Omnivorous humans can consume all kinds of food indiscriminately, both animal and plant. Michael Pollan in his ground-breaking The Omnivore’s Dilemma (The Penguin Press, New York, New York, 2006) provided a context for understanding why “organic,” “local,” and “biological” have become the basis for a growing good food movement, rooted in a regenerative agriculture that provides an alternative to an industrial and global agriculture that fails to adequately respect biodiversity and the well-being of humans and the environment.
Lin May Saeed, a visionary artist, goes even further in Arrival of the Animals, a current exhibit (through October 25th) at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown (Berkshire County), Massachusetts. Her art compels the viewer to focus on the relationship of animals and humans.
William Jaeger, who teaches photography and art criticism at the State University of New York at Albany and Hudson Valley Community College, in his review in the Albany Times Union, Animals Trump Humans In Saeed Exhibit at Clark, noted Lin May Saeed’s devotion to a future where animals are duly respected. But will it be possible to get to a future where animals are duly respected before humanity and our planet is beyond salvation? Saeed’s visionary art powerfully poses this question in her first solo museum exhibition.
Although it is only a hypothesis at this moment in time, as reported in The Guardian, many believe the global pandemic emerged at a live animal market in Wuhan, China. The pangolin, a scaly mammal that resembles an anteater, has been viewed by some as the “intermediary host [of the virus] between bats and humans.” Can it be that an omnivorous human’s desire to consume a pangolin on the other side of the globe in Wuhan may have resulted in the (zoonotic) coronavirus spreading from animals to humans?
This visitor to the Clark’s exhibit of Lin May Saeed’s Arrival of the Animals was stopped in his tracks at Saeed’s sculpture of a pangolin. Unfamiliar to this upstate New Yorker until the global pandemic we now endure, the pangolin in the Berkshires (albeit an artwork in a museum gallery, created out of polystyrene foam, steel, plaster, acrylic paint and wood) nonetheless reverberated in this viewer’s mind as a wild, flesh and blood part of nature. The bewildering question: What would cause an omnivorous human to view a pangolin as edible food?
Given the fact that Saeed’s pangolin was created prior to the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, this prescient artist’s message that humans must learn to respect other species sounds ever much louder now. Curiously, it’s been reported in the weekly international journal Nature that pangolins were not listed on the inventory of items being sold in Wuhan, but The Guardian news article referenced above suggests that this omission could be deliberate as it’s illegal to sell them.
With only one week more before the exhibit closes in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, it is observed that on the occasion of Lin May Saeed’s first museum solo exhibition, the Clark has published a catalogue by the curator Robert Wiesenberger, with contributions by Mel Y. Chen, Birgit Mütherich, and the artist herself, 144 pages, 70 color illustrations. The catalogue illustrates Saeed’s drawings, paintings, and sculptures in materials such as paper, steel, and polystyrene foam. And it includes two interpretive essays on the artist and Saeed’s own writings.
In addition, the web platform, Contemporary Art Daily (CAD), founded by the Chicago-based artist/critic Forrest Nash, posts documentation from seven to eleven international exhibitions of contemporary art a week. It recently spotlighted Lin May Saeed’s Arrival of the Animals at the Clark and a virtual visit to the show is now available through a series of images of Saeed’s artwork included in the show on the CAD platform. [To move to the next image, users should click on the > symbol on the top left side of each page on this web page on the CAD platform.]
(Frank W. Barrie, 10/20/20)