Why do we look at animals? What meaning do their representations hold to us?


Animals are exhibited to a public that has shown an unabated desire to view them and these exhibits are rich with historical and cultural meaning. John Berger said in 1977, "The capturing of the animals was a symbolic representation of the conquest of all distant and exotic lands." But what do their representations mean in our modern age?


Natural history museums were once filled with animals caught to show the public the exotic, now photography fills this role. In the new natural history museums many of the animals within died of 'natural causes', several spent their lives in zoos. Moving from one type of exhibit to another death has not released them from their status as objects to be observed. You still cannot touch them and the invisible barrier between man and animal remains.


In 1852 John Dillwyn Llewelyn placed stuffed animals back into a wild landscape for his pictorial photographs. Today we read these images as wildlife photographs, or as early attempts at wildlife photography, but this was not his intention when taking the pictures - it is the cultural projection we have inserted upon them. Our eyes deceive us as our assumptions of the truthfulness of photography convince us the animal is real. We ignore the clues that signify it is an artificial representation and it is not until the animal is revealed as such that we truly begin to see what is apparent.


'Volitant' explores the meaning of animal representations and their public display by humans, questioning the habitats created for them. Photographs from the woods of an archery range show animal targets designed and situated to replicate their wild counterparts. They are given hides of their own and moved regularly to fool returning archers. Each target has a story. Made from self healing vulcanised rubber the animals do not initially show much sign of injury, yet over a series of visits to the range the damage they undertake is apparent and the bear now shows the scars of several near misses as arrows have scraped furrows in his back. Accompanying videos show an air-conditioning breeze unintentionally giving life to otherwise motionless natural history exhibits.


The birds in the museum have once again been given the power of flight; the animals in the woods are unwittingly engaged with this power. Not only do they incur the force of the arrow in flight, they are active, moving (in each case due to the humans that created the environment they exist in). These are volitant creatures with no means of relief or escape.



    1. "The images are of animals receding into a wildness that existed only in the imagination." (John Berger, 1977)
    4. Beverley Cornwell