Performing Extinction

I, Animal and They Saw a Thylacine



Angela Campbell




It is not impossible, therefore, that in attributing an animal head to the remnant of Israel, the artist of the manuscript in the Ambrosian intended to suggest that on the last day, the relations between animals and men will take on a new form, and that man himself will be reconciled with his animal nature. (Agamben, Open, 3)


Delving into the long and sometimes dark history of the Zoo over its 150 years, I, Animal draws on events that have passed, explores the nature of the zoo’s most famous (and not so famous) residents and takes the visitor on a philosophical and emotional journey into our own humanity.
(Border Project, ‘I, Animal’)


‘Zooësis’ is the term that Una Chaudhuri has coined to capture the long history of performance, literature, film, popular culture and the intersection of all those forms that articulate, bind and shape human and nonhuman co-habitation.1  Working within the emerging field of Animal Studies, Chaudhauri says that


to speak of zooësis is to acknowledge the manifold performances engendered by such ubiquitous or isolated cultural animal practices as pet keeping, dog shows, equestrian displays, rodeos, bullfighting, animal sacrifice, scientific experimentation, species preservation, taxidermy, hunting, fur wearing, meat eating—each with its own archive and repertory, its own spatialities and temporalities, its own performers and spectators. (‘(De)Facing’, 9)


As a cultural practice, Zooësis moves (sometimes seamlessly, often blindly) between humans and animals, ‘making art and meaning with the figure and body of the animal’ (Orozco, Theatre, 6). Zoos, theatres and circuses have long provided fora for human and non-human animal interaction across and through scientific observation, storytelling, enactments, re-enactments and imagined re-enactments.  This paper considers two examples of zooësis; one that takes place in a theatre, the other in a zoo.


'I, Animal' poster. Photo: 'Claire'.

One of four I, Animal posters, designed by Cassette Print. Image: ‘Claire’.

I, Animal, an interactive, performative tour of Melbourne Zoo, produced by The Border Project in 2012 fits, cheekily, within this long-standing but newly named category of human and non-human animal entanglement.2 Border Project promises a unique adult-oriented tour which is ‘part multimedia tour, part theatrical experience, part animal encounter’ (‘I, Animal’). Designed as an interspecies encounter and playing with recognition of the complexities of imagined animal/human otherness, I Animal asks its audience to consider the relationship between human and non-human animals, face to face, in the moment and across history, through the prism of the Zoo.


They Saw a Thylacine, an award-winning play by Human Animal Exchange, also takes place in a zoo, not a ‘real life’ Zoo, but one framed within the ‘black box’ of the theatre. The performance is set in Tasmania in the 1930s at the time of the last recorded death in captivity and apocryphal last wild sightings of that iconic Australian apex predator, the thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger. This theatrical re-imaging of human and non-human struggle for survival tells a story of embedded hierarchies within Australia’s colonial past that work to silence and obliterate those less powerful.


Giorgio Agamben grapples with the fundamental relationship between human and non-human animals in The Open: Man and Animal, considering what he terms ‘the anthropological machine’, a human construct that blindly, often cruelly oppresses non-human animals. He asks us to see ourselves not as distinctly ‘other’ from the living creatures but on the same continuum. Jacques Derrida also addresses the moment of recognition between humans and animals in his essay, ‘The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow)’. Finding his cat staring at his naked self as he stands in the bathroom, he is in that moment, naked animal to naked animal, profoundly confronted. In the gaze of the cat he experiences not a single abyss between human and non-human animal, but multiple fractures. Derrida reminds us that ‘the animal looks at us, and we are naked before it. Thinking perhaps begins there’ (‘Animal’, 397). Situating Derrida and Agamben, along with Delueze and Guatarri, as ‘anti-humanists’, Martin Puchner notes that, ‘besides insisting on the plural “animals,” which may then also include human animals, Derrida also posited the encounter between the philosopher and one animal, between himself and his cat, as a scene from which a philosophy of the animal may emerge’ (‘Performing’, 22). Derrida himself observes that


the animal [can] be looked at, no doubt, but also—something that philosophy perhaps forgets, perhaps being this calculated forgetting itself—it can look at me. It has its point of view regarding me. The point of view of the absolute other. And nothing will have ever done more to make me think through this absolute alterity of the neighbor than these moments when I see myself seen naked under the gaze of my cat. (‘Animal’, 380)


