Rikke Hansen -
Selected abstracts
 
 
Request full text versions via email. Please note that, at times, some pieces are being written up for publication and are thus not yet publically available owing to copyright issues. 
 

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Opening presentation for:
 
Art Weekend Aarhus, Aarhus School of Architecture, May 29-31, 2015, Denmark
 
'Shared Space in Art and Research'
 


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Conference paper for:
 
The Animal Gaze Returned, London Metropolitan University, October 27-28, 2011, UK
 
'The "Absent Presence" of Animals in Modernist Aesthetics'
 
This paper argues for the centrality of the animal aesthetic to modern art. According to the 20th century German philosopher, Theodor Adorno, non-human animals have a sort of ‘absent presence’ within modernist aesthetic thought that rubs on a wound caused by the marginalisation of them within modern, Western societies in general. In contrast to their current presence in contemporary art, animals are not directly representable in modern art; yet, they continue to haunt aesthetics from within. Here, rather than looking at examples of actual animal imagery (of which there are many), I argue for an “animal aesthetic” that in turn alters our approach to art and aesthetics in wider, historical terms.
 
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Conference paper for:
 
Animal Ecologies in Visual Culture, UCL, October 8, 2011, London, UK
 
'Animal Art and the Aesthetics of Ecological Hospitality'
 
Artworks that centre on human-animal relations often take the form of dialogues or direct interactions, either between humans and non-humans or between several humans who unite in the discussion of what animal lives might mean to them. This paper situates the recent turn to animal aesthetics within the general preoccupation with relationality in contemporary art practice and theory. According to such models, the artist is an engineer of social situations in which individuals enter into dialogue while gathering around a common concern. One of the most influential books on the aesthetics of interpersonal interaction is undoubtedly Nicholas Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics, originally published in 1998. It is a small publication in which the author insists that the dominant form of art today consists of the ‘staging’ of mini-utopias, where difference and dispute are momentarily erased through social interfaces, bracketed off from everyday communication. While Bourriaud’s text has received a lot of criticism, very few critics have commented on the challenge artists who work with human-animal conviviality might pose to his model of aesthetics. In other words, the debate has been largely anthropocentric. Using examples from current art practice, this presentation seeks to provide an alternative model for relationality in aesthetics: one that takes into consideration the large numbers of works which centre on human-animal relations. Following Jacques Derrida’s animal musings and Timothy Morton’s writings on ecological aesthetics, this talk outlines possible ways of thinking through ‘animality’ as the missing critical component within relational aesthetics. The purpose is twofold: 1) to take animal aesthetics out of its, possibly isolated, academic ‘comfort zone’ by considering how the focus on animals sits with other general concerns in contemporary art, and 2) to examine the reason why current models of relational aesthetics still struggle to accommodate the ‘animal other’
 
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Guest talk for:
 
Göteborgs Universitet, Konsthögskolan Valand, November 22, 2010, Sweden
 
'Art and the Animal Aesthetic'
 
This talk introduces the audience to the field of animal aesthetics. It looks, more specifically, at the ways artistic appropriations of ‘vocal’ animal mimicry rub on the larger issue of animal representation. From a philosophical standpoint it runs through some claims made by philosophers such as Martin Heidegger, Theodor Adorno, Jacques Derrida and Giorgio Agamben with regards to the notion of an other-than-human 'voice', The topic will be of interest not only to people working with animals in aesthetics and recent art, but also students whose practice deals with performance, performativity, live media, sonic art and inter/transdisciplinarity.
 
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Conference paper for:
 
Pidgin Language: Animals, Birds and Us, Kings Lynn Arts Centre, October 10, 2009, UK
 
'Finding the Animal Voice'
 
Re-jigged version of my paper for the Courtauld-Darwin conference (see below) - parts of which I sang dressed as a blackbird!
 
