I’ve slept in beds of all sizes, on carpeted, laminated, tiled and wooden floors. I’ve rested on couches and sofas, in tents and caravans, on grass, on concrete, on dirt, on forest floors littered with evergreen needles poking my shoulder blades. I’ve awakened on tables and benches, wrapped around toilet bowls, huddled in bathtubs, draped over chairs, and just the once, inexplicably, atop a large oil painting of frolicking cherubs.
My slumbering forays were in turns alone, communal, inebriated, sober, stoned and sick. Morning, however, frequently began with a recriminating note to self that a cold slab of cement does not, in and of itself, yield a restful night sleep.
I think of the spaces in which my human form inhabits most comfortably: a well-worn easy chair, a sofa heaped with pillows, a bed with a layer of duvet. And the animate things: the cat curling into my stomach, the lover nestling limb to limb. There is, conversely, an uncomfortable artifice in forcing ones body to adapt and inhabit space in which it is neither accustomed to nor intended to occupy.
The current group exhibition Animals, in the west London gallery Haunch of Venison, questions and objectifies this artifice adeptly in Joao Onofre’s untitled video (vulture in the studio), 2002.
Shot in a cluttered, utilitarian home office, a wild vulture disturbingly navigates human space. Flitting restlessly from surface to surface, the disoriented bird knocks over books, files and papers with a heavy swoop of wing. Each notebook or sheaf of paper unwittingly disturbed, startles another cacophony of shrieks and fluttering. His level of frenzied agitation is evident as he gnaws edges of push-pinned drawings with the voracity of a cigarette-sucking meth addict. Similarly, he appears to reflect upon his circumstances with an addicts unique brand of angered bafflement: in fits and starts attempting to make sense of his surroundings before losing his calm completely and resorting to wildly clawing his way out of the stifling predicament.
I once conducted an impromptu and extremely boring experiment in cohabitation with a spider. Spider was spotted ambling one day across the ceiling of my bathroom and resisting my normal urge to swat the thing dead, I instead decided to let him stay. There were a few ground rules of course. Threatened with penalty of death, he was under no circumstances allowed anywhere near the vicinity of my bed. An agreed upon wide berth must be maintained at all times.
We got on great for days. I considered myself highly evolved and altruistic when, while observing his web progression, I felt only a slight compulsion to bat it down with a broom and a shuddering grimace. After four days and three nights of blissful harmony, I discovered upon turning down the bedcovers, that Spider had wandered into my expressly forbidden zone. Our agreement was thus broken, and the bond of trust between us irrevocably severed.
He was killed with one swift swat of rolled-up newspaper, and although I assumed the actual execution to be an act of cruelty, in retrospect it may have merely been the culmination of cruelty endured by Spider in the preceding days of coexistence.
While a spider is heartily adapted to life in dank spaces: inside crusted drainage spouts, holed up beneath rocks and musty basements, my domestic interior is another environment altogether. By wandering mistakenly into my brightly lit home of painted walls and curtains, television, stereo and perfumed bubble baths, Spider likely spent his last days anxiously web-weaving to maintain some semblance of normalcy while clutching precariously to his sanity as an arachnid. I imagine him noting minutes and hours in gossamer threads on the wall, while muttering to himself in the soothing tones of a prisoner of war just trying to hang in there.
When comparing form in human landscape, I am struck most by our edges. My form blending in weary repose, tucking blankets, batting pillows, melting into my shape, curves and musculature. My form at ease in this manmade existence, created if not by me, for me, inherently comfortable. Conversely, the form of the vulture, dynamic and discomfited in his motions of spacious arced wing slapping opaque computer screen. Uncomfortable in the artifice of muted bird-caw, once deafening, now efficiently absorbed within soundproofed insulation.
Our human edges, so carefully tended to and coddled, shaping and moulding the contoured space of our chosen habitat with an assuming lassitude. To the spider, the vulture, the animate non-human caught in our increasingly modified landscape, every waking moment must be like finding oneself, inexplicably, atop a large oil painting of cherubs frolicking, and attempting to calmly, slowly make sense of this baffling predicament.