Chaudhuri notes that in contrast, and somewhat curiously, Emmanuel Levinas—who categorically constructs alterity in face to face encounter—saw in the face of Bobby, the dog who befriended him and his fellow prisoners in Auschwitz,


‘the last Kantian in Nazi Germany,’ because his joyful greetings reminded the prisoners of their human dignity. Yet, when questioned closely about the ethical status of nonhuman animals … Levinas denies that the dog can have a face in the ethical sense: ‘the phenomenon of the face is not in its purest form in the dog,’ he writes. ‘I cannot say at what moment you have the right to be called “face.” The human face is completely different and only afterwards do we discover the face of the animal.’ (Chaudhuri, ‘(De)Facing’, 16)


Following Levinas, the face to face encounter between human and non-human animals in performance is doubly problematic as it occurs, necessarily, within the symbolic structure of representation (this face, stands in for another face, both of which are constructed and understood entirely within a human symbolic system). This puts the animal at a distinct disadvantage; as Chaudhauri reminds us:


unlike others ‘on the margins,’ animals cannot ‘speak back’—to humanist hegemonies or to anything else. To make them speak is not to write their faces; it is usually to write ours, to indulge that anthropomorphic reflex that is all too often rooted in an anthropocentric outlook. (‘(De)Facing’, 15)


Navigating (or perhaps ignoring) this difference, I, Animal at Melbourne Zoo poses a question within an institution that is very much part of the ‘anthropomorphic machine’, yet one that acts as a place of mediation between human and non-human animals. I, Animal asks its audience, gently, playfully, to consider how (and how deeply) we are hopelessly, hopefully, entangled with ‘other’ creatures of the earth through emotion and affect, through embodied co-dependence, in history, by evolution and across shared and increasingly compromised environments.3 



I, Animal: A Personal Encounter

We assemble outside the zoo at sundown and talk amongst ourselves, quietly, expectantly. Building on interactive technology that has also been developed for Tasmania’s MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) by Art Processors, interactive media company Sandpit have produced a device for each audience member of I, Animal in this interspecies encounter. 


I, Animal uses ground-breaking technology to take audiences on a remarkable and surprisingly emotive journey through the interior of Melbourne Zoo at night. Participants interact with a device called ‘Zoe’—speaking directly to it, selecting an illustration, or drawing an image with their fingers. Later they can be emailed a record of their experience, revealing the particular pathway they travelled on, and those still remaining to be unlocked. It also creates a personalised, hand-drawn artwork rendered from their own interaction with the device. Over 70% of visitors choose to leave their email address, providing an exceptional platform for the Melbourne Zoo to expand its demographic and continue meaningful conversations with participants into the future. (Sandpit)


Zoe is similar to an iPod touch with a set of headphones. We are told that Zoe will be our guide. In a reversal of the usual daytime routine, we are ushered inside as the sun goes down and the zoo is about to close for the night. It is just us, with the animals. We are prompted by Zoë to choose our own personal experience for the evening by touching one of four outlined possibilities that appear on our iPod: a picture of a monkey, a penguin, a giraffe, or elephant. I choose the elephant. Why did I choose the elephant, I wonder? Why not the monkey? What does this say about me? We have not yet met face to face but by choosing the elephant l am already writing my own experience, and questioning who I am in relationship with this animal. Zoë allows (at least notionally) elements of authorship to be extended to the audience, teasing and upsetting previously understood relationships between ‘the art object, the artist and the audience’ (Bishop, Artificial, 15).4


Before I pass through the gates to begin this zoological journey, Zoë asks me; ‘what did you want to be as a child?’ I look around and realize that every other iPodded, ear-phoned audience member is taking a moment to whisper their childhood heart’s desire into the device. The child I once was hovers at the edge of my consciousness. Time shifts and Zoë tells me ‘this time is a special time of night, it’s about you in the here and now’. Yes, but which me, me now or me then, I wonder, as I move toward the big gates.


Zoë tells me which way to go.  


As she leads me down the garden path, through the bamboo thicket and past the elephant statues, toward the tigers, Zoë asks me whether the chicken came before the egg? Is it chicken or egg?  Which do you choose? Hmmm, I think, chicken or egg? Again I must tap my iPod to indicate my choice. While I do this she provides me with details of both chicken and egg, incubating, growing, hatching, maturing. 