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Conference paper for:
 
The Art of Evolution: Charles Darwin and Visual Culture, The Courtauld Institute of Art, July 2-4, 2009, London, UK
 
'Almost the Same: Animals, Ambivalence and Mimicry in Contemporary Art'
  
Elizabeth Grosz notes how Darwin’s greatest contribution to thought is a change in focus from static Being to ever-changing Becoming, welcoming random events as instigators of change. Darwin’s understanding of life has, in this respect, influenced a wide range of thinkers interested in the concept of ‘difference’. Deleuze and Guattari go one step further, introducing the notion of ‘becoming-animal’ together with a horizontal, rhizomatic system that cuts across the hierarchies of the Darwinian model of the tree of life. ‘Mimicry’ is a form of becoming which Darwin returns to several times. Deleuze and Guattari, however, remain distrustful of this seemingly passive method of copying. Yet, mimicry continues to hold a peculiar position in the evolutionary game, as it troubles the distinction between the expected and the new. As such, it inserts uncertainty into an already existing system by being neither fully ‘of itself’, nor fully ‘of the other’. Recently, art has taken an animal turn, with more artists investigating the appearance of animal life in contemporary culture. The first part of this paper discusses artworks in which animal behaviour is itself mimicked. Rachel Berwick’s may-por-e, 1997-present, Peter Callesen’s Concert for Birds, 2005, Bill Burns’ Bird Radio, 2007, and Marcus Coates’ Dawn Chorus, 2007, all imitate the ‘voices’ of birds. In Callesen’s and Coates’ work, the idea of ‘becoming-animal’ is embraced in almost literal ways, whereas Berwick and Burns use birdsong to unsettle the link between the animal body and the animal voice, like a bird may throw its voice to confuse predators through vocal mimicry. The second half of this paper investigates how artistic appropriations of bird mimicry rub on the larger issue of animal representation. In traditional philosophy, animals have tended to be deprived of ‘voices’, perceived to only produce ‘sounds’ or ‘cries’. As the German word Stimme (meaning ‘voice’ and etymologically related to ‘voting’) implies, being robbed of one’s voice is also to fall outside representation. The artistic ‘double robbing’ of the voice (which takes place in the parroting of animal mimicry) aims, this paper argues, to dislocate the voice, showing how all voices, human and animal, are, in a sense, ‘found’, as the common expression ‘finding one’s voice’ indicates. As such, the appropriation of vocal mimicry produces a hiccup in the field of representation.
 
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Conference paper for:
 
Meet Animal Meat, GenNa, Centre for Gender Research, Uppsala University, 21-23 May, 2009, Sweden
 
'Travelling Skins: Hides, Furs and other Animal Surfaces in Art'
 
This paper investigates the animalisation of the skin-border, examining how skin - the use of skin, the display of non-human animal skin – plays a vital role in the production of zoe and bios.  Traditional taxidermy pushes forward the idea that animals are their skin. The flaying of non-human animals transforms flesh into meat and leaves the skin to carry the animal's animalness, or Tierheit, forward. By contrast, human skin is generally perceived to not travel as easily beyond the dead body, but to be, instead, inseparable from it. The ongoing showing of animal pelts reveals that this difference in the treatment of human and animal skin is not inherent, but actively produced. As such, this paper borrows from, and builds on, theories of the performative production of identities through display and exposure, both in terms of how beings may be 'stripped' and put on display, but also how the artistic appropriation of such displays have been be used to subvert, challenge and, most of all, trouble the workings of what Giorgio Agamben has termed the 'anthropological machine'. Paraphrasing the French psychoanalyst Didier Anzieu, it could be argued that there is something pathological about this over-emphasis of the skin-border, about the need to reify the human-animal skin-surface itself. Such over-projection of 'skin' stands, it could be said, as a testament to the unfinished formation of human subjects who, in order to confirm the coherency of their subjecthood, must continually reaffirm their own skin-borders. This paper focuses on the current interest in using animal skins in contemporary art. Recently, more and more artists have begun to use animal skins in their work, either through the appropriation of taxidermy, such as in Andrea Roe's automata, created from animal skin and motors (e.g. Seagull, 2004), or through the manipulation of living animals' skin within Bio Art, of which the most famed example is Eduardo Kac’s genetically modified, GFP Bunny, 2000, a rabbit with fluorescent fur. At first, these trends: ‘animal death’ and ‘animal life’ may seem diametrically opposed; however, this paper argues that they cannot be separated, and that they, when seen together, both represent a current artistic preoccupation with the appearance and construction of animality in contemporary society.
 
