Achtsame Naturstudien

Tier-Performances in der Zeitgenössischen Kunst

  • Jessica Ullrich Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg
Keywords: artwork, performance, performance with animals, animal rights, biosemiotics, ethics, biosemiotic ethics, Eva Meijer, Varsity of Maneuvers, Ines Lechleitner


Recently, works of art featuring interaction with living animals have kept appearing. Some of these works critizise a perceived unethical treatment of animals, others focus on themes having nothing to do with animals. No matter what approach is taken, animals in art are often victims of structural and manifest violence. They are used as motif, material or medium, without being acknowledged as having value in themselves, besides the value of their symbolic or metaphorical attributes or their material functionality. Meanwhile, ethically responsible artists are developing strategies for burdening animals in performances as little as possible physically and psychologically, and giving them the chance to carry out species-specific behaviours. Even so, the actions of animals that occur in the context of an artwork tend to be interpreted in light of the overall artistic expression. In this way, the semiotic contributions of the involved animals are neglected, and the affected animals are made into representatives for discourses they do not understand and have no interest in. This article asks how ethically responsible art involving living animals might look like. Illustrative works of art are discussed. The examples analysed are relevant for biosemiotics in that they can be read as presenting translations of animal signals in artistic form. These works of art are interpreted as generators of meaning that carries animal behaviour over to art and thereby greet animals with a respectful attention that can be understood as symptomatic of ethical consciousness.