A zoo-keeper stands in front of the tiger enclosure, the oh-so-alive tiger is standing looking at us all, breathing quietly, expectantly, as the sun sets. She wants her dinner. The zoo-keeper has a white bucket with a dead, plucked-naked chicken in it. This bald chicken’s life has been cut short; it died when it was 18 months old. Zoë tells me some details about tigers; tigers eat chickens. Tigers have teeth that are three inches long.


The tiger catches the chicken that the keeper throws to her, with her teeth, and disappears behind a bamboo screen. Even though I’m watching a performance, the tiger isn’t performing; she is just eating her dinner. Some kind of real life / performance Mobius strip folds and unfolds before my eyes.


The tiger’s environment in the wild is dwindling we are told, mostly because of Palm Oil plantations. The experience of this journey through the zoo highlights the interdependence between human and non-human animals. And reminds us that we are all made from flesh and blood, across time, chicken and egg.


‘Careful’, Zoë says as I turn away and move toward the Butterfly enclosure, ‘the tiger might eat you, they come at you from behind’.


The group moves together, but alone, with Zoë, experiencing this mediated artwork that builds alongside the life of the real animals, in the real life zoo. Zoë says ‘Butterflies are delicate lighter than air, they last only three days but their brief life might cause a hurricane’. I am asked, what thing I do that might affect others? Just like the butterfly. 


Elephants give birth painfully. They push the baby up the birth canal against gravity and then out. Zoë tells me the mother would kill the baby after it is born because giving birth to it hurts so much, but other mothers, aunties, sisters, form a circle around the baby to protect it. Males are solitary except those that form a bachelor pack. Zoë asks me, ‘Do you have a bachelor pack or do you have a bachelor at home that has his washing done? His meals cooked?’


Zoë asks me to fill in details about myself through the iPod, ‘How old are you? Are you male or female?  She asks me to write my name on the screen of the iPod and to draw a decoration. (I will find that days later I’m sent an email with my drawing and this message from myself, from Zoë.)


We learn about Peggy the elephant who died in 1984. We hear her ghostly presence through our headphones. It is the sound of Peggy, held in captivity through the 1970s, banging against the doors in the night, recorded by her friends the keepers. Old technology transferred to new captures traces of this once upon a nighttime ritual, born of Peggy’s desire for freedom perhaps or her need to calm and comfort herself in the dark. While the sound remains, capturing the emotion, Peggy and her keepers, are long gone.


We are asked to look at the water in the ornamental lake nearby. Consider the Christmas Island Pipistrelle bat says Zoë. Listen for the sound of the male calling for a mate. We hear it, delicate, piping. We hear it again; Zoë says it is the last sound ever recorded of the Pipistrelle bat in 2008. Listen again, she says, listen … we hear nothing. That was it then. Silence. It is the sound of extinction.


What must have it been like to call out like that, with no other Pipistrelle anywhere, ever again, to hear the call? Is it possible to be more alone?


Zoë asks me, ‘What was the last thing a loved one now gone, said to you?’ I listen to the silence. I am asked, ‘How would you like to be remembered if someone now had to remember you? What story would be told about you?’


I walk away from the lake and the last call of the Pipistrelle, profoundly disturbed. That was more than death that I just heard.


Zoë leads us all to the Merry Go Round in the centre of the Zoo. She plays us some music; it is Simple Minds singing, ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’.   


She asks us to look at each other and wave. We do, a little bashful. We all know that we have been sharing stories with the animals, together but alone. Zoë says:


‘Remember, I asked you all what you wanted to be when you grew up?’


Of course we do, but it was a long time ago and we were different then. Remarkably, from the silence, I hear my own voice, a ghost from the recent past, whispering through the headphones: ‘Air Hostess’. Then I hear a chorus of everybody else, together but alone, sharing their childhood heart’s desire. So many people wanted to be so many things. We look at each other and smile.


Zoë says, ‘Remember about being here, now. Thanks’. 


And Simple Minds play on.


A Trip Advisor blog entitled ‘I Animal experience was unique’ recommends the performance to other tourists to Melbourne Zoo, stating:


the I, Animal experience gives you more time to reflect on the animals and their survival process by selecting a smaller group of them for the experience. If you love animals, you should enjoy this creative and thoughtful experience. (Trip Advisor, ‘I, Animal Experience’)


Border Project invites audiences (in varying degrees) to co-create and participate in the experience of making the work, asking each person to choose a pathway, to make drawings and respond vocally through Zoë, as a portal to the authors (to Border Project, or at least their software program developed for this show). This personalised trace of the performance experience, later emailed back to the participant, extends the temporal experience of the performance.5 I, Animal thus uses technologically enabled, live performance outside of a theatre and in the public space of the Zoo to unsettle the borders between ‘us and them’, subject and object, human and non-human animal, audience and participant, observer and observed. In pushing theatrical conventions which are designed to delineate performed roles within society, I, Animal toys with assumptions embedded within historical hierarchies of human and non-human animals.