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Conference paper for:
 
The Royal Geographical Society's Annual Conference, 2006, London, UK
 
'Looking at Spaces of Animal-Human Performances through Bombon: El Perro'
 
with Chris Wilbert
 
From Rescued by Rover, of 1905, to well-established canine film star industries such as Benji and Lassie, the dog-as-hero has been a popular theme in mainstream cinema. The Argentinean film Bombón: El Perro, directed by Carlos Sorin, 2004, builds on this tradition whilst simultaneously pushing the boundaries of animal representations on screen. Bombón: El Perro tells the story of Juan Villegas, an unemployed petrol station mechanic living in Patagonia, a marginal area of a bankrupt nation. One day Villegas' luck takes a turn for the better when he acquires a large dog that turns out to be a prize pure bred named Bombón. Like Villegas, Bombón struggles to find his place in the world. But as the film moves on a bond between man and dog begins to form and soon the couple enter the world of dog show competitions and dog breeding stud services where they receive, for them, a new degree of recognition. However, the awkwardness associated with the struggle to fit into this world brings about a series of failed performances or what J.L. Austin calls 'unhappy performatives'. The concept of 'failed acting' runs through the film on several levels and is in accordance with the director’s decision to use un-trained actors. This raises a series of questions of what the concept of acting might mean, particularly with regard to Bombón, the dog: Is he an actor, an un-trained actor, or a non-actor? In this paper, we examine notions of human-animal performances and interactions through Sorin's film by drawing on the work of Schechner and Derrida. Traditionally, human-animal distinctions have centred on the question of self-consciousness, with animals seemingly unable to reflect upon, and detach themselves from, their own 'performance', thus setting them apart from humans. This strict division, along with hugely problematic categorisations such as 'the animal', has been challenged extensively by posthumanist theorists. Whilst drawing on such criticisms, the paper returns to an examination of the aesthetics of appearing at the core of human-animal relations. More specifically we look at how the appearance of animals in film irritates the distinction between actors and non-actors, something that can also be traced in forms of animal training, as well as many other 'mundane' situations. It has been argued that acting, at least in the straightforward theatrical sense of the word, requires a certain 'doubling', in which the performers must be aware that they are performing a role. It is commonly thought that this rules out animals from being able to act or perform in the ways people can and do. However, these notions of agency often rely on the centrality of the subject. Here, through a discussion of Bombón: El Perro and other films such as Lassie, we argue for a more relational understanding of performance which finds humans and animals engaged in complex intra-actions and co-creations of behaviour.
 
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Conference paper for:
 
The Royal Geographical Society's Annual Conference, 2005, London, UK
 
'Spatial Performances of the Murder Scene: Jack the Ripper Guided Walks in London'
 
with Chris Wilbert
 
Popular geographical and historical interest in London has been blossoming (again) in recent years. One aspect of this has seen a celebration of ways of 'walking in the city' in terms of literary/artistic performances of 'hidden histories' or spatial/temporal hauntings that involve detective-like narratives. Yet, less celebrated activities, like tourism, also have particular arts of walking and, as David Gilbert has noted, tourism has played more of a role in the shaping of a modern city like London as a place to be experienced than has often been recognised. In this paper we focus on some of the ways place is performed in the most popular guided walking tours in London - those that focus on the figure known as Jack the Ripper. We examine some of the ways that these walks perform historical narrative spaces on different levels. On the one hand, they may be seen as site-specific theatrical performances of the city. On another level, we point to how the appeal of these walks emerge out of a contemporary fascination with sites of murder and crime, around which the public convenes. Thirdly, we investigate how such performances of place are made up of complex spatial intertwinings of media, place, performance and bodies.