It isn’t news that animals are complex creatures, capable of many things assumed to be inherently human, ranging from the ability to learn language to the capacity of feeling a spectrum of emotions. But rather than examining how animals are human-like, Italian painter Lorella Paleni makes work that focuses on how humans can often act in ways that are incredibly animalistic, bridging the gap between animals and people in a way that opposes this popular, overarching narrative.
In Mishap 7, a painting belonging to a series of works Paleni labels as “small playground spaces,” an entanglement of human limbs bleeds into what appears to be a neon body of water. The flailing legs and arms are contorted dramatically and abstractly, hovering somewhere between a fight to the death and pool party shenanigans. Perhaps the two are not so different in the end.
Similarly, I’ll drown shows shadowy human figures appearing to be rescuing or operating on a bleeding shark or small whale. Their philanthropic gestures end up looking more like an assault on the creature, violently pushing and pulling as if exerting dominance or control over its lifeless body.
Paleni’s ability to make a seemingly humane activity look like a pagan ritual exemplifies the overarching philosophy of her work: “I think and see animals like equal fellows, companions of a shared journey. Humane society is built on the refusal of the other’s value in order to create a hierarchic system that favors the few; the animal is the quintessential ‘other’,” the artist explains to The Creators Project.
“The animal questions us about our own humanity, about who and what we are, and the validity of language. We share a common destiny, as animals. As Elizabeth Grosz said ‘Man is not the center of animal life, just as Earth is not the center of the universe.”
Even the artist’s approach to bridging the gap between animal and human is reflective of her philosophy. “Rather than anthropomorphizing the animal (which is still a way of stating the importance of the human and the need for the animal to be humanized, filling an alleged lack), I’m interested in animalizing the human. Refusing the traditional ‘portrait’ is a way for me to question that, to question subjectivity and human exceptionalism,” adds Paleni.
Click here to view more animalistic paintings of human life by Lorella Paleni.
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