Review by Jaye Fishel
Our lives are situated not only within human social engagements but also—whether we know or acknowledge it—profoundly with other species…We all share in making and remaking the world. We all share in co-creating our situatedness. Perhaps, indeed, we all need theories based on intimate familiarities.
—Lynda Birke, Intimate Familiarities? Feminism and Human-Animal Studies
We all feel like outcasts at some point. It’s human nature to desire connection but sometimes, true connection is difficult or unavailable. Animals bridge this gap for many people, as pets that love us unconditionally and are always there at the end of a hard, ennui-filled day, but also increasingly as internet memes—interspecies friendship photo compendiums or videos of animals doing unexpected/amazing things. Looking at pictures of seemingly affectionate owl/dog relations or a deer and a cat that meet in the woods every day to frolic seems to remind us of our own humanity, our own ability to enjoy beings that might appear to be so different from ourselves. Our ability to connect against the odds.
But it’s not easy! Sometimes we fail miserably and are misunderstood or say something we regret or discover that our new friend is really an asshole. Sometimes we watch the news too much. We feel worn down by the incredible cruelty in the world that looks like injustice and war and total lack of empathy. Occasionally, it feels important to confront these realities, to connect in whatever way to our part in the way in which the world is a fucked-up place to live and how we might hold ourselves accountable for our complicities or inaccuracies. Or maybe, it’s just good to live in the real world, to see and feel and know that nature is cruel.
The question is, how to question this reality? This question is posed in Christy Gast’s book Source, entirely filled with full-page photographic images taken around the USA and the world. What initially drew me to this book was one of the last images that is so recognizably South Florida to any Floridian like myself. Although many images are taken outside Florida, this book captures something essentially Floridian, perhaps because Gast lives and works in Miami. To me, Florida is a strange emotional wasteland, devoid of cultural consciousness and resistant to reality. I’m sure this is a symptom and a factor in attracting retirees; it’s a playground for living the end of life fantasy, not for engaging in the cultural and social zeitgeist of our times.
This book exposes us to an often tucked-away reality of our relationship to nature as humans and of nature’s own response to our humanness. Images flow from one to another, creating both straightforward and unexpected juxtapositions. A stamped logo for Beaver Brand Paddles and Oars is followed by an image of what I first could not distinguish to be beavertails, nailed to a fence. Following images include a whole beaver—completely skinned, hanging upside down—nailed by its tail to a tree, beaver fur and shell necklaces, a real or taxidermy beaver with a branch between it’s long teeth, and a dam. From here, the book works in the content of these images and the subsequent images riff off those images and so on, as in a tiny sailing ship made of sea shells, more animals skins, and hornets nests nestled in a rustic building’s rafters. The book even has one of those ribbon bookmarks embedded in the binding, as if it is meant to be marked and put down/picked up and read in any order. One spread features vintage pictures of women on top of “Mollies Nipple”, a landform in Hurricane, Utah. Someone thought it was hilarious to name a mountain after a boob. And it is. But it also draws a clearer connection to both women and animals/nature as the “other.” That the book draws attention to otherness, and our place in perpetuating otherness, also brings awareness of how we are connected. Like watching the news even when it’s horrifying, it’s the world that we live in. Gast deftly navigates this journey with the perfect mix of realism, humor, and humanity.
Christy Gast, Source ([NAME] Publications, 2012). In a series of books published in 2012-2013 by four Miami women artists.
Images: Cover and interior of Source.