The challenge or limitation of this participatory or social turn in arts practice has been the focus of discussion amongst artists and critics who tease out market trends that work to commodify both artwork (as object) and art experience (see, e.g., Bharucha, ‘Limits’; Bishop, Artificial; Freshwater, Theatre). Rustom Bharucha offers three metaphors for moving ‘beyond the box’ of the gallery or theatre space with known hierarchies of production and consumption (and criticism) of art, into public space and collaborative creative process: a ‘leap into the unknown, a flight into an open sky and a jump into the abyss (‘Limits’, 398-99). Calling on Homi Bhabha, he


urges us to move beyond the platitudinous readings of the beyond as a ‘new horizon’ or a ‘leaving behind of the past’ towards a more disorientating process of destabilising fixed categories, identifications, temporalities and directions. Neither here nor there, but somewhere in between, the state of being ‘in the beyond’ is not so much a jettisoning of the present, but ‘a return to the present’ which Bhabha, in his enigmatic way, relates to ‘touch[ing] the future on its hither side’. This ‘intervening space’—and here there is a jump between the metaphoric thrust of Bhabha’s language and his political imaginary—becomes ‘a space of intervention in the here and now’. (‘Limits’, 399)


I, Animal plays zooësis through technologically enabled participatory performance, yet it also speaks within the meta-performance of the zoo. Chaudhuri considers that


the question of the animal is raised in and by philosophy for us (with increasing contentiousness since Descartes’ pronouncement that animals were nothing more than machines), but it is also a question put to us—individuals and disciplines—by animals, with increasing urgency as their disappearance from modern life and extinction from the planet accelerates beyond denial. (‘(De)facing’, 9)


Established in 1862, Melbourne Zoo is modelled on the great zoological gardens of the 19th century. John Berger notes that in the 19th century, ‘the capturing of the animals was a symbolic representation of the conquest of all distant exotic lands’ (quoted in Orozco, Theatre, 18), and that, in performing this act, the Zoo is part of the greater colonial project. As the newly industrialised mega-cities were themselves emptying of animals, 19th century visitors and tourist to the Zoo were allowed to wander through the cages and ropes and to wonder, from a vantage point, at the ‘wilder’ world of animals that was then (and still is) fast disappearing.6 Within this history of colonialism, Zoos performed a compelling display of hierarchical control between and amongst human and non-human animals.


More recently, of course, zoos have come to occupy a sadder and paradoxically more hopeful place as they seek to hold back the tide of extinctions that carry us all within and toward the sixth great extinction event of all recorded time. Exploring this difficult moment of entanglement between human and non-human animals, Thom Van Dooren notes that


the edge of extinction is now also deliberately flattened and drawn out by active human intervention to conserve disappearing species. Through these efforts, species are held in the world for decades more than they might otherwise have survived. In addition, therefore, to being spaces of suffering, death, and loss, these edges of extinction are now often also places of intense hope and dedicated care. (Flight, 12)


Zoos are increasingly involved in conservation of species and communicating the issues and impacts to the public is fundamental to this project. I Animal, within the Melbourne Zoo, gently, nostalgically, playfully, opens a performative space for human animals to actively reconsider their shared mortality alongside and in connection with the on-going lives (or heading for extinct non-lives) of our non-human animal co-travellers through time and space.


