Exhibition THEY WHO WERE by artist duo Hillside Projects
Hillside Projects, THEY WHO WERE,
photo credits: Rene van der Hulst, 2021
In 2011, Emily Berry and Jonas Böttern stayed in India for an extensive period of time. Residing on the top of a hill in a small village in the south, conversations and daily excursions evolved into larger projects and so, Hillside Projects was born. Travel, movement and exchange have always been important elements for both artists and continues to be so within the collaboration. The core of their artistic practice is an empathic approach to the animal in relation to man.Their multidisciplinary practice is manifested as installations and performances including video, text, drawing and artist publications.
Most recently, the work of Hillside Projects highlights species at risk of extinction and the consequences of these extinctions for humans. Within their work there is a notion of empathy towards something which is no longer there. In the five-hour performance Caring for Scavenger, the artist duo expresses this by reading to, looking at, dusting off and being with the Indian vulture, the artist duo cares for the birds and includes them in a conversation about their potential extinction. This matter of care is also depicted in the video Memorial for the Lost. Set in a fictional forest landscape, Memorial for the Lost tells the stories of six individual non-human “endlings”. A so-called endling is an individual living thing that is the last survivor of its species or subspecies and whose death consequently means the extinction of that species or subspecies.
The artist duo endeavours to engage in a dialogue with their environment in an alternative way about the ever-increasing loss of various animal species through extinction. With their approach, the artists zoom in on man’s actions and the unimagined consequences this can have on man himself, his environment and more specifically on interpersonal relationships. By embracing contrasts such as the tragic and the comic in their research, Hillside Projects highlights the cultural and political assumptions behind what is of value in nature and what is not, and how this affects us as humanity.
Vultures are the birds of prey scavenging on dead bodies, animal or human. Their population is drastically declining due to habitat loss and as a result of poisoning by diclofenac that is given to cattle as a veterinary drug and whose carrion then scavengers eat. Although they are often depicted as vicious birds, vultures help to control the spread of diseases and maintain balance in the ecosystem.
The ways we live are reflecting the ways we situate ourselves in a more-than-human world. The interactions of humans and animals highlight those processes. Throughout history, Indian vultures lived in close relationships with the human population. In the Parsee community, the human body was often considered as part of the multispecies nourishment and being eaten by a scavenger was seen as an appropriate way of ‘taking care’ for the dead.
In the past 15 years, India’s vulture population has declined by 99% and according to The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, there are about 30 000 mature individuals of the Indian Vultures (Gyps indicus) left. These endangered species thus find themselves closer to death than they have ever been.
THEY WHO WERE
Thom van Dooren, author of Flight Ways: Life and Loss at the Edge of Extinction (2014) or Vulture (2011) writes about the dynamic relationships that are present in the multispecies communities or rather to say about the entanglements of the living and the dead that are slowly disappearing. The extinction of India’s vultures is an ongoing process of loss that seriously threatens the processes of becoming and has long-lasting consequences on our environment.
The title of the exhibition THEY WHO WERE implies a notion of mourning for what is no longer there. It reflects on and pays tribute to what we have lost or are in danger of losing in the near future.
In conjunction with the exhibition at SEA Foundation, Hillside Projects have also developed a new performance The Scavenger Collapse. Through an oral narration by the artists, the viewers are guided by sound, mind-maps, and flow-charts as they learn about the many layers surrounding the vulture’s nearing extinction in India. The performance lasts approximately 15 minutes.
SEA Foundation entered into this project together with Das Esszimmer in Bonn, Germany. Hillside Projects will also be conducting a series of performances together with vultures in the zoological archives in König Museum, Bonn. These performances are arranged by Raum fur Kunst – Das Esszimmer as part of an exhibition “Memorials for the Lost” in dialogue with the exhibition at SEA Foundation. The performances will be streamed live.
Van Dooren, T. (2014). Flight Ways: Life and Loss at the Edge of Extinction
Van Dooren, T. (2011). Vulture
De Waal, F. (2019). The Age of Empathy
Coetzee, J. M. (1999). The Lives of Animals
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (online)