ANiMAL -Art Science Nature Society is a storytelling exhibition about the animal world seen through the lenses of Art, Science, Nature and Society.
During the Kangxi reign of the Qing dynasty, Ferdinand Verbiest illustrated the Kunyu Quantu, a world map used to impart geophysical knowledge to Emperor Kangxi. The map included over twenty animal illustrations as well as descriptions of their habitats, implying a possibility to perceive the world through a deeper understanding of the animals. Animals are an elemental presence in our cognizance of the world; they occupy virtually all of earth's habitats and microhabitats, and they have been the subject of art since the earliest times of cave paintings. Insects, birds and mammals play compelling roles in literature and film, and they are the enduring protagonists in mythology and religion. The human population exploits a large number of animal species for food, while animal pets provide their owners with physical and emotional benefits. Zoological studies of the animal kingdom are already evident in the ancient cultures of Mesopotamia, India and China, and the Graeco-Romans are credited with creating the modern science of biology.
The ANiMAL exhibition seeks to weave these threads together into a compelling narrative that elucidates our multi-various interactions with the animal domain via the treasury of animal-related artworks in the collection of the National Palace Museum. This aesthetic trajectory is conjoined with the One Health sciences, coming out of CityU's new Jockey Club College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences, the critical practices of contemporary art championed by CityU's School of Creative Media and animal-inspired artworks by local Taiwanese artists.
The exhibition also flags today's growing threats to animal life posed for example by climate change, environmental degradation and poaching. Most importantly, the insights provided in the field of Animal Studies have increased our respect for animal sentience, acknowledging their ability to perceive and feel things, and hopefully changing our behavior accordingly.
The narrative artery that runs through this exhibition is also expressed materially in its design, both delineate and bind together the five main chapters offered the visitor in this journey of engagement through the Exhibition Gallery:
Encyclopaedia, compendia and scientific inquiry
Mythical creatures and bestiaries from fantasy to manufactury and the popular imaginary
The harmony and disharmonies of animal and nature
Revisioning animal identity in contemporary art
A.A. Milne wrote: "Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though." The ANiMAL exhibition invites its visitors to listen to the extraordinary web of stories that emanate from the animal world, stories that we in turn build upon and project back to create a condition of universal wonder and inspiration.
ANiMAL exhibition curator
Yeung Kin Man Chair Professor of Media Art
School of Creative Media
City University Hong Kong