still, Path Infinitum
Installation documentation, AIPAD 2017
Path Infinitum explores the complexities and contradictions of keeping wild animals in captivity and raises questions about what it means to participate as a spectator. Kept on display in the center of cities, outside of their natural habitats, animals can be seen pacing, circling, and rocking to cope with the stress of living in an unnatural environment. Signaling power imbalance and consumption disguised as curiosity, Path Infinitum displays a range of captive animals exhibiting abnormal behaviors, along with moments of awareness of spectators reflected in the glass that divides the species. The impulse to connect with or observe wild animals is surely rooted in admiration and fascination, but yields a feast of contradiction. Aware of the tremendous need to protect wild places and those that live there, my hope is for this project to contribute to the idea that sentient beings are not meant for spectacle in any form; instead to aim for a path that is progressive and humane.
Many species right now are extremely vulnerable due to human consumption as well as habitat loss caused by climate change. Is captivity an answer to the imminent loss? Or can threatened species survive and be effectively protected so that they live and thrive in their natural habitats? Experts agree that likely no enclosure is sufficient for the widest-ranging animals. Do we take animals for granted if we are able to see them so easily in captivity, and when they exhibit unnatural behaviors in captivity (as is most often the case), do we accept this as normal? Existing models of captivity and display are ultimately not meant to serve the animals but rather the humans that watch them. There are powerful myths surrounding animals, and these nostalgic or sacred connections seem to be driving humans to devour them to their very disappearance.
Path Infinitum is an outgrowth from Thirty Times a Minute, a project exploring the plight of captive elephants. I’ve installed over one hundred public video projections of Thirty Times a Minute (12 min, color, sound) since 2014, in places such as Chicago, Portland, Detroit, New Mexico, Idaho, Wyoming, Upper Peninsula Michigan, New York, Berlin, Vienna, and Paris. In the video dozens of captive elephants are caught in unending cycles of movement, bearing the weight of an unnatural existence in their small enclosures. Making the video, I traveled to over sixty zoos in the US and Europe, and filmed elephants exhibiting what biologists refer to as stereotypy, a behavior only seen in captive animals, which includes rhythmic rocking, swaying, head bobbing, stepping back and forth and pacing. Path Infinitum looks at elephants along with many other animals exhibiting stereotypy or despondence due to lack of adequate mental stimulation or an inability to engage in natural activities.
Path Infinitum, was first installed in 2017 at The Photography Show presented by AIPAD, Association of International Photography Art Dealers, at Pier 94 in New York. The video was projected onto the wide glass entryway, ongoing for the duration of the event. The projection became visible each day as the sun moved across the sky, leaving the entrance illuminated with captive animals into the evening and overnight. The installation location allowed me to consider the architecture of the Pier’s glass entry, engage with those that enter, and offer an expansive gesture to those outside.