Political Animal was an interdisciplinary cultural event focused on the phenomenon of the Contemporary City.
The Leverhulme International Network of Contemporary Studies (LINCS), together with Glasgow School of Art, the Centre for the Contemporary Arts (CCA) and The Drouth, have invited a collection of international artists, writers, performers, academics, musicians and activists from all over the globe to come together between 20–22 of June 2019. The Public Engagement Curator Viviana Checchia and Professor Johnny Rodger from the Glasgow School of Art brought together existing works and projects and commissioning new ones to artists who explore the subject of the contemporary city at the core of their practice.
The aim was to stage a two-day event to which artists, writers, academics, musicians and performers were invited from around the globe to participate in exploring the subject of the contemporary city and how it is constituted via three themes of the event: Art and the Contemporary city; Law and the contemporary city; Writing and the Contemporary. The partner institutions involved in organising this event included the Glasgow School of Art, the Centre for Contemporary Arts and The Drouth arts/literary journal.
The participants shared their politicised practices. Together they explored how the contemporary city can be written through curating, performing, building. The device of the ‘assembly’ will be a principle vehicle of exploration in this event, and various questions will be addressed by the participants as art and cultural practitioners and as citizens:
What are the respective and inter-relational roles of the collective and the individual in the operation of the contemporary city? Aristotle defined the human as the ‘political animal’ because humans rationalise, normalise and codify their social relations in a city (polis). Yet do all ‘civil’ practices participate in the rejection of the unconscious and instinctual urges that form the non-political aggregations of the mob, the pack and the herd? How does the body of the collective absorb and deploy or exclude the living body through art, the law, the word, the media?
The name ‘Political Animal’ is taken from the writing of one of the foundational philosophical writers on civics, namely Aristotle. By using this term to define the human being, where ‘polis’ is the Greek word for ‘city’ (and the root of our word ‘politics’, ‘political’) he is saying on a most literal level that the human is an animal who lives in towns or cities. From thence of course one can extrapolate, as thinkers and interpreters of Aristotle have done down through the centuries, and push the interpretation further to argue that Aristotle defined the human as the ‘political animal’ because humans, biologically a species of animal, rationalise, normalise and codify their social relations in a city, as opposed to differing types of aggregations of other animals. As such there appear to be almost two distinct parts coming together in this human being –the rational, civil, normalising being and the instinctual, bestial, existential being.
‘Political Animal’ as an event is thus so-called such that we can come critically and artistically towards an exposition of living in the contemporary city from those two poles of the human constitution and operate with the contrast, dialogue, movement, play and tension between them. It was further decided that as this event was a gathering together of participants from different backgrounds, interests and ways of working then the notion of ‘assembly’ would be a key concept –again because of the immediate contrast of the modes of political gathering in the city civilisation and the modes of aggregation of the animal kingdom –the herd, the flock, the pack…
So from the beginning the themes and tensions mined from that Aristotelian definition – ‘human/animal’ or ‘conceptual/corporeal’ – to be examined in the four sessions were formulated in the questions: Do all ‘civil’ practices participate in the rejection of the unconscious and instinctual urges that form the non-political aggregations of the mob, the pack and the herd? How does the body of the collective absorb and deploy, or exclude the living body through art, the law, the word, the media?
It is important for Political Animal that the physical setting of the staging of these questions became as much a part of the event and the exploration of the theme as the performances and participations.
Prabhakar Pachpute launched a new series of work produced for this event and commissioned by GSA, CCA and The Drouth to accompany the publishing of the book ‘Political Animal’. The exhibition presented 10 framed drawings A3 size, a series of wall interventions (murals, stencil etc.) as well as various 3D objects. The work Prabhakar produced was conceptually based on Johnny Rodger’s writing and site responsive to Glasgow and the GSA gallery.
The Animal theme, besides its role in the Aristotelian definition, also has a long history of exploitation and development as an allegorical rationalisation and codification of social behaviour through the literary form of the fable. The thinking here is, of course, of the European tradition of Aesop and La Fontaine, and this is said to come down to us from the even older Indian tradition of the Panchatantra. Johnny Rodger’s researches into the Contemporary and what it means go back to his publication of ‘Contemporary Glasgow’ published in 1999. But alongside a sustained scholarly and analytical approach to the question, for the past few years he had been using the form of the modern prose poem fable in order to come at the question of the ‘contemporary’ through the very different angle of literary form. He now has a collection of twenty of these modern fables – some of which have been published individually in The Drouth.
Viviana Checchia, Jasmina Cibic, Daniel Godínez Nivón, Fucking Good Art, Agnieszka Kilian, Màiri Lafferty, Francis McKee, Prabhakar Pachpute, Richard Parry, Karla Portilla, Johnny Rodger, Alicja Rogalska, Farah Saleh, Ravi Sundaram and Carol Yinghua Lu.