Clever Monkey -- Stubborn Donkey

Culture, Art, Technology 1 (CAT 1) MFA 

Autumn 2020 - Spring  2021

*The entire syllabus will be made available by the end of the fall semester.


Course Description


Today the absence of animals in our lives is inverse to the multitude of cyber-replicates that look back at us from the scrolling canvases. Following the monkey & the donkey as our guides through the broader discourse on animals in art, this course will re-examine what it means to think and work with animals.


The matter of boundaries between human, “savage”, animal, and machine has fascinated artists for as long as art has existed. The traces of animal characters in Greek and Roman theater, and ancient Chinese crafts suggest that throughout human history, animals have been treated (and mistreated) as mirrors, quasi-human subjects, at times desired, and, at others, feared, cultural and culpable agents - occasionally even “Christian” or “civilised”. But the anthology of animals in art is a history of anthropocentric violence.


The course will look at how the use of these animals in culture and beyond have changed and shifted throughout history, how it diverged in different cultures before, once again, becoming unified by homogeneous Hollywood stereotypes. We will address the historical ambiguity and complexity of these relationships and attempt to locate the relationship of reciprocity between monkeys, donkeys, and the strange creatures made in their image, and humans. 


In parallel we will explore the concept of uplift, and how and why this notion upheld a strict hierarchy of human superiority in the representation of animals. We’ll address how art and media have further entrenched our reliance on these hierarchies in conceptual thinking. We will create comparative timelines in order to see how notions of the animal and/as machine permeated culture and science. We’ll examine the theoretical frameworks that would suggest the relationships between humans, animals, and technologies have always been tripate and codependent.


©Mari Bastashevski, 2020