August 2023 –
Near Dwellers and the Sharing of Breath
Sarah Le Quang Sang with Spirit of Saigon
August 4 – September 30, 2023
Near Dwellers as
Fawn Daphne Plessner
October 13 – December 30, 2023
Near Dwellers as Creative Collaborators
Ruth K. Burke
February 2 – April 13, 2024
Near Dwellers as Urbanites
Doug La Fortune
May 3 – July 13, 2024
Near Dwellers Forest and Summer Exhibition
Our finale, recap, and celebration of the entries to @near_dwellers Forest
August 9 – September 28, 2024
Ongoing through Autumn '24
The Near Dwellers Forest:
a public participation project
Share your stories about your near dwellers.
Near Dwellers is a year-long, multi-part project hosted by the Tree Museum and Street Road Artists Space that explores animal-human relationships, with a focus on the spaces and places we share. Programming includes exhibitions, discussions, and a public participation component, opening up new and multi-faceted ways of understanding animals and our relationships with them.
In recent years and within some scholarly circles (Animal Studies; Indigenous Law, Animal Law etc.), there has been growing attention paid to the implicit, but not always visible or publicly verbalized, interdependencies of humans and animals.* This is especially pressing in the context of climate change and the unfolding ecocide, where (wild) animals have suffered greatly, and in many cases are facing extinction in the fallout of industrialization, the expansion of intensive farming, urbanization, deforestation, rising ocean temperatures, etc. Equally, it is well known that animals that have been bred for human consumption endure extensive violence and hardship, and those that are employed to work, often do so in dangerous and life-threatening environments (police, military etc.), while others are brought into our homes to live as members of the human family. How animals are conceptualized, how they are classified as “property” within our colonial legal order, instead of being seen as say, “nations” in the case of wild animals, or as autonomous and agential beings deserving of a political status; how they are treated, (i.e., selectively bred for food or to supplement human labour, or as companions), is indicative of commonplace assumptions of animals as subject to human needs and interests. This language and logic of speciesism is without doubt ubiquitous and normalized in our modern experience of animals. It also undergirds human behaviors that differentiate between pets and service animals that are pampered from farmed or wild animals that are objectified, as a means to an end, or are spectacularized, in the case of the latter.
While we live in the soup of industrialised and capitalistic designations of farm, pet, wild, and service animals, Near Dwellers looks at how artists have troubled such identifications to reveal more complex and nuanced aspects of more-than-human beings that challenge conventional treatments of animals as exploitable material objects, or as adored, reviled, or novel objects of attention. Near Dwellers therefore invites visitors to reckon with the urgency of regarding animals as autonomous beings with their own unique capacities, communities, and needs, not only for the important ethical responsibilities that flow from this, but to acknowledge the very real biological, emotional, and spiritual, connections between all animals, human and more-than-human alike. Near Dwellers focuses on the interdependencies among all animal beings, to make palpable the role that aesthetic experiences offer in connecting with the critters with whom we reside alongside of, with the wider aim of supporting the cultural turn away from an anthropocentric worldview, to one that places more-than-humans at the center of the social and political world. That is to say, we humans dwell near other animals who importantly create the world that sustains us. It is timely then to acknowledge our dependence on them. Near Dwellers takes a step in that direction.
The art projects presented in Near Dwellers examine and challenge conventional imaginaries of the human/animal divide and instead open-up new and multi-faceted ways of understanding animals as creative in-their-own-right, as determinably political in their ‘nationhood’ in the maintenance of their communal social protocols and kinship ties, indeed, as ordering and organizing the world in ways that are often invisible to humans, but that can be glimpsed through the work of artists who have spent time nurturing relationships with the animals with whom they live alongside.
In Street Road’s year-long presentation of artists’ projects and panel discussions with scholars from other disciplines, Near Dwellers offers segues to wider questions and reflections on who exactly is visible as an animal neighbor? What are their needs and what does this entail for how one shares space and takes responsibility for the well-being of our fellow animal residents? What can be learned from more-than-human beings when they reach out to us? What do we learn from artists who have co-created art with their companion animals? Or, indeed, in what ways do animals create art, and how does this challenge perceptions of animal life as solely rudimentary? And what do we learn from artists today who render images of animals as symbols, or as expressions of joy and love, in light of the environmental turbulence with which we are all faced? These are some of the questions that will be explored in Near Dwellers.
* The use of the term ‘animal’ has been widely critiqued within academic circles as indicative of assumptions of the human as exogenous and/or as exceptional from other animal beings (i.e., uniquely in possession of moral, spiritual, rational capacities etc.). To address this conceit, terms such as ‘more-than-human’ or ‘other-than-human’ or ‘multi-species’ have been employed to close the conceptual gap in the human/animal binary. However, there is no agreement about the use of such terms, therefore ‘animal’ will be used here synonymously with some of these other terms, on the understanding that Near Dwellers is an attempt to further trouble the politics of human exceptionalism and its consequences for human (as animal) and (other) animal relations. In other words, Near Dwellers does not concur with the belief that humans are ontologically transcendent of or necessarily unique within the animal world.