“The Wild Ones” (2012)
4 min HD Video from time-lapse photography
By Christina De Melo
Everywhere in our society we can find the ideology that humans are not only inherently different from, but also superior to, every other sentient earthly creature, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the social architecture of the zoo or aquarium. There are power relationships embedded in particular ways of looking, and thus it follows that the public surveillance of animals in zoos is reflective of, and has implications for, the politics of inter-species relationships. Zoo visitors are given passports to be visual tourists because it is at the heart of zoos to make animals seen. By facilitating for visitors the insidious surveillance of their ‘specimen collection,’ zoos and aquaria re-inscribe humankind’s difference from and dominance over nonhuman animals, a belief on which capitalism depends for the continued exploitation, slavery, and commodification of those and other nonhuman animals.
“The Wild Ones” is an experimental film I created in attempts to subvert the zoological gaze through a practice of sustained looking meant to engage affective perception and produce new kinds of knowledge about both zoos and the individuals sentenced there. Zoos are always discussed in their active states – times when many visitors are abound, “taking in the animals,” “interacting” with them, and “learning” something. As problematized as all of these notions have been made, the vast expanses of time which pass and during which the captive animal is not fulfilling the role as the object of the human gaze is a less-discussed topic. What constitutes the captive then? I employ the surveillance tactic of time-lapse photography in an attempt to shed light on the subjectivities of captive zoo animals when the zoological gaze of spectators is absent. Admittedly, “The Wild Ones” fumbles with this task because the camera is a proxy for that very gaze. Moreover, because of their existence in captivity, the lynx, the lemur, and the lion are always already constituted as a zoological object; the gaze of the visitor serves only to reinforce that. Nevertheless, most sequences in “The Wild Ones” condense time to show a longer period of the captive zoo animal’s life than any typical zoo visitor would see; five hours of looking is condensed into three minutes. The time-lapse images illuminate zoo animals’ boredom and frustration as they stare off or pace neurotically. Sounds collected from a local zoo are recomposed into a disturbing ambient score that offer a survey of the aural dimensions of the space. The aim of the piece is to make viewers question why we want to see animals this way.
Derrick Jensen ascertains that:
“the central conceit of the zoo, and in fact the central conceit of this whole culture, is that all these others have been placed here for us, that they do not have any existence independent of us, that the fish in the oceans are waiting for us to catch them, that the trees in the forests are waiting there for us to cut them down, that the animals in the zoo are waiting for us there for us to be entertained by them” (12).
“The Wild Ones” is meant to undercut this cultural conceit; the animals at the zoo are not eagerly waiting for us to look at them, but perhaps they are waiting for us to realize that they do not belong there. If it is true that most of us have a desire to see animals, how do we reconcile this urge without having to hold them captive to do so?
Jensen, Derrick, and Karen Tweedy-Holmes. “Thought to Exist in the Wild: Awakening from the Nightmare of Zoos.” Santa Cruz, CA: No Voice Unheard, 2007.
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