Behold! Behold the heaven-bound seas!
The wind casts its shadow and it moves through the trees
Behold the animals and the birds and the sky entire
I hear you’ve been out there looking for something to set on fire
- Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Anthrocene
In what’s known as a “zoonotic leap,” the SARS-CoV-2 virus jumped from live mammals sold at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China to infect shoppers, who went on to infect nearly half a billion people worldwide, along with an unknown number of non-human animals.
This quiet but consequential sequence of events has forever ruptured my meager consideration and understanding of the spaces in which animals and humans interface.
I’ve always thought of myself as an animal lover. Living in Altadena, California for 6 years, nestled at the feet of the wild San Gabriel mountains, I marveled at the frequent sightings of coyotes loping across front lawns, the alligator lizards darting in and out of the nooks in our mid-century cinder block fences, the peacocks wailing like injured cats throughout the night and wandering the neighborhood by day like brilliant, sun-drunk revelers who’d drifted away from the carnival.
But over the past couple years, as the world has been turned inside-out, I’ve come to think more deeply about these accidental animal encounters—these glimpses I’ve had across the narrow but inviolable divide between me and them, and about how the animals might sense my lumbering, upright form staring back at them through the looking glass.
This new project is my exploration of the uncanny terrain of the biological kingdom Animalia. Not just the literal, physical terrain of the taxa we share with our fellow animals, but the imaginative and symbolic terrain, as well. We depend on them for physical survival, of course, but also for spiritual guidance and as the proving ground for our moral and intellectual superiority. They are variously our companions, symbionts, pests, disease vectors, laborers, research subjects, totems, subjugates and sources of food.
In seeking out the boundaries of our interweaving—if sometimes disquieting—relationships with our fellow animals, I hope to discover something poignant about the forces that bind our fates one to the other.
Animalia is a new work-in-progress.