Report – ‘Beyond the Human: Feminism and the Animal Turn’ Symposium

Sponsored by the Feminist Research Network (FRN) and the Material Ecologies Research Network (MeCo), Beyond The Human began with an acknowledgement of the Dharawal, Wadi Wadi and Yuin nations by the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Law Humanities and the Arts, Professor Amanda Lawson.

Day 1

Longhorn sheep in north America are often depicted as hyperaggressive and compulsorily heterosexual in documentary media. So Philip Armstrong –a distinguished animal studies scholar from the University of Canterbury, sought to queer the Darwinian genealogy of this heteronormative, patriarchal orthodoxy. Philip’s forthcoming book Sheep (Reaktion 2016) develops the ethological, cultural and historical resonances of the sheep.

With Annie Potts, Philip is co-Director of the New Zealand Centre for Human-Animal Studies based at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch. Annie explored the rich trajectory of the gendering of chickens and productively unsettled this genealogy by calling on Baba Yaga, the Eastern European grandmother figure, whose ambivalence gives agency back to the chicken. Among many revelations, we learned how re-wilded cocks will companionably ‘dance’ with one another and only fight to the death when forced by humans.

LHA’s Animal Studies Journal is pleased to announce that Annie Potts and Philip Armstrong will join ASJ as Associate Editors, alongside Michael Griffiths and under the Editorship of Melissa Boyde.

An exciting panel of emerging animal studies voices took place between Annie and Philips’ respective talks. Donelle Gadenne presented an evocative narration of the production of patriarch masculinity through two recent fishing narratives, while Roslyn Appleby drew a trajectory through shark representations and the distractions they provide from masculinist geopolitical agendas, from World War II through the Vietnam War—a timely lesson for the politics of the sharks at risk of being made killable by calls for culling in Northern NSW.

Fiona Probyn-Rapsey followed Annie’s talk on chickens with five propositions on the gendering and marginalisation of animal studies within feminist studies. Her propositions culminated in the idea that feminism can only ambivalently reclaim the crazy cat lady – a figure circulating from popular culture to urban legend – to deauthorise feminist-animal studies intersectionality.

Rosemary Clareehan brought discourse analysis to the phenomena of Vegan v-blogs on youtube. Muhammad Kavesh integrated masculinity and animality into a cultural anthropological account of the gendering of dogfighting and cockfighting in Pakistan. And, on the same panel, Hayley Singer – a powerful emerging voice in the field – introduced questions of writing as animal through subversion of carnophallogocentric discourse with her reading of Deborah Levy’s 1997 novel Diary of a Steak.

2016-02-08 10.54.20The first day of the conference was rounded out by a magnificent panel spanning performance, photographic practice and curatorial attention to urgent ecologies. Peta Tait, the author of numerous works on performance and empire, but, most recently, the animal oriented Fighting Nature: Travelling menageries, animal acts and war shows” (Sydney U. P. 2015) gave a talk which surveyed three works at the intersection of settler colonialism and animality, and culminated most evocatively in a close visual reading of Gamilaroi artist r e a’s most recent work, which plays with the trope of the hunted Indigenous women through paint – red, white and blue on Victorian garb. Fiona Edmonds Dobrijevich theorised her practice of ocean swimming with whale sharks, often at night, through Nietzschean vitality. Finally, MeCo collective member Su Ballard drew on her ongoing work on urgent ecologies to think naturecultures, extinction and scale through Diana Thaters work on dung beetles that navigate by the milky way, and Shannon Te Ao’s installation work.

Day Two

Day two began with the MeCo Lecture by Activist/Artist/Academic Yvette Watt. Yvette showed that the personal remains the political even as it works from micro to macro scales and in reverse. She did so by contrasting her trajectory in her art practice as she moved over thirty years from activism to academia. Yvette’s activism crystallised into a profound series of artworks, her photographic Factory Farm series, which reveals the exterior of sites of intensive factory farms. The boundaries of her practice tessellate anew in the work Duck Lake – a collaboration of artists, choreographers, dancers and activists. The project includes a performance of Swan Lake which will be staged at the opening of the (legal) duck shooting season at World Heritage listed Moulting lagoon in Tasmania, an important bird area.

The afternoon of the conference’s second day then broke out into a pedagogically informed sharing environment as Philip and Annie chaired respective sessions. Philip’s session focused on key issues in teaching animal studies and culminated in a group reading of Angela Singer’s work Chilled Lamb (2003) and the politics of animal trophies and art collecting.

Annie’s session focalized an account of teaching Human-Animal Studies through a retrospective consideration of the work of Carol Adams. Fay Wray, the “animalized woman” and King Kong the “humanized animal,” opened participants to the complexity of Adams’s open taxonomy of animals and gender.

Attendance at the symposium peaked at over 50 for a number of the papers and overall we were encouraged by the representation of UOW staff and students, especially from TAEM, and the number of people who travelled to attend. It was rewarding to hear from so many attendees that the symposium and masterclass had provided a much needed context and support for their developing interest in animal studies, both in their research and curriculum development.

Report by the Organising Collective:

Melissa Boyde, Rachel Carr, Nicky Evans, Mike Griffiths, Alison Moore and Colin Salter