“We have to learn once more how to look at animals.”
(W.J.T. Mitchell, Picture Theory)
The interdisciplinary group “Visualizing Animals” unites a group of faculty and graduate students across several colleges and several departments (including History, German, English, Art History, Women’s Studies, Philosophy, Political Science, Spanish, Sociology, Rural Sociology, the School of Visual Arts and the Smeal College of Business). Initiated in Spring 2006, we meet regularly to address the field of Animal Studies and the visual study of the animal subject, in comparative and historical perspective.
Our discussions have broached such issues as the philosophical and ethical problems of human and animal consciousness; ecological thinking on animal- human relations; the concept of the animal machine, and its application to an understanding of the human animal, or in eighteenth-century philosopher Julien Offray de La Mettrie’s memorable phrase, ‘the man-machine’; the question of the porosity of animal human boundaries; (corporeal) sensibility and sense knowledge; animals in human embryology and industrial farming; language (animal and human); technologies of species-crossing and productivity, and social practices effacing and instantiating the boundary between ‘companion species’ lessons from disability studies; animal extinction as a literary cultural trope and an ecological phenomenon; the interface between animal and human identity or ‘becoming animal’; bestiality; the role of visual artists, from the early modern period to the present, and the cinema from its origins in representing animals, and/or destabilizing the presumed boundary between human and animal species; the animal subject in natural history, visual art, and science.
In Spring 2007, we organized a successful public symposium, “Visualizing Animals,” which brought together prominent scholars and artists from the US and abroad, along with members of the Penn State community, to investigate the visual poetics of animal images, hybrid art and the human/animal interface; contemporary animal art and art writing about animal subjects in art; and the question of the animal in science, medicine, and philosophical practices.
In Spring 2009, we are hosting a major two day conference “Finding Animals: Toward a Comparative History and Theory of Animals” (free and open to the public), which will bring together many of the leading contributors to the field of Animal Studies, and feature an artist’s talk by Mark Dion. In conjunction with this conference, we are hosting an exhibition “Finding Animals in Paradox and Parable” at the Zoller Art Gallery, including works by many of the local artists whose images are included on our website.