If, within the on-going history of zooësis, zoos have traditionally sought to edify public audiences, offering a ‘naturalistic’ and/or ‘scientific’ experience of animals, it could be argued that zooësis in the theatre deals notionally with animals in ‘art’, while the circus performs zooësis unashamedly as entertainment. Investigating the training and performance of circus animals (human and non-human included), Peta Tait highlights how such modes of performance engage affect (wonder, awe, delight, amusement) to create and translate powerful and enduring bonds across species. In Wild and Dangerous Performances: Animals, Emotions, Circus, Tait points again to the human centredness so fundamental to Western thought, noting how circus animals are trained to imitate recognizably human actions—dancing, jumping through hoops, balancing—and that through these actions, non-human animals build an anthropomorphized repertoire or language that connects them with trainers and audiences. Within circus contexts, this particular entanglement, Tait suggests, is a form of ‘speciesism’ that traditionally saw animal acts ‘become culturally significant because animal bodies had the capacity to embody ideas of an imaginary geography and concepts of human emotion’ (Wild, 11). In a series of somewhat one-sided, embodied, interspecies translations, humans respond to ‘other’ animal ‘tricks’ because they read them as ‘Human’. Animals are then seen, experienced and imagined in circuses, not as themselves, but in as much as they are like humans (as they represent human traits on animal bodies). They become part of what Agamben would deem the anthropological machine. Tait points out that human animals in circuses also perform skillful actions, born of hours of careful training, that activate audience sympathy and nervous systems through clowning, trapeze and acrobatics, all of which focus on the body and on bodily limits and excess. She writes that in ‘recognizing how sensory engagement evokes bodily feelings, including emotional feelings, an expanded understanding of human relations with nonhuman animals can be envisaged’ (Wild, 197).7


This relationship or interspecies knowledge is built on embodied technique that is itself built (carrot and stick) upon feeling and affect, trust, intuition, repetition, etc. I, Animal does not offer the performative tricks of circus acts nor, at the other extreme, does it promote fantasies of detached scientific observation of the zoo; in aligning its audience, chicken and egg, somewhere in between human and non-human animal experience, as an artwork and as a tourist attraction, it activates a range of embodied connections. Zoë has asked us, through our iPods for our personal participation. She prompts us to comprehend our own on-going relationship with and dependence upon non-human animals, across our shared contemporary environment and across time.


Contemporary performance is rediscovering non-human animals and while I, Animal takes its audience out of the theatre and into the live arena of the zoo, there are a number of powerful new works in more conventional theatre spaces, which explore intimate and affective connections between species. Lourdes Orozco’s slim volume, Theatre & Animals, provides an overview of the history of performance between human and non-human animals and a summary of contemporary explorations of animals in theatre ‘from [the] anthropomorphism in Disney’s The Lion King to the “chaotic multispecies encounter” of Jan Fabre’s Parrots and Guinea Pigs’ (Theatre, x). Orozco proposes an ethics of animals in performance that does not support the anthropomorphic machine, suggesting


that we expand Levinas’ concept of ethics, understood by Calarco in Zoographies as the act of ‘being called into question by the face of the other’ (p. 5), and consider that ‘the other’ can also be a non-human other. (Theatre, 36)


Following a range of theatre and Animal Studies scholarship, Orozco interrogates the inherent human centredness of Western performance, noting how the very notion of ‘representation’ appropriates non-human animal agency into human sign systems and meaning making. Citing director Romeo Castellucci of Soceitas Raffaello Sanzio, she reminds us that within the Western theatre tradition, tragedy etymologically means ‘“the song of the goat”: tragos (goat) and aoidê/ôidê (song)—which is born when the sacrificial animal disappears from the stage’ (Theatre, 69). Tragedy emerges from the imagined rite off stage, something that cannot be represented, when the death of the animal is required to make metaphysical, imagined human meaning. The Western idea of what it is to be Human, as imagined through tragedy—that Ur source of theatrical representation—is in this sense dependent on being separated from the non-human animal. Chaudhuri highlights ‘the animal as the Other to be faced’ (‘(De)facing’, 12) and artists such as Castelluci are struggling to do just this. The challenge facing contemporary theatre makers is building a form of representation that allows non-human animals to exist as their own agent before the moment of representation so that this agency somehow continues to be present in representation. Within this entangled human and non-human animals experience, the actual extinction of any animal, a situation that seems to defy human imagination, moves such questions of artistic representation from politics, through ethics, toward ontology.



