Second Nature - Moran Kliger
Opening: march 16, 2018 At 12:00
Second Nature
Shlomit Breuer
 
[…] everyone on earth feels a tickling at the heels; the small chimpanzee and the great Achilles alike.
- Franz Kafka[1]
 
Five years after Red Peter was shot and captured, he is summoned by an academy to give an account of his previous, apish, life. He recounts his life story to the scholars as a sequential evolution from a wild ignorant ape to a civilized rational creature. A wide professional hierarchy of human beings was involved in this accelerated transformation: first, a hunting expedition shot, wounded and captured the ape and placed him in a narrow, barred cage between decks in a steamer; then trainers, journalists and publicists joined in the coercive civilizing network; and finally, the Members of the Academy emerged like the luminaries they were and gave their scientific sanction to the pillorying.
Acting in the world of his past and simultaneously in a present imposed upon him, Kafka’s ape becomes, among his other representations, a cathartic showpiece in a colonial march of triumph. Values celebrated by the Empire: control, power, restraining “savages” and victory are well epitomized in the person of this ape and as such he begins to tour the variety stages of the “civilized” world. On one hand, he’s a medium of false communion of the Western audience with “Nature,” on the other hand, even though he has mastered the human language and adopted an “honorable” bourgeois life style, he must remain mysterious – “other” – and satisfy their paternalistic curiosity toward the “unknown.” Contrary to the decisiveness of a metamorphosis in which a subject is transformed, be it as part of liberating itself from social shackles, or as a result of oppressive sanction, the “other’s” identity is fated to oscillate between different worlds, doomed to hybridity, to heterogeneity.
And “what is this tickling at the heels to which Kafka’s all too human ape would refer us all too apish humans to?” wonders anthropologist Michael Taussig. It is, he clarifies, the mimetic faculty to copy, to imitate, to make models, to explore difference, to yield into and become the other. According to him, this activity, which was previously called “sympathetic magic,” is used by culture to create second nature. The power of mimesis lies in the representation’s or replica’s capacity not only to assume the character of the original and take on its capabilities and skills, but also in its ability to become equal to or even surpass it. Deciphering and understanding the phenomenon of mimesis allow the transformation of the “second nature” into a two-way street and as a result make it possible to conceive the “other” through a prism other than that of ethnocentrism,[2] or, in our context, anthropocentrism.

[1] Franz Kafka, “A Report to an Academy,” The Kafka Project, http://www.kafka.org/index.php?aid=161.
[2] See Michael T. Taussig, Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses, New York & London: Routledge, 1993, pp. xiii, xiv, xviii, and passim.
 
In display cases that correspond with zoo cages and nature museums, Moran Kliger installs large figurative drawings which demonstrate the liminal twilight zone between apes and humans. Her “human apes” drawings appear like images uprooted from their natural surroundings and inserted, as an alternative bestiary iconography, into situations that reference familiar biblical scenes. This shifting of scenes etched, directly or indirectly, in one’s cultural-archetypal memory becomes a transgressive act as it examines the borders of moralistic taboos and brings about a reversal of social-cultural orders.
Kliger constructs in her works a new category of the “unknown,” which challenges the methodical regulation of the “normal” and the insatiable appetite of Western civilization for taxonomic formulations and for popular or scientific classifications of “nature.” The clear presence of a human figure embedded in that of an ape not only rescues the “savage” from its marginal or exclusionary representation as threatening, unbridled, violent and disturbing, but also endows it a visibility that subverts hierarchical taxonomic perceptions and the social Darwinism that might ensue thereof.
Common dialectical-binary linguistic hybrids such as nature-culture, still-life, human-ape or nature museum sometimes fixate arbitrary pairings. These pairings blur their inherent contradiction in terms and build a new synthesis, in which “culture” is likely to have the upper hand in the equation. Seemingly reality-depicting coherent phrases based on obscured semantic dichotomies raise questions, among others, about the validity of the concept of the museum in general and the nature museum in particular as knowledge bases that combine the aesthetic and the scientific while structuring public consciousness. Here, it is interesting to compare John Berger’s likening of the modern zoo, qua another kind of museum, to an epitaph to bygone relationship between man and animal, and Theodor Adorno’s phonetic and principle association of the museum, qua a family sepulcher of works of art, and the mausoleum.[1]
Whereas linguistic hybrids often blur the dichotomy reality-representation, it seems that the visual hybrid does emphasize its binary essence. Mythological images of the satyr (half-human, half-goat), the centaur (half-human, half-horse), or the mermaid (half-woman, half-fish) isolate, allegorize and sublimize the higher human cognitive faculties (human head) as opposed to the bestial instincts and ravishing physical prowess (lower body of an animal).
Even a cursory historical survey of ape representations in Western art indicates their frequent presence in art and literature. Be it because of its evolutionary affinity to humans, or due to its impressive mimetic capabilities, in many of its appearances the ape substitutes them in scenes depicting the human way of life and conduct: in medieval Christian iconography, it is perceived as symbolizing an inferior humanity; in renaissance art and Dutch seventeenth-century genre painting, it embodies man’s vanity and a wide range of his other vices; whereas in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century, the moralistic air of its representation was replaced with ironic and satirical motifs.
Moran Kliger joins in this historical axis with her linsey-woolsey man-ape. Having inbred different species and assimilated her hybrid into representations appropriated from the hegemonic culture, her new image enters our animal lore imagery and informs a new epistemological visibility. Thus, Kliger’s hybrids suggest mutual beholding – the ape is no longer just “aping,” and the “civilized” man no longer reaffirms his superiority through his reflection mirrored by the “savage.”
 
 

[1] See John Berger, “Why Look at Animals,” in idem, About Looking, London: Bloomsbury, 2009, p. 19, and Theodor W. Adorno, “Valéry Proust Museum,” translated by Samuel and Shierry Weber, in: Prism, June 1967, p. 175.
 
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