Issue Five //
26 September 2017
Terike Haapoja and Laura Gustafsson // Museum of Nonhumanity
Joseph Moore // Oversight/The Animals
Aida Šehović // Can You Be a Feminist And Still Eat Meat?
Linnea Ryshke // Enfleshment
Carolyn Hall // Fisheries and The Absent Referent
Environmental Performance Agency // Maintenance As Care At The Environmental Performance Agency
Entering the space of The absent referent
Non-human animals* are a ubiquitous source of symbolism and reference across cultures. However, in Western media, news, and everyday interactions, this recurrent, often unquestioned use of animals, can take on an unsettling undertone: the Syrian crisis as a “human slaughterhouse;” Trump’s immigration ban as a “mass dragnet exclusion;” enslaved people forced to mate “like cattle;” or “fat pig” as a sexist slur. Once you identify one of these metaphors, you start to notice them everywhere.
The absent referent is defined in linguistics as a sign that has an empty, contingent, paradoxical, or undefined referent. For this issue of PUSH/PULL, contributors used this concept as a lens to examine the relations between humans and animals. The issue is inspired by Carol Adams who, in The Sexual Politics of Meat, uses the term to describe the noun “meat” as a reference to an animal, defining he/she through his/her consumable flesh, that simultaneously negates the individuality and life experience of that animal.
Using animals as absent referents in our everyday language is problematic because of the contrast between their presence as objects of reference, and their increasing absence from our spaces of interaction and consideration. The metaphors that describe the subjugation of humans by other humans through animal oppression perpetually obscure and abstract the animals’ experience.
And yet, the marginalization of humans and animals are fundamentally linked, not only by the justification of one by the other, but by the ideological dualism between the “self” and “other” that is used to rationalize structures of power and value hierarchy. By filling the empty space of these referents through the imaginative and empathetic power of art, we can reaffirm the the subjectivity of animals, and potentially see more deeply the entanglements of human and animal injustices.
*written as “animals” for the rest of the text
-Linnea Ryshke, Culture Push Administrative Director
About the Contributors
Joseph Moore, a NYC-based artist working in photography, video, and new media, critically engages with the act of “oversight.” His time-lapse videos of live web camera footage of animals in different environments elicit the lulling apathy created by our current way of observing animals; sight as mechanized and voyeuristic, without meaningful connection.
Aida Šehović, a current Culture Push Fellow, contributes a written and visual piece that centers on a personal experience in considering the connections between violence against women and non-human animals.
Terike Haapoja, a Finland-born, NYC-based visual artist, gives a virtual tour through image and text, of the Museum for Nonhumanity, a mobile museum that presents the history of the distinction between humans and other animals, and the way this imaginary boundary has been used to oppress human and nonhuman beings.
Linnea Ryshke, a painter and the Administrative Director at Culture Push, examines skin as a physical and symbolic record of cultural oppressive ideologies. Through creating paint "skins"--films of dried acrylic paint, that act as visual metaphor, she considers the way colloquial language scars, confines and wounds those considered "other" in contemporary Western culture.
Carolyn Hall, a historical marine biologist and freelance dancer, discusses how the commodity market allows for the “moral abandonment” of fish as sentient creatures who are integral to ecosystems that interlock with our own. Through a historical and analytical lens, she situates the problem of contemporary fishing practices as emanating from an increase in mechanization and industrialization, and as lacking in understanding the relationality of all life.
The Environmental Performance Agency, an artist collective based out of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, provides an account of their approach to confronting the ongoing presence of rats in their urban weeds garden. Presented as a non-linear story, the piece integrates observational field notes, research, and critical commentary on the politics of pest management and rat-human relations.