Women and animal instincts brought to life in photographic exhibition
Dr Casey Orr, Senior Lecturer in the School of Art, Architecture and Design at Leeds Beckett University, will also give a free public talk about her exhibition, Animality, at the Library on Tuesday 8 December starting at 5.30pm. The exhibition will run until Saturday 9 January.
Casey’s exhibition is presented in two parts: the first series, Animality: Women, Animals, Instinct, explores the different relationships women have with animals. It is a series of large-scale portraits of women who align themselves with animals and their inherent powers through the wearing of fur, animal print and leather and women who, through animal husbandry and farm work, have a daily commitment to animals. Casey’s portraits were taken throughout 2014 and 2015 in the UK, Germany and the USA.
The second part of the exhibition, The Library Animal, is a series of large-scale photographs in response to the library collections, examining our cultural understanding of the language of women, the histories of women and nature, and our relationship to animals and our animal selves through photographs and reproductions of the books and library artefacts.
Casey explained: “Animality: Women, Animals, Instinct is an exploration of the different relationships women have with animals. These range from women who wear fur, animal print and feathers to women who live and work with animals. These women know the rhythms inherent in farm life and perhaps have the visceral understanding of non-human nature that their work demands. For other women, they simply share their life’s rhythms with animals. In this project I explore the dissolving boundary between species and gender where pets become companions and family and the women and animal lives intertwine in the human domestic.”
Animality was able to be completed through the Leeds Libraries WordPlay programme. Casey added: “Along with the portrait series, I searched the library collections for examples of woman and animality. The Animal Library examines our cultural understanding of the language of women, the histories of women and nature, and our relationship to animals and our animal selves through photographs of the books and library artifacts.
“As well as modern examples from the collection I photographed books from the 17th, 18th and 19th century for The Animal Library. These were by far the most beautifully-crafted books I’ve ever touched. Their organic nature – paper of plant fibres (recycled linen and cotton rag), animal glues, leather covers (calf skin) parchment (sheep skin), inks made from gum arabic and walnut oils – holds and contains our written and illustrated ideas, theories, art and poetry that define our cultures. The Library Animal aims to communicate an understanding of culture as intertwined with nature; both integral to a definition of what it is to be human.”
Speaking about her inspiration behind the project, Casey said: “Shortly after taking my last Leeds Saturday Girl portrait – this was a series of portraits of young women as seen through their hairstyles - I began thinking about the other ways in which women communicate.
“The thick abundance of hair I explored in Saturday Girl led me into an exploration of the ways in which women express themselves through the wearing of animal prints, fur and leather. This lead me to think about our relationship to animals and the ways this is lived and expressed. This became my work in progress, Animality.”