They Saw a Thylacine: A Human Experience of an Other’s Extinction

Unlike the site-specific ‘beyond the box’ performance I, Animal, Human Animal Exchange’s award winning work, They Saw a Thylacine, takes place in a conventional theatre space. Theatre makers Justine Campbell and Sarah Hamilton state that it is a ‘play about survival and extinction’:


on an unseasonably cold September morning in 1936, the last known Tasmanian tiger died in captivity at Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart. Nearly 80 years after the disappearance of a species, Justine Campbell and Sarah Hamilton tell this story. On the brink of the sixth mass extinction of species on earth, They Saw a Thylacine bears witness. (Human Animal Exchange)


They Saw a Thylacine premiered in 2013, winning the Melbourne Fringe Festival Best Performance Award, and has since had a return season at Melbourne’s Malthouse in 2015.8 With the two actors seated facing the audience on a simple set (three bespoke chairs and two oversized light bulbs, in the 2015 Malthouse version), the play activates ‘old media’ technologies and representations of bodies on stage, to trace the last days of the Tasmanian Tiger. The thylacine’s extinction is mapped, in performance, across conjured metaphysical and historic landscapes that include habitat destruction, bounty hunting and willful neglect within captivity by a wildlife zoo. This extinction shadows the grim survival of two white women trapped within the same exploitative colonial system. The fates of the women and the thylacines are placed within a triangulated theme of ‘race, gender and class’ (McClintock, Imperial, 5)9 that is successfully ‘squared’ in this play to include non-human animals. Sydney Morning Herald reviewer Anne-Marie Peard states, ‘The last-seen thylacine, a female called Benjamin, died in a Tasmanian zoo in 1936, but her yaps are loud and clear on this stage’. Human Animal Exchange tell a story of invasion, colonial mis-management and chauvinism. They work to expose how the same colonial hierarchies that allowed the thylacine to be captured, shot and starved continue to influence social relations between humans, as well as between human and non-human animals, and have profound environmental impacts across the continent.


Denise Varney contextualizes Chaudhuri’s notion of zooësis within Australian contemporary performance practice and applies feminist and eco-critical analysis to this performance in her paper ‘“Beauty Tigress Queen”: Staging the Thylacine in a Theatre of Species’. More generally, Varney suggests performance ‘that considers itself socially and politically engaged will increasingly give priority to an ecological consciousness of the human in relation to the non-human just as it has for socialist, feminist, race and sexual politics’ (‘“Beauty”’, 1). Interestingly, Rosi Braidotti steps beyond this call, rejecting not only the anthropological machine but the idea that we have ever been human. She lobbies for a ‘qualitative shift in our thinking about what exactly is the basic unit of common reference for our species, our polity and our relationship to the other inhabitants of this planet’ (Posthuman, 1-2), posing a ‘radical post-anthropocentric position’ to replace ‘the social constructivist approach of Marxist, feminist and post-colonial analysis’ (84). Similarly, within the emerging discourse of New Materialism, critical and aesthetic frameworks have extended beyond human and non-human creatures to include machines, non-living objects and virtual experience. With a leap of imagination, political theorists such as Jane Bennett make a call to open critical and creative parameters to the political relations between non-living, material objects and between ‘things’. Unsettling boundaries between subject and object, she asks us


to devise new procedures, technologies and regimes of perception that enable us to consult nonhumans more closely, or to listen and respond more carefully to their outbreaks, objections, testimonies and propositions. For these offerings are profoundly important to the health of the political ecologies to which we belong. (Vibrant, 108)


The abyss that Derrida spied in the eye of his cat has indeed fractured and the human exceptionalism that has historically secured empowering and meaning making hierarchies between human and non-human animals (and beyond that between humans, animals, material objects and machines) has come into question. The power of art as art, to interrogate these boundaries and to imagine and unsettle the future, lies arguably in the strength of what Bishop calls ‘aisthesis: an autonomous regime of experience that is not reducible to logic, reason or morality’ (Bishop, Artificial, 18). This stretching of boundaries within Western thinking indeed opens myriad creative and critical pathways to re-imagine human responsibility to each other and other ‘Others’. Within a specifically Australian context (that since European settlement has surely never been post-colonial) there is much work to do. Performances that explore the fundamentally entangled nature of the world around us such as I, Animal and They Saw A Thylacine are a call to action.




1. Chaudhuri is a leading researcher within the emerging field of Animals Studies in theatre and performance and notably was guest editor of a special issue of The Drama Review on ‘Animals and Performance’. The term zooësis is discussed in her essay, ‘(De)Facing the Animals: Zooësis and Performance’ published in this special issue. #back


2. I, Animal was commissioned by Melbourne Zoo and developed from Border Project’s Ruby Award-winning I am Not an Animal, which premiered in the Adelaide Festival of the Arts, 2012. #back


3. This notion of entanglement is one that is explored in depth by Thom Van Dooren, who writes that in ‘focusing on entanglements’, he ‘aims to present alternative understandings of extinction’ to those grounded in entrenched patterns of ‘human exceptionalism’ and which present humans as ‘fundamentally set apart from all other animals and the rest of the natural world’ (Flight, 5). #back


