Saelia Aparicio, Evangelia Dimitrakopoulou, Jack Jubb, Davinia-Ann Robinson, and Roxman Gatt
Kupfer Projects, London
The creature is always a symptom.
— Eric Santer, 2006
Never far from conversations of embodiment are those of humanity’s relationship to the animal. Since the cradle of our existence, this question has plagued the borderlines of our self-conception — recall the crude stick men chasing bison found scrawled in the Lascaux caves or the horned chimeric figures of those at Les Trois-Frères. Understanding this distinction has set us apart from the ostensible brutality and wildness of life caught at the vanishing point of consciousness. It has also produced a contradictory and vexed distinction that has contributed to what Giorgio Agamben calls “the anthropological machine of humanism” — a discursive system used to manufacture and propagate the eternal and monolithic silhouette of a universal rational subject — one that is self-reflexive, intentional and sovereign; free to be Lord of its very own skull-shaped kingdom. It is a distinction that continues to be used to subjugate those perceived as lacking some irreducible human essence, a language used to silence those seen as deviant, irredeemable or other.
Speaking of animality in the context of Being Here may seem counterintuitive. Taken at first glance, a visual preoccupation with animals remains elusive, albeit not wholly divorced from the artists’ work: there remains the eidetic faux naïf portraits of aquatic lifeforms by Jack Jubb, the wraith-like whispers of Evangelia Dimitrakopoulou’s live chemical syntheses, and the silky, allegorical butterfly that adorns Roxman Gatt’s transformative school uniform. Despite these works, it is clear this not an exhibition about animals, nor animality per se. Rather, for me what brings these works together is their shared fascination with precisely that which problematises the discourse of animal and human — “the anthropological machine” and that which it must continually deny as “other” in order to survive. Contained with the works of Being Here is an emergent and generative power, one that splinters throughout history in moments of crisis or profound change — a disruptive and indeterminate force that Eric Santer would call, the creaturely.
“What I am calling creaturely life,” Santer writes in his eponymous 2006 book, “is a dimension of human existence called into being at […] historical fissures or caesuras in the space of meaning.” Baring its teeth in moments of catastrophe or ruin — the aftermath of war, plague and revolution, periods in which assumptions of humanism and the limits of human politics are called into question — the creaturely is a symptom, a manifestation of trauma to the symbolic order of society. Take for instance, the emaciated yet passionate figures of Schiele or Munch that emerged after the brutality of the first World War, the rhapsodic doom of Wojnarowicz’s photography at the height of the AIDs epidemic, or the seminal work by Chris Ofili, No Woman, No Cry, that was created using paint, graphite and elephant dung in the aftermath of the murder of Stephen Lawrence. In every case, the creaturely emerges less as a set of figurative rules, rather as a juxtaposition of terms: that which documents a damaged past at the very moment it announces a transformed future to come.
Despite their lack of an explicit animality, the works of Aparicio and Robinson are similarly imbued with the creaturely. For Santer, the creature “is not so much the name of a determinate state of being as the signifier of an ongoing exposure, of being caught up in the process of becoming creature through the dictates of divine alterity.” In Aparicio’s work, this exposure to difference takes the form of a disrupted male gaze. Seen through the eyes of a catwalk — a being-seen par excellence — a series of hybrid bodies are revealed to us, subverting their gender and exalting a delightful absence of normative constrains on the human body. Robinson’s, in contrast, sublimates the body into an earthly register of vegetation and soil. Using materials gathered from spaces where the artist has endured colonial violence, these are environments that speak to an organic desire for commune, rebirth and renewal at the same moment as highlighting the brutality of policing and regulation that black lives remain subject to.
Set against our current climate of ecological crisis, accelerating social inequality, the biogenetic revolution and struggles over resources, Being Here is an expression of the creatureliness of contemporary life. Creaturely, in so far as it is a provocation to the great anthropological machine of modernity, that which suggests there is only one way of being here. The works of Saelia Aparicio, Evangelia Dimitrakopoulou, Jack Jubb, Davinia-Ann Robinson and Roxman Gatt, in contrast to the crude form of a single human subject elevated from the world around them, demonstrate the pluralities of perception, memory and identity that define our age. Faced with an apocalyptic culture of dehumanisation, anonymity and doom, they are both a sign of total collapse and a portent of new freedom. They represent the possibility to rethink our social ties and express new forms of creativity and criticality attuned to the tenuousness of human exceptionalism as well as to the exhilarating potential of creaturely encounters with other-than-human lives.
— Charlie Mills
(b. United Kingdom) is a sculptor, writer, and performance artist. Her practice examines how 'Presencing,' fugitivity, and tactility undo colonial and imperial frameworks through which nature and Bodies of Colour are articulated. She explores the relationship between Black, Brown, and Indigenous soil conservation practices and what she terms as 'Colonial Nature environments.' Her work addresses personal interactions with 'colonial emotions' she has encountered in local, national, and global environments as a Black Female Body, building on her intense relationship with soil as a living material explored through sculpture, sound, writing, and performance. Davinia-Ann is currently completing her MFA in sculpture at the Slade School of Fine Art. She is a recipient of the Felix Slade Scholarship 2019-2021 and a recipient of the 2021 SET Studio Prize. She is also a founding member of Narration Group, an art collective for Women and Non-binary People of Colour.
(b. United Kingdom) is a painter whose practice explores and connects to the materiality of digital images; the way these images are subject to entropic decay through successive replication, subsequently forming a sedimentary bedrock in colossal server farms in the desert. He often paints from pictures uploaded by strangers onto e-commerce sites, social media, or poorly maintained websites. These include images of car parts from long-expired eBay advertisements that were never intended for longevity but nevertheless may be retained for millennia, like a plastic bag that takes 500 years to degrade. In painting these images, Jack seeks to engage with temporalities that transcend human experience's remit through the banal by-product of late capitalism. Jack completed his BA from Goldsmiths School of Art.
(b. Athens, Greece) is a sculptor and multi-media artist whose work comprises installations that explore ideas around otherness, disassociation, and care. She is interested in human curiosity and our inability to make sense of our surroundings, inviting us into a haptic experience that activates the viewer's senses. Evangelia creates work that allows the viewer to step into a sensual, exploratory space. Working with various materials like olfactory and edible ingredients, her installations work with forms, shapes, and ideas revolving around the uncanny. Evangelia Dimitrakopoulou has an MA in sculpture from Goldsmiths University.
(b. Malta) is a performance, multi-media artist and sculptor who explores sexuality, identity, gender, and consumption within his practice. Recently, the artist has been working with themes of humanising and interacting with consumer objects, making the inanimate iconic and fetishized. He is also interested in documenting and archiving trans and queer experiences and has recently started working on a project in Malta called Rosa Kwir. This project revolves around alternative notions of masculinity, bringing together stories of Maltese trans men, non-binary & LBQI masc- presenting people. Roxman has an MA in Visual Communications from the Royal College of Art and was selected for Bloomberg New Contemporaries, ICA, London, and Bluecoat Liverpool (2016).