Interference – Sandra Thomson
Humanity has disturbed and damaged the planet. Consequently, the number of animals that share the earth with us has diminished so far that humans have had to step in and try to remedy nature. In this exhibition Sandra Thomson draws our attention to the effect captive breeding and careful management have on primates. Mutated figures serve as allegories for the various impacts, unavoidable and well-meaning, of the attempts to conserve threatened species. Each work is imbued with a narrative such as the orangutan who loses the ability to climb, the chimpanzee coddled and monitored its whole life and the diverse species of lemur forced to live on top of each other due to habitat loss.
What results is a body of confronting artworks, each figure evocative of their contained, edited wilderness. Organic representations of fur, skin and anatomy give the works a familiarity that is quickly unsettled. As close neighbours to us genetically, we can read the expressions on the apes’ faces and bodies. Yet, as Thomson says, ‘They’re not quite themselves.’ Their colours are muted, eyes sunken and forms reshaped beyond their normal untamed bodies.
Our impacts are not only physical but also environmental as the lines between the human and wild worlds is blurred. The instincts that connect the animals to the land are diverted, reflected here through shelters constructed not of dirt, branches and leaves but of foraged plastics and scraps. Thomson refrains from explicitly telling us if captive breeding is virtuous or oppressive. Instead she sets up a critical platform for us to acknowledge the complexity and weight that comes with redressing oncoming extinction, encouraging the viewer to contemplate their meanings through our relationship to each animal.
Read more about Thomson’s work in our City Art Reader interview here.