inhuman". This was the modus operandi of civilization into the modern era. You can read more about this analysis of the history of human identity in "How to Make a Human: Animals & Violence in the Middle Ages" by Karl Steel.
What has always fascinated me is digging up the uncanny and twisted ideas presented by shapeshifting: presenting exactly the sorts of ideas that we attempt to hide from ourselves, that we are material bodies, that we are animals, that we have instincts and behaviors that go against "proper social mores", that we are deluding ourselves when we consider ourselves civilized (a facade we maintain by cordoning off how society thrives on brutalizing people, animals, and the natural world). This often induces horror and discomfort. The fact that it is fetishistic is given because it is a primal rebellion against the conditioned self-suppression of so-called "civil society".
If interested learning more about this particular kind of horror, I recommend reading psychoanalytic philosopher Julia Kristeva's "Powers of Horror" which defines and discusses the concept of "abjection" in the experience and feeling of horror. You can find an introduction to the notion here: www.cla.purdue.edu/english/the…
"The abject marks what Kristeva terms a "primal repression," one that precedes the establishment of the subject's relation to its objects of desire and of representation, before even the establishment of the opposition, conscious/unconscious. Kristeva refers, instead, to the moment in our psychosexual development when we established a border or separation between human and animal, between culture and that which preceded it. On the level of archaic memory, Kristeva refers to the primitive effort to separate ourselves from the animal: "by way of abjection, primitive societies have marked out a precise area of their culture in order to remove it from the threatening world of animals or animalism, which were imagined as representatives of sex and murder""
Body horror itself accomplishes this, and it is perhaps why we find it horrific in the first place. But depicting the human body changing fluidly or grotesquely into other forms, especially animal forms, brings these presuppositions about culture, selfhood, and identity into play, raising questions about who and what we are and if we are at all distinct. The potential horror and revulsion comes from images that run up against our buried assumptions about human life and make us examine what we have implicitly and unconsciously accepted about ourselves, such as ideas that "we are essentially human" or that "we always are the same person from one moment to the next". While most people will probably find transformation art unusual or off-putting, the TF community finds it to be quite appealing, precisely because they have come to terms with the questions raised and found different answers. This leads to a different perspective, and demonstrates how relative horror is to the perception and way of thinking of the viewer. I, for instance, do not find any of this to be horrific. I have found that some of my favorite horror writers and artists were not horrified by the ideas and events explored by their work, but rather found interest and curiosity piqued or even derived pleasure from the notion. David Cronenberg and Thomas Ligotti come to mind. The enjoyment of horror is another topic altogether, however.
Note that in Kristeva's analysis, the "abject" is humanity marking the animal as a symbol for "sex and murder", not that the animal actually is essentially this. In many ways, the "abject" is a form of cognitive bias. The animal isn't in actuality what human beings use as symbols, nor even is the human animal. But, the use of the animal as a symbol for brutality and wildness enables "civil society" to compartmentalize its own nature so it can present an idealized version of itself that doesn't exist as a structure for regulating and conditioning behavior and ideas from birth, punishing difference and unusual behavior arbitrarily by asserting it is essentially inhuman, when such things are inherently human and probably more pervasive than people realize. It also allows civilization to ignore the moral problems that nonhuman animals present when there is no significant moral difference between human and nonhuman for the scope of relevant considerations (i.e. the ability to feel pain, or the ability to love and empathize). Ultimately, our symbolism of the animal creates a distorted picture of ourselves and the animal which leads to unexamined immoral treatment. And so, I particularly enjoy reflecting this distorted picture back upon the human form.
And, at the end of all this, we just are animals, and we owe what is human to being animals.
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