Exhibition highlights animal welfare issue

Cork artist Rosalind Spencer tells MYFANWY HUGHES how a passion for animal rights and fears over industrialisation drove her to create an installation space in Fermoy
Exhibition highlights animal welfare issue

Rosalind Spencer with her exhibition, entitled Narcissus. Picture: Mike Hanan. 

THE subject of animal welfare is being addressed in a new exhibition by a Cork artist.

Rosalind Spencer, a First Class honour graduate from Crawford College of Art & Design, is behind the exhibition entitled Narcissus currently running at Blackwater Valley Makers gallery in Fermoy.

It is poignant — Rosalind’s own word — and is based on the creative use of sacking, rusting iron mesh, a galvanised metal shed and a single framed print of the building that the research sprang from.

That 19th century building was a disused slaughterhouse in Poznan, Poland, which ceased operation in the 1990s.

Rosalind studied for a semester as an Erasmus student in Poznan in 2017.

The building has since been put to other uses, such as a film studio and exhibition space, but once Rosalind got inside it, the idea for her artwork installation took hold.

In the exhibition, Narcissus (Shed) is based on an old shepherd’s hut, intending to serve as a reminder of former more ethical ways of farming. A gap through the open door invites the viewer to see inside, where a long wool form dangles from the darkness of a rafter into a tangled heap on the floor.

Narcissus (Stack) is a welded steel sculpture that is both supermarket trolleys and cages. The empty cages are stacked to tipping point and aim to comment on capitalism, consumerism, and the unsustainability of industry farming.

Rendered animals infiltrate into so many of our everyday products that we are hardly aware of it. In the exhibition, the physical reality and materiality of death is brought to the fore with buckles made from animal skin and fur.

This is an artist who thinks deeply.

Rosalind says; “In our contemporary world, animals are subjected to countless acts of violence that are both culturally and legally approved, ranging from intensive agricultural systems to mass extinction through human activities. Industrialisation, domestication and capitalism have augmented human detachment from animals, arriving at a point where they are perpetually objectified and commonly regarded as commodities for human consumption.”

Rosalind wants to facilitate dialogue with her art and says: “As anthropocentric attitudes continue, and governments routinely contradict declarations of climate emergency, mother nature’s wrath intensifies, and this incredible, beautiful, awe-inspiring planet that we inhabit comes under increased stress... it cannot continue to support life the way we know it.

“The climate crisis is a burden on us all, and for me the burden manifests as anxiety, anxiety that fluctuates between guilt, apathy and absolute despair.

“So I ask myself questions... Perhaps there is something more I can be doing... something that could alleviate my own anxieties, but more importantly, something that could be effective in driving towards positive change for a more sustainable and ethical world.

“As an artist, I hope to visually communicate my concerns in the hope that my work can open up important discussions and highlight devastating problems,

“My practice is the result of interdisciplinary research, drawing on philosophical literature about embodied and emotional existence, and focusing on our complex relationship with animals.

“I have studied the chronological development of ethical thought on animals throughout history.

“The work aims to act as a flawed kind of mirror in the frustrating attempt of trying to see ourselves — in confronting the duality of nature and culture, and highlighting the disparity of attitudes between species I aim to disrupt the benign lack of awareness that sustains and enables our comfortable lives.”

The title Narcissus refers to the Greco-Roman myth of a young man of that name who falls in love with his own reflection in a pond.

Narcissus is oblivious to the beauty of the environment that surrounds him, and unaware he sees only himself, his love goes unrequited, and he eventually perishes through his own innocent or perhaps ignorant vanity.

Narcissus runs until September 27 at the Blackwater Valley Makers gallery in Fermoy.

There will be an artist’s talk available to watch online on Culture Night, September 18, to coincide with the exhibition.

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