AM: This use of animals, and other non-human forms was never something we were conscious of. We had an idea for a project a few years ago about the Medieval Animal Trials (which we’ll explain soon!) and then we made this project about the mules, and really the animals only became interesting to us because of this man’s diary. But then we thought, oh weird, are we somehow becoming animal people?! I mean because Sharlene literally hates animals, and I, well, I like really tiny dogs.
SB: I wouldn’t say hate… a strong dislike perhaps…
AM: But we’ve definitely found a home with these animals (and plants as is the case with our project The Atomic Ark). It feels like we’ve finally found a form that suits some of the bizarre thinking we do – so perhaps alongside video, the non-human is now our form of choice?!
SB: There is, of course a long history of anthropomorphism that is often times employed as a storytelling technique. Fables, for example, use animals, and other non-human forms to make a point. We do the same, except a fable is often associated with a »moral« which we are really not interested in presenting, and actually work quite hard to »debunk« any sort of lesson, or singular narrative.
AM: In looking back at our last few years of working (almost solely on plants, animals and other non-human forms), we are able to see the ways we’ve both employed animals almost as metaphors, but also for their quite literal and material uses as well. In the project we started at our residency in Santa Fe, New Mexico (The Atomic Ark), we are looking at two animals that survived multiple rounds of nuclear testing by the U.S military in the 1940s & 50s and were then housed in the Smithsonian Zoo until their final death.
»Fables use animals, and other non-human forms to make a point. We do the same, except a fable is often associated with a ›moral‹ which we are really not interested in presenting, and actually work quite hard to ›debunk‹ any sort of lesson, or singular narrative.«
– Sharlene Bamboat
SB: »Final death« is an apt phrase to use here, because with this project we are exploring the effects of nuclear weapons/energy/waste on living beings, which in this case allowed us to explore the seemingly opposing aspects of life and death. This concept of the two existing simultaneously is not a novel one by any means, but it allowed us to think about what that actually means when something that is meant is kill you, actually keeps you alive and makes you stronger. I suppose this is the premise of X-men!
So with these two animals, (called Pig 311 and Goat 315) the thing that was meant to kill them, kept them alive for years, and this became fascinating for us to think about what it means to live in a world that is rife with nuclear energy and waste. Perhaps allowing us to somehow rethink what it means to be alive.
AM: These animals were actually employed as symbols by the military in that they were »exhibited« as zoo animals, but we’re actually interested in the materiality of these animals and the questions that are raised through looking at them closely – you know, like the meaning of life! But this is also a project about resilience, because both the plants and the animals we look at in this project not only survive but actually flourish in the face of nuclear destruction, which really re-writes the entire narrative we have in our minds about what nuclear devastation actually is.
SB: To a degree…
AM: We haven’t yet settled on the right form for the Atomic Ark project we started in Santa Fe, but are also happy with it being completely open-ended and something that we continue to rework and reform in different ways – somehow a project about the nuclear really lends itself to this type of shapeshifting.
SB: This »shapeshifting« is something that we embraced during our time at the Schloss. To have these projects that are perhaps never finished, always evolving, and take on different forms over time. It’s quite a nice way to work!
JE: At a first glance history and fiction seem to be two opposite disciplines. In your projects the border between truth and invention becomes blurred by fictionalizing historical events. For me, this was most evident in the work Empire Symbol, Or A Man and his Mule, that traces the journey of this Canadian veterinarian who was responsible for transporting mules from New York to Karachi, India during WWII. It became impossible to differentiate between sequences from the Canadian veterinarian’s diary and invented, fictional fragments of Bambitchell.
How would you describe your relation to fiction, history and the blur in-between?