Monday, November 16, 2015

Corinne Teed's Poetic Explorations of the Marginalized, Both Human and Animal

Corinne Teed’s Feral Utopias is a multi-channel animation that uses cross-species affinities to explore parallels between the alienation faced by LGBTQ people and that faced by animals. Both of these groups are “struggling to find a sense of home in a human society that has repeatedly communicated to us that we are unwanted.”

Corinne continues, “There’s a whole field of study in critical theory called Queer Ecology that greatly influences my work. While I am interested in breaking down the boundary between human and non-human animals and what those distinctions mean, I am particularly interested in the perspectives of marginalized human communities on ecological issues.”

In Feral Utopias, Corinne pairs photographs of LGBTQ subjects with audio recordings of these participants describing the animal species that provides them with a sense of home. “The interviews were completely unscripted,” says Corinne. “I thought the project participants would have something interesting to say, but I was incredibly surprised at how strongly people responded to the questions. It wasn’t difficult for them to answer and they had significant emotional and intellectual responses to it. So the process itself was really rewarding. I got a lot more out of it than I expected.”

Following is an excerpt from Vanessa’s Feral Utopias statement: “I chose the sea turtle mostly because their home is always with them. I am half Filipino and it wasn’t until I was 25 that I got to return to the Philippines as an adult. Flying all the way across the oceans to the Philippines was an incredible journey. Before I went, I thought maybe I would fit in. I thought, maybe this is the home I have been looking for, maybe this will really resonate. That was so far from the case. I only felt so much more othered. And then I returned home to realize that I feel othered here as well.”

The figures appear and fade away within a fairy tale landscape composed of scans of 19th century etchings. Corinne is drawn to early images of the North American landscape. “I like taking historical sources and turning them on their head. I’m very curious about this particular time in both landscape photography and etchings because of how they reveal the construction of nature and the wild as patriarchal domains. This era of photography greatly influenced the belief of human dominion over nature. And so it feels important to use this source for the imagery.” Corinne created the animations of the subjects with photographic stills shot in the studio. She employed an entirely different technique to create the movement of the clouds that drift lazily across the sky. All these various components work together to produce a visually rich piece that manages to look both antique and contemporary. 

Because Corinne is after an immersive experience, she presents her animations within the larger framework of an installation. Feral Utopias featured an inset in the entrance doorway that forced the viewer to crouch down in order to enter. Wallpaper made from the same etchings used in the animation covered the inset and surround sound ensured the kind of deeper experience Corinne sought. Corinne also made a letterpress pamphlet that visitors could take home, which included summaries of participants’ stories with letterpressed images of the participants.

At VCCA, Corinne was working on a new animation, centering on wolves. She first became interested in wolves during a Signal Fire Residency in eastern Oregon. The wolf population in that state is fragile, numbering just under 70. As paltry as this sounds, this is an improvement from the 1970s, when northern Minnesota and Michigan were the only continental areas that had packs. Until recently, Oregon and Washington were the only states that had protected wolf populations. As of November 9th, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted to remove the gray wolf from the state’s endangered species list.

In a switch from her normal practice, Corinne was working on the images first; usually she starts with the sound. She had a few tracks recorded during a workshop for children in Iowa, “Lost Wolves: Remembering Our Past Neighbors”. Corinne explained, “In Iowa, wolves have been exterminated since 1925 and so we discussed the history of their extermination and our desires to cohabitate with them again. The kids made giant renderings of wolves and then I recorded them in conversation with the wolves. I asked them, ‘If you could speak to the wolves, what would you want to tell them?’”

Several prints she had made of wolves were hung on the walls of her studio. Each of them seemed curiously bisected by a white void. The prints were made using images of trophy hunters holding up their kill; yet Corinne only rendered the wolf, leaving an empty space where the hunter clutches the wolf. Corinne explains her research into human and wolf relationship, saying “There’s this incredibly loving side to the spectrum of human relationship with wolves and respect for wolves—they’re a lot like us and many people and cultures revere them,” she says. “But then there’s another side to the spectrum that’s a deep hatred. People kill them in ways akin to hate crimes. I respect the concerns many ranchers have about wolves killing their livestock. (The U.S. government now pays for any animal killed by wolves—a pretty common strategy in countries that are trying to re-populate wolves). However, I don’t understand the vitriol of some wolf hunters and I am trying to both expose it and interrupt it.”


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