What distinguished man from animals was the human capacity for symbolic thought, the capacity which was inseparable from the development of language in which words were not mere signals, but signifiers of something other than themselves. Yet the first symbols were animals. What distinguished men from animals was born of their relationship with them.
– John Berger
The month of May is a BE KIND TO ANIMALS month. Since the main theme in my artistic practice is anthrozoology or the relationship between nonhuman animals and human animals, I am opening this box of never-ending curiosity about our kins. We all, consciously and subconsciously, place each other’s in categories and it is the same in the art villages. One conversation might look as such: “What do you do? Art. What kind of art? Multidisciplinary. What is that? I use different discipline and different media. But what do you do the most?” And here starts the “drawer-ing”. Some artists are involved with one media and some dive into more because ideas lead them to different tools of which each one brings its own curiosity and research. And so, I can be placed in the many drawers concerning disciplines and media but, the main point is that nonhuman animals are a constant theme in my artistic practice for the past seven years. Though, they have always been agents in my private life and very shy about becoming my collaborators! The first impressive book I read was “Why Look at Animals?” by John Berger where he connects art and nature.
I grew up with nonhuman animals spending days at my grandparents’ farm, feeding pigs and chickens, cows and horse, jumping from one haystack to another in the barn and searching for fresh eggs. If the chicken was sitting on eggs, my brother and I knew we had to leave her carefully undisturbed because little ones would be coming soon. We were picking pumpkins and various veggies in the backyard behind the house for the pigs. We enjoyed cutting them into small pieces and mixing them with grains. Ah, and when pigs rushed into their bowls to eat, munching and growling, ah, so big and cute with a dirty mouth from tasty food, we would be standing there and observing them getting ready to prepare some more. We also visited my grandfather’s sister. She and her husband were living in another village in a small and very modest house. They were also peasants who worked their whole lives on their land, in the field, growing food and caring for animals. In our yard, we “had” a cat companion or a dog companion who strengthened our relationship with soil and animals. It was beautiful. I am grateful for each moment.
Photo: Ivana Filip, Ixxo with canned beans, 2020
And then there was a moment during a year, usually in November, when pigs were killed. The whole family would gather and slaughter five of them, one for each family. That was a day when blood would flow in the yard and the smell of fresh meat impregnated into the pores of skin, clothes and air. I couldn’t listen or watch it. I would cover my ears and press, press tightly. Stopped breathing. Wait, is it over? Another one? It was horrible. The horrible sound of scared being pulled and pushed into death. Nobody could have prepared me for this. Nobody can prepare you. You just face it. But someone would stay, at least they had good life on which I would say – so the value of life decreases proportionally with the quality of life?
Then one day, when I was 13 years young, I decided to lose weight. I stopped eating bread and meat. One kid in a school made a joke about my weight and it became my main bully motivation.
When I was 18, I met my very first-time friend vegetarian. I didn’t know that people actually can live just on vegetables and cheese. Tofu, what? That was a huge surprise. Suddenly, another friend was vegetarian and the world slowly started shifting. I encountered the knowledge of yoga, meditation, vegetarianism so my boyfriend poked me “Now you will be going to become vegetarian even!” And I did!
When I started studying art, fifteen years later, the most of people I got to know were vegetarians or vegans. You could even buy vegan and vegetarian food in the canteen! Imagine that! And that was in Amsterdam nine years ago! And so, one day, I was having a drink with a friend talking about food when she mentioned chymosin produced by the stomach by ruminant mammals. I was not prepared for that! I am seeing here right now sitting just across me in the soft light, with a glass of wine. It was a quiet day and there were just a few people in the bar. I said – “What is that?” and she explained. At the moment I heard buzzing and I felt slightly dizzy, as if suddenly that sip of wine hit into my temporal bones, strongly hitting both sides at once. I can describe that experience as a short sudden short circuit. I was once flashed when I was a kid. It was as sudden as spring rain. And then it went off, I felt different. Something changed in me; I was changed. Was it an epiphany, a mild catharsis, a sudden touch of an angel, a kick in the butt by my spiritual helper or just a hormonal disbalance, I can only guess; there was something new in me, a new bright look just after a migraine, when colours seem brighter, stronger and more vivid. It was my look at animals.
At that moment, I mumbled to my friend, “I am stopping to eat cheese.” “What?” she asked confused. “I turn vegan.”
And that was a new beginning of my old relationship with nonhuman animals. I was already paying a lot of attention to a holistic way of life, meaning my physical, spiritual and mental wellbeing. Therefore, it was not a surprise. The only persons disappointed were my two cats Tippie and Ixxo who lost all the cheese in the world. But they knew that I would never eat them!
From there on, I educated myself about a plant-based diet and diverse tools for sustainable and compassionate living. And if you wonder if I failed, because of course, you do, the answer is – yes, I have. For a moment, for a few moments. Because nobody is a machine, luckily. We already have machines producing our food, we do not need any more. But I was after a moment back. Because it just feels so much better, on a deeper, emotional, heart level. It is not a diet; it is a way of living.
And so, this is just an introduction to my artistic nonhuman animal-oriented practice. I accepted it as partially, a gift, mercy, karma, a discipline, a part of the unknown, compassion, a trust; brought to me in some way. Eventually, it fuelled my artistic practice because art is life and you create your life just as you create your art. Of course, I couldn’t avoid finding my cats’ hair in my sketches and works previously to this experience. Funny how years from that first comment by my art teacher “Your cats’ hair is even here in your sculpture” led me to create works from dog and cat hair. You have experienced a situation when in a moment it becomes clear that your idea, once noted down on a piece of paper, suddenly and without your conscious relation to that tiny piece of paper, is manifesting into reality! You wrote it down, forgot about it and one day, you’re amazed at how things work out.
No, I know that life is not a rose and that many of those ideas stay just that, ideas are written on paper but surely you don’t want to read my desperate thoughts about insecurity and lack of money…I am sure you have plenty of your own.
I rather dance with my cats and sing new songs that have never been sung ever before…and will never be…because I create them in a moment for them and sing and forget…haiku for cats. Animals are beings are sentient beings are our kins are our families are our friends are our therapists are alive are our companions are collaborators are nonhuman animals.
But there are also nonhumans, equally important. Sea, stones, branches, leaves, sky, wind, wind between leaves of a tree, spider’s steps on trees core, invisible but there…We all are.
Love and thanks,