This essay critically examines humanitarian efforts to rehabilitate captive and working animals as producers of art—a practice recently and controversially popularized by viral videos of former draft elephants in Thai tourist camps painting self-portraits for sale. Positioning these initiatives as “humane-itarian media interventions” that merge the rhetorical immediacy of humanitarian witnessing with the disciplinary logic of humane reform, the author argues that they recapture animals within anthropocentric regulatory coordinates of agency. To examine how contemporary “posthumanist” inquiries into the animal condition depart from and partake of interventionist logics, the essay contrasts humane-itarian artworks with those of contemporary artists Sam Easterson, Lisa Jevbratt, Beatriz da Costa, and Simon Starling, who surrender their media (ranging from video cameras, iPhones, and GPS devices, to steel) within animal environments to obtain indexical inscriptions from animal collaborators. This essay argues that the radically passive orientation of these collaborative artworks puts into practice Roger Caillois's psychasthenic theory of animal mimicry, which employs minoritarian modes of agency to defamiliarize our habituated relations with our medial environment. By confronting mediation as an unresolved but nonetheless generative ethical problem, these artists offer lines of flight from interventionist thinking even as they partake of a resolutely humanist mode of mediation.
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Pooja Rangan; Humane-Itarian Interventions. differences 1 May 2013; 24 (1): 104–136. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10407391-2140600
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