Companion Species: portrait of a community

 

…portraits take us away from the passive statement:

‘it is painted’

to the complex action of

‘I see another’

(Soussloff)

 

 Companion Species: portrait of a community is an Arts Council funded project I began in January 2010 based on  Maryport’s community and their dogs. The high visibility of dogs and their owners on the streets of Maryport is a popular and constant characteristic of the town. Often an incitement to socialize, people are seen at all times of day walking their dogs. The range of dogs is also extensive and all members of Maryport’s society seem to participate in this activity, including physically challenged people and the aged

 

My interest in the complex sets of relationships between human and non-human animals within urban settings relates to the emerging academic field of Animal Studies in the Visual Arts. The pet has been foregrounded  as a highly contested field of study and I wish to place my project within the context of this discourse.

 

Members of the community were invited to pose for  large, formal studio portraits of themselves and their dog/s. The subjects were chosen on the basis of interest, the animals and a varied demography.

 

Various compositional strategies were determined by both the animal and the owner for example, favourite poses established between them, elements of touch and their gazes. The act of gazing is a prominent consideration in the establishment of pose and setting; who is looking at whom and why? 

 

A great deal of portraiture today relies on photography which is, by comparison, a short lived experience. I believe that the shared experience, over a period of time, created between artist and sitters in a studio setting produces a completely different result. Hopefully,  one that testifies to the psychological complexities of personalities-both human and animal and the recognition of individuality.  

 

 My studio was a public space at The Settlement to which the public could gain access at times. The project wishes to raise awareness of the importance of fellow species and our relationship to them and develop an art audience in this semi-rural area which has previously not been exposed to much contemporary visual arts.  

 

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