An Ark in the UK

From the dawn of what we call civilization our ancient histories and religious texts are littered with epic and tumultuous accounts of great floods brought down upon earthly mortals by an often vengeful God intent on cleansing and purifying them of their sinful and excessive ways. Noah, Nuh, Gilgamesh,Deucalion were in some way the original superheroes called on by their respective deities to endure an inundation and carry forth flesh and blood to a new beginning.

“What is man without the beasts? For if all the beast were gone, man would die of a great loneliness of the spirit.” – Chief Seattle, Suquamish tribal leader.

And so as mankind moves into the 21st century the waters are once more set to rise, but on this occasion it is largely a self inflicted catastrophe rather than supernatural, delivered upon ourselves by a lack of empathy with the Earth on which we collectively spin. As in the book of Genesis where Noah was called on to save the creatures it is time to attempt do so again, but are we saving them from a watery demise or from Man himself?

Flock

‘An Ark in the UK’ is a photographic A-Z inventory of creatures whether alive, dead or mythical that have been found within these shores, as in the Bible version they enter the Ark two by two, Here the pairs are not a breeding mates of like species they are chosen on alphabetical criteria, Darwin would have termed it an ‘unnatural selection’, so in essence the project is unsustainable and doomed to failure. The images themselves are predominantly urban, the ‘hand’ and appearance of man is apparent in all of them, indeed they may say more about life on two legs rather than on four, six, or eight.

A-Z Inventory

Threads and themes lace through the images, umbrellas, murals, shop signs, balding men and extinct dinosaurs. The appearance of humans predominantly in the foreground, oblivious to the creature that lurks behind, seemingly a passerby in the landscape of his own making. The animals shown are largely representational rather than flesh or blood and often appear as adornment or decoration, on walls, clothing, costume or skin.

The metaphorical ‘ark’ that has been created as a sanctuary for the chosen creatures is not water borne but comprises of a flotilla of four large hardwood cabinets similar in appearance to that our Victorians forbears housed their trophies harvested from around the globe. The difference being that in this latter day vessel our animal residents are not visible behind glass they are hidden from view behind doors which must be opened by the curious to reveal the beast and other secrets that lie within.

The images are presented in black and white, using that ancient and mystical medium of 35mm film then crafted in a darkened chamber onto paper impregnated with silver halides, a method once commonly used but now fallen from grace.

As did the film ‘Blade Runner’ this project draws it’s inspiration from PJ Dick’s 1968 novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric sheep’ set in a future post apocalyptic world in which the animal population of Earth has been decimated by an unspecified event and where to possess a ‘real’ animal however great or small is a symbol of status and wealth. For those of lesser means robotic simulacra barely discernible from from their animate counterpart are available for purchase.

The book is an account of bounty hunter Rick Deckard’s search for malevolent androids termed ‘replicants’ of such close resemblance to humans that their only means of detection is by subjecting them to an empathy test, a characteristic which only humans supposedly exhibit. In the final chapter when deprived of his sophisticated testing equipment Deckard detects a replicant who is removing the legs from a spider to see how the creature functions without them, it fails the fundamental moral test of it’s attitude towards those at it’s mercy, an animal. Deckard ‘retires’ the android.

Cabinets

An essential element in the Bible story of the ark is the arrival of a white dove bearing a branch of an olive tree, now a universal symbol of peace and reconciliation, to Noah this signifies the emergence of land from the flood, a new world and redemption. In this 21st century version the messenger of salvation is the ubiquitous seagull carrying discarded rubbish, maybe an indication of all that remains on dry land once the waters recede.

Cabinet

And what of Homo sapiens, the ‘wise man’ himself, is he to be allowed to board this metaphorical ark, considering his track record, he is currently sitting on the ‘naughty step’ but he does have a conscience and the capacity of mending his ways, so in consideration of that a select few will be permitted to join as crew and to steer the ark to safety.

Anarchy in the UK was released by the Sex Pistols November 1976, some 40 years ago.

An Ark in the UK will open at the Open Market London Road, Brighton on October 4th, the day given to celebrate Francis of Assisi patron Saint of the Animals.

No computers were harmed in the making of this exhibition.