Sky, Amy Stein's Domesticated series
does a good job of portraying the loaded
interaction between animals and supposedly more domesticated environs. Thus,
the animals are both ecological signifiers and manifestations of that old Victorian
fear of our own animal nature.. but instead of the genteel Dr. Jeckl and brutish
Mr Hyde the series is based on real stories from local newspapers and oral histories.
The images are set in Matamoras Pennsylvania, a small town which borders a state
Watering Hole (2005)
Yet, despite this documentary starting point the strongest works also tend
to be the most theatrical, taking the diorama into the realm of drama. In some
ways this work reminds me a bit of Fritz
but differs as it more concerned with the story of interaction than
the animal habitat, which makes Haeg's animal home-building viewpoint a lot
For example, Watering Hole, an image of a bear watching a young girl on a diving
board is highly staged but is somehow more effective than Cuttings with its
dead (once domestic) bunny in a wheelbarrow with garden clippings. In Watering
Hole the bear could just as easily be an animal surrogate for some creepy peeping
tom. This really works as it substitutes fear of the unknown for a general
and very understandable fear of bears. Fact is, the peeping tom's motives would
be easier to ascertain, making the bear a more effective component.
Conversely I think the violence in Cuttings is brittle in its didacticism and
shuts down the mystery here, same for images like Trasheaters
(a scene with coyotes eating trash) and Backyard
(where a man shoots a turkey in you guessed it, his backyard). Whereas, a less
didactic image like Riverside
with its bobcat near a bridge lets the mind wander and construct additional
Didactic narratives aren't the enemy here though since Struggle
(an image of a black bear with its face caught in a plastic bag) is one of the
very best of the series. It is both terrifying and fascinating in the way it addresses
the viewer so effectively, despite being a staged didactic construction.
Whereas Nursery with its fawn in a greenhouse just feels like a restaged event
that lacks the drama of finding a real fawn indoors. Instead, the fawn here has the look
of a dog eagerly waiting to go outside and play fetch.
It has always been fascinating to me why people open up to animals in art so
much... artists like Fischli
have made careers of it, but I sense that Amy Stein is just starting
to hit her stride with this series. Unlike those other artists who know how
to make the viewer address the animal in front of them as well as the animal
within Stein is just starting to elicit her viewer's response with Struggle,which
is one of her latest works.