When Addison first approached me about collaborating on this project I was honored and a bit intimidated. He has been a working artist for over 10 years. His knowledge and appreciation for all things odd and wonderful have translated to a very fruitful career and I had just graduated college. I knew nothing about collaborating with someone. I had always worked alone on my projects (save for editing by peers) and never once entertained the notion of working with another person. I agreed to write scientific biographies for imaginary animals for his original exhibition Zoo! Creatures of Curiosity, which was going to be shown at Assemble Gallery in Seattle and later at TurmKunst in Berlin. We spent one afternoon creating origin stories for each of his creatures. On opening night patrons came up to Addison congratulating him on his work and the hilarious accompanying stories. Unbeknownst to me, he continued to draw creatures for his collection and eventually proposed a thirty animal spread, complete with descriptions, individual facts, and stories. The response at the show gave me the confidence to say yes however, I was left with a sinking feeling that I would not deliver on my promise: how was I going to come up with thirty different stories?
Addison started sending me drawings and I got straight to work--six months later. I was still in school and did not have the time the project deserved, but I assured him it would get done. I felt so terrible about my love affair with procrastination and apologized profusely. I felt guilty--that I had let him down--and his only response was, “it’s no big deal.” That’s the kind of person Addison is: relaxed, understanding, doesn’t stress about the small stuff, and believes in people when they don’t believe in themselves. His imagination is infectious and it inspired me to come up with the most outrageous stories I could create. His adoration and love for animals kept me grounded--stabilized--in the purpose(s) of the project: to give animals the respect they so desperately deserve and to shed light on the ridiculous and (at times) unthinkable things we do to them.
After six months of writing, erasing, writing, deleting, countless cups of coffee, and endless amounts of banana chips, I finally turned in the first draft. I was so nervous, I didn’t know what his initial reaction would be. He emailed me right away and was completely and utterly thrilled--I could feel his smile radiating from Berlin. Once the first copy was in his hands, it opened up a huge discussion between us focusing on what this project meant to us and what were we really trying to say? Why would people be interested in what we’re doing? Why was it important?
Ultimately, we came to the conclusion that animals are vital to all of us in every aspect and every capacity in our lives. Without wild animals our world would be flat and colorless; no one would explore nature beyond their front doors. They create excitement, wonder, and possibility--they make us look past ourselves. They remind us that life does exist without our solopsistic intrusion. The animals we have chosen as our companions do even more. They become our best friends, our therapists, and our “wing men”. We depend on them, at times more than our own families and friends. Without these creatures large and small, hairless and woolly, I believe we as humans would not completely understand and acknowledge the power and emotion of empathy. And it is to this end that Addison and I have written and illustrated this book: though they are imagined, every creature represents a real life animal that deserves our strength and devotion, our compassion and an unwavering championing of respect and a realization that they too matter.
by Jennifer Weitman
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