Arena, 2014

Arena, 2014, Philippine Hoegen

Video Installation

Requirements: Black box, projection size minimum 2 meters high. Single channel projection, 1hr 5 mins, looped.

Editing by Inneke Van Waeyenberghe

is part of an on-going examination into the nature of display, and the ways in which objects and bodies are made to perform, through their display. The material for this work was shot at the Mission Museum of Steyl near Venlo in The Netherlands. The museum holds a collection of animals and artifacts that were collected by missionaries from the Steyl Monastery during their travels all over the world in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The museum was built specially to house the collection and its display has never been changed since it was first installed in the 1930’s. Therefor the museum uniquely reveals and exemplifies the perceptions and views of its time, many of which persist in the present.

The animals’ bodies, stuffed and stiffly set in eternal grimaces, growls and howls, are made to perform these perceptions, ideas and ideologies that are projected upon them. They act out the mixture of fear and desire with which we approach ‘the other’ and ‘the wild’.

We cannot survive an actual confrontation with the wild, yet we so desire the experience of it. It must be elusive, undomesticated and indomitable for it to satisfy our imaginings about it, therefor we chase the animal (its animalness) away from its body so that, within our reach and control, it can continue to be the object of our dreaming.

The aim of this work is to, if not deconstruct, at least tug at the apparatus of the display and open up the possibility of a different relationship with the animals on display. The title, Arena, denotes a place of combat, contests and other spectacles. It is also connected to a zoological term: the lekking arena. A lekking arena is the site or territory in which an aggregation of animals, usually males, gather to engage in competitive displays that may entice visitors of the opposite sex who are surveying prospective partners for copulation. The arena is the place, the site, in which to display whichever striking feature the displayer posses.

The film is made of slow vertical pans that map the entire collection. The camera’s position is close up; skin fur and feathers take equal attention, as do painted backdrops, stones and attributes.

As we stand before the projection, larger than life, of these animals, we are all in the arena. What becomes unclear and what is questioned is: Who is displaying what and for whom? Where is the center, who is the audience, who is looking at whom?