Our Common Problem: People

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Three live animals—a donkey, a turkey and a rabbit—are each endowed with a voice that enables them to talk with visitors.

Commissioned by the Linz09 Cultural Capital of Europe Project „The Ill Rabbit“, Kunstraum Goethestraße xtd

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Our Common Problem: People

Sharing time with creatures outside our own species makes life richer and teaches us to see the world from another viewpoint. It is a great loss that in industrial society different species are only organized to produce profit for humans, instead of living up to their capabilities and to share the experience of being in this world.

Traditionally, in philosophy and religion, a dramatic difference between human beings and other animals was considered self-evident. Animals were seen as machines without feelings and thoughts, but human beings were thought to be of divine origin, with a connection to some sort of higher existence and higher way of thinking. Therefore (outside of people's daily experience and mythological stories) people did not feel the much need or interest to communicate with other species.

Since the 1960's, scientists have tried to communicate with our nearest relatives, such as chimpanzees and gorillas, first by trying to teach them to speak English (which is not physically possible for them), then by creating computer sign language, where the subject animal could create sentences that are translatable to spoken human language.

Only very recently the most devoted animal caretakers and researchers have begun to observe what kind of sounds and signs animals are using naturally. In the Stuttgart zoo, for example, the caretaker noticed that when he brings the chimpanzee group bread instead of fruit they pronounce a different word, which for a less-practiced human ear might sound like just a noise. It has also been remarked that among each other chimpanzees use hand signs similar to ours: an outstretched hand means to ask, to share or to give something.

Anyone who shares his or her home with a pet or has spent a lot of time with animals is able to intuitively read these signs and communicate with the animal. They come to easily recognize the mood, desires and personality of the animal. In this communication process, only the time and interest of the human partner sets the limits of understanding. For a devoted animal caretaker or pet owner, it is possible to totally forget that the animal does not speak a human language because the communication is seamless and each individual learns to acknowledge the expectations of the other.

In this artwork, three species of animals were brought into the urban environment. They represent different tasks that animals assume in human society: the donkey as a servant and companion, the turkey for meat production and the rabbit as a pet. The animals were (through the use of actors and technical means) able to speak the language of their audience, in this case German.

The animals reflected on their position in society, as well as their individual life stories and experiences. They communicated with the people passing by about whatever came to mind for either conversation partner. Even if the scenario is unlikely, true discussions and communication happened, and people were very happy to communicate with the animals. These particular animals handled the task of creating an interspecies discussion platform very professionally. Some people returned each day during the hours when the animals were (re)present, even if the animals were not only cute and entertaining, but also critical about their destinies under the human order.