Winter Garden - A Darkening of the World in the Work of Andrew Bruce
[Written to accompany Cold Air Rising at Galleri Box, Sweden, April 2013]
“There is what seems to be a contradiction present in all of my photographs where [firstly] the photographs have an aesthetic of an 'otherworldly space' even if this is as simple as it looking like night, or something otherworldly is happening (the animal seems to float or stars go by)” 1.
“What do we mean by world when we speak of a darkening of the world? World is always world of the spirit. The animal has no world nor any environment.“ 2.
Martin Heidegger. An Introduction to Metaphysics
Andrew Bruce photographs wild animals both dead and alive principally using a large format camera, presenting his photographs as life-size analogue handprints. Bruce seems to be searching for some sense of touch and contact with both the photograph and the bodies of the animals he finds.
In his series Tender all but two of the photographs show lifeless animal bodies held against a boyish white human body; seemingly anonymous except for one photograph where Bruce’s face is partially visible. Bruce performs these photographs for the camera. The photographs, especially one showing a rabbit, reminds us of Joseph Beuys’ seminal performance “How to explain Pictures to a Dead Hare” hinting at the philosophical distance between human and animal thought. Bruce presents us with photographs that seem to express the unfathomable nature of our human perception of the non-human world: the Others.
The photographs present us with a vixen, fox cub, robin, badger, owl, rabbit, wood pigeon, sparrows, blue tit, jay and blackbird. All of these animals surrounded us in London until recently, when the once ubiquitous sparrow disappeared and never came back in the numbers that we had previously taken for granted. Dawn-calls in the fenced gardens that surround my home in east London have disappeared and what is heard instead are the sound of crows and sea gulls. The photographs evoke performed Memento Mori reminding us that with the death of the animal world comes our own.
“Mortals are they who can experience death as death. Animals can not do so. But animals can not speak either. The essential relation between death and language flashes up before us, but remains still unthought.” 3.
There is an intimate connection between our thinking about animals and our self- understanding. Heidegger’s writings throughout his life considered the question of the relationship between human Dasein and non-humans. Animals have a radically different mode of being in the world than human beings. The animal is deprived of the world for, according to Heidegger, “the animal is poor in world”. This deprivation is caused by technological development and the degradation of the environment by humans.
Two black and white images present us with animals suspended in air and photographed with flash against a rotating earth. Another set presents us with animals blurred, flying, hovering. Animals in an otherworldly space are held, suspended and in flight, the photographs appearing to point to the quality of the analogue photograph itself: its indexicality and its capacity to suspend time and motion, stilling it... The animals here are dead, sightless and mute. No longer can they sing, fly, move or look. All is still.
A paradox is revealed about the limits of photography: how it draws our attention to the impossibility of recording the world as it appears. Dead animals seem alive and frozen, suspended animals appear to have a new supernatural life. The work shifts from what was an exploration of humans’ relationship with animals to a search for a visual vocabulary with which to represent the animal’s unconcern with humans. The question of the relation between human Dasein and non-humans haunts Andrew Bruce’s photographs, offering us no line of flight.
1. From an email discussion between Karen Knorr and Andrew Bruce, March 8th 2013
2. Heidegger, Martin, “An introduction to Metaphysics” p.45, quoted in p.20 in Calarco, Matthew , Heidegger’s Zoontology in Animal Philosophy : Essential Readings in Continental Thought, edited Atterton, Peter and Calarco, Matthew ( Continuum, London, New York 2005)
3. ibid. p18
DETAIL - tender (1), 29x37.5" C-type Handprint, 2010