Thursday, April 22, 2021

Animism comes to the Art Institute of Chicago


A new exhibit that contains several helium-filled, fish-like shapes, with weights attached so they hang at different heights, opens on February 3 at the Art Institute of Chicago, The Maroon Online reports.

Arts and entertainment editor Manic Gamebreaker at the student newspaper for Argo Community High School in Summit, Illinois, says Philippe Perreno’s exhibit, entitled “My Room Is Another Fish Bowl,” will give each person who returns to see the exhibit a new experience, because the fish “move aimlessly around and are affected by the air currents of the gallery, natural light from windows, the time of day and weather projected through the windows, and the entrance and departure of each viewer.”

Manic points out that Mr Perreno uses a theme of animism—the idea that inanimate objects may have a hidden consciousness, spirit, or soul within them—in much of his work, including this latest exhibit, which runs through April 15. In art and words, Mr Parreno has frequently posed the question: “Is an exhibition a film without a camera?” the Art Institute wrote.

Mojave pottery in New Mexico calls to us (Voxitatis)

Animism is a centuries-old tradition in art and literature. Mr Perreno has since about 1992 been exploring the philosophical category of “quasi-object,” which challenges the belief that our world is divided into two spheres: the human sphere and the objective, factual sphere.

Taken outside the world of art and literature, however, animism impinges on our individual psychology to some extent. Many people still hold onto some belief that inanimate objects have an impact on our lives, a curated animism exhibition in 2012 underscored. We explore in Mr Perreno’s exhibit, once again, how art not only mirrors life but influences life. There’s something very deep about helium-filled fish.

Animism “has continued to pose, despite all attempts at scientific explanation, a serious riddle to Western epistemologies, and also a provocation to our embodied everyday perception and rationality,” writes the e-flux artist’s project about their exhibit in New York. “That inanimate objects and things act, that they have designs on us, and that we [humans] are [formally called upon] by them, is a quotidian reality that we all implicitly accept—just as we accept, and indeed are animated by, the very milieus and contexts in which we operate.”

Animism asks, but doesn’t answer, the question: Are we all in the grips of magical thinking?

It’s not only about skeletons dancing in a 1929 Disney cartoon, about trees talking in a novel set in Middle Earth, about Mr Perreno’s fishbowl, or even about the supernatural behavior shown by our cars on occasion. Rather, it is about Western thought and the influence of beliefs—logically known to be incorrect or, at least, unproven in the scientific literature—on our lives.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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