4. This participatory or social turn in contemporary art practice is profoundly reshaping both practice and theory, re-connecting—often in quite problematic ways—the links between creative practice as art and creative practice as industry. #back


5. The work is part of a broader ‘participatory’, ‘social’ or ‘collaborative’ turn in contemporary performance that seeks to democratise art, finding art in everyday experience and ‘is perceived to channel art’s symbolic capital towards constructive social change’ (Bishop, Artificial, 12-13). Helen Freshwater (Theatre) and Claire Bishop (Artificial) both outline this reconfiguration of audience/spectator and artist as a major theme of avant garde, modernist and post-modern theatre practice. Jacques Rancière has also theorized this phenomenon in his work ‘The Emancipated Spectator’, arguing that


breaking away from the phantasms of the Word made flesh and the spectator turned active, knowing that words are only words and spectacles only spectacles, may help us better understand how words, stories, and performances can help us change something in the world we live in. (‘Emancipated’, 280) #back


6. The colonial discourse of scientific discovery and control of ‘natural’ resources that is enacted in this arrangement was famously critiqued in Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gómez-Peña’s Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit the West (1992–1994). The performance artists exhibited themselves, zoologically, as ‘primitives’ indigenous to a newly discovered island off the Gulf of Mexico. Their ‘ethnographic’ exhibit toured galleries, public plazas and zoos across Europe and North America where they posed in a cage, dressed as imagined ‘traditional’ Amerindians, surrounded (disturbingly) by the accouterment of Western culture. As Anna Johnson, in interview with the artists, notes, they spent their time ‘enacting rituals of “authentic” daily life such as writing on a laptop computer, watching TV, making voodoo dolls, and pacing the cage garbed in Converse high-tops, raffia skirts, plastic beads, and a wrestler’s mask’ (‘Fusco’). Gómez-Peña comments, ‘When we appear in the cage I am the cannibal, I am the warrior, this threatening masculine Other who causes fear to the viewer. Coco performs the noble savage, you know the quiet, subdued innocent. The response people have towards her is either one of compassion or one of sexual aggression.’ (Ibid.) Fusco adds, ‘The most hysterical reactions we had to the piece happened when we appeared at the Smithsonian. One alarmed person called the Humane Society. The Humane Society told that person that human beings were out of their jurisdiction.’ (Ibid.) Their performance, of course, echoes earlier exhibits of human ‘specimens’ in zoos such as Ota Benga, an African Pygmy who was shown to the public in the Bronx Zoo in 1904. Clearly the line between human and non-human animals is drawn here but also brought into question by this ‘zoological’ performance. #back


7. In contrast, Donna Haraway calls for an ethics of companionship that is alert to and respectful of difference. Contemplating her relationship with Cayenne Pepper, her own trained and skillful dog, she writes in The Companion Species Manifesto that ‘dogs are not about oneself.… They are not a projection, not the realization of an intention, nor the telos of anything. They are dogs; i.e., a species in obligatory, constitutive, historical, protean relationship with human being’ (11-12). #back


8. The work toured to New Zealand in that same year and had a season at Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne in 2015. In 2016 They Saw a Thylacine carried out a national tour with Performing Lines. #back


9. Anne McClintock argues that within the colonial project ‘race, gender and class are not distinct realms of experience, existing in splendid isolation ... rather, they come into existence in and through relation to each other—if in contradictory and conflictual ways … [they exist as] a triangulated theme’ (Imperial, 5). #back




Agamben, Giorgio. The Open: Man and Animal, trans. Kevin Attell. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004.


Bharucha, Rustom. ‘The Limits of the Beyond Contemporary Art Practice, Intervention and Collaboration in Public Spaces’. Third Text 21, 4 (2007): 397–416.


Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010.


Bishop, Claire. Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship. London: Verso, 2012.


The Border Project. ‘I, Animal’.


Braidotti, Rosi. The Posthuman. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013.


Chaudhuri, Una. ‘(De)Facing the Animals: Zooësis and Performance’. The Drama Review 51, 1 (2007), 8-20.


Derrida, Jacques. ‘The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow)’, trans. David Wills. Critical Inquiry 28, 2 (2002): 369-418.


Freshwater, Helen. Theatre & Audience. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.


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Ctrl-Z: New Media Philosophy

ISSN 2200-8616


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