Sunday, January 06, 2008

Kate Clark

I wrote a short essay about Kate Clark's sculptures for the January/February 2008 issue of NY Arts Magazine. (Click here to read.)


Earwig said...

After reading your essay and looking at more images of Kate Clark's sculpture, I am somewhat puzzled on one point.
Like the Egyptian gods that you mentioned, animal-headed therianthropes are usually endowed with intelligence and dignity. Even the brutish Minotaur comports himself in a human-like, though savage, manner. In some way, an animal head seems to enhance the human body.
Yet, looking at KC's human-faced therianthropes, I have the distinct impression that they are in some way debased. I cannot help but think that their humanity is vestigial, and their existence piteous.
This seems somewhat counter-intuitive to me. The head, as you pointed out, is " the conscious, acculturated brain." Therefore, it would seem that the substitution of an animal head would debase the human, while the switch to a human head would augment the animal. Yet this does not seem to be the case. With the exception of the Sphinx and a few Mesopotamian creatures, human faced animals are aberrant. If the therianthrope is human from the waist up, intelligence and dignity remain intact (mermaids, centaurs etc).
What gives?

Hungry Hyaena said...


Very true. In fact, as I alluded to (but had too few words to flesh out), most human-headed therianthropes are used to pillory or debase political figures. Think of Dubya's face on the body of an ass or chimpanzee.

What's more, Clark also includes the animal ears on the heads of her creations. In the eyes of most people, this further slanders our human dignity. (It was no accident that Pinocchio and the naughty boys he ran with were turned into donkeys, complete with big, floppy ears.)

Deeming these therianthropes "lesser" or "piteous" creatures is, as you write, counter-intuitive. In fact, I think that's the precise word for it. Intuitively, this breed of therianthrope should be more celebrated, possessing as it does the "best of both" species, but it doesn't work that way.

Does this suggest that civilization/culture has won out? The ancient, cave wall depictions of what anthropologists think to be shamans might suggest as much. A human faced deer was perhaps exalted those thousands of years ago.

But maybe, ultimately, our tendency to view Clark's therianthropes as debased is a comment on just how very superior we've come to believe our species is. It doesn't matter that the head or face is present if that is the only human element. Centaurs and mermaids are more revered because they are half human. The Egyptian gods were mostly human. A face, perhaps, is not enough for most of us to celebrate?

But I think, too, that viewers who spend time with Clark's sculptures (and are given to sensual looking) will be won over by the "humanness" of the faces. The animals cease to be "creepy" or "weird" and just are...just like us.

Layla Morgan Wilde said...

I've posted a link to your URL at my blog The Boomer Muse today regarding Kate Clark. It's all tongue-in-cheek and not to be taken too seriously. However, I am seriously delighted to have found your blog.

Hungry Hyaena said...


Thanks for letting me know. Your blog looks great. All the best, and happy new year!