EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


March 13, 2014

Artists and animals

New show at Peabody Essex Museum explores bonds between humans, nature


“Part of what I’m hoping comes out of this is, not only are they looking at other animals, but also what does it say about us,” Winchell said. “What do we take away from this that is knowledge and experience that is personal?”

Another artist in the show, Catherine Chalmers, challenges our loathsome feelings about cockroaches by disguising them.

In a series of photographs, she has painted roaches to resemble bees or ladybugs, insects that we generally admire.

As we ponder their images, and realize there is something odd about their legs and antennae, we are led to ask why we think one insect is “better” than another.

“What is our reaction to this animal when we see it this way versus seeing it on our kitchen counter?” Winchell asked. “Do we react differently? It’s the same animal.”

Most of the animals and insects represented in the show have created art by acting naturally, rather than as a result of being trained.

William Wegman, for instance, doesn’t train his dogs to strike poses, but rather captures them in positions they would normally assume.

“He spent all these years watching what they will do and won’t do,” Winchell said. “He doesn’t practice these things with the dog. It’s a kind of playing; it’s part performance, part play, part trust. It’s the relationship that he has to establish with these dogs in order for them to participate. It’s also beautiful to look at.”

Winchell said the kind of art she has selected for this show started in the 1970s and reflects our evolving appreciation for animals.

“We consider ourselves very different from other animals, and yet there’s a growing body of research that finds the contrary,” she said.

Many of the artworks not only reflect the results of such scientific research, but also incorporate its methods.

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