The exhibition An Alert Rabbit Breathing Purified Air brings together new works by artist duo Richard Ibghy and Marilou Lemmens that reflect on how the scientific community has approached and depicted non-human animal behaviour and cognition from the early 20th century to the present.
Drawing upon key experiments conducted in laboratories by psychologists, biologists, ethologists, zoologists and neuroscientists, Anthology of Performance Pieces for Animals (2018-ongoing) explores the various devices imagined by scientists to test the cognitive abilities of animals, including the examination of memory, spatial awareness, numerosity, and communication.
The work takes the form of an artist book as well as scaled models of experimental apparatus alongside texts which read as instructions for performances. Through this emphasis on performance, the work explores what happens when animals involved in research are no longer depicted as passive objects but rather as active participants, as performers, who make sense of the situations in which they are placed.
This question is also present in Score for Nine Young Performers Playing in a Field (2018), a work consisting of a video and ten collages. The piece presents a performance score for a group of lambs using a form of notation inspired by ethograms, a library of species-specific actions and gestures widely used by scientists to quantify animal behaviour. Located somewhere between geometric abstraction and the data table, the collages explore how scientists use diagrammatic forms to classify and interpret data.
Through sculpture, writing, video and collage, Ibghy and Lemmens reflect and speculate on how animals may make sense of the experiments in which they are made to participate. The artists also highlight how the reductionism involved in the controlled conditions of the laboratory influences the questions that may be asked. This project furthers their long-standing inquiry into scientific methodologies, including the use of observation, measurement, abstraction, and the graphical representation of data.