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The Ape Culture Exhibition: Humans & Primates

Beulen, Photo Collage: Klaus Weber

The exhibition Ape Culture presents artworks and documents that wittily observe the relationship between humans and other primates. As a figure poised on the threshold between humans and animals, since antiquity, the ape has played a central role in the story of how civilization has “progressed.” What was initially a means for Western humanity to define itself has become a test case for how human “nature” might be constructed anew – opening up uncharted territory where unconscious notions of social order are revealed.

Ape Culture investigates the hegemonic and subversive potential of how apes are represented and reflects on the term “culture.” In the exhibition, artists such as Ines Doujak, Pierre Huyghe, and Klaus Weber critically examine images of great apes and their role in what Donna Haraway has termed the “primate order.”

In addition, material taken from the natural sciences and popular culture demonstrates the radical change in our perception of our closest relatives in recent decades. This is exemplified by Frederick Wiseman’s 1974 film “Primate,” an observation of the daily routine at Yerkes Primate Research Center in Atlanta. While on the surface the film documents the studies carried out by the center into apes’ capacity for learning, ability to remember, and sexual behavior, at a deeper level the film scrutinizes and challenges what science actually does: “One set of primates who have power, using it against another who haven’t,” as the British film critic Derek Malcolm put it.

Coco Fusco’s Observations of Predation in Humans: A Lecture by Dr. Zira, Animal Psychologist, which will be shown as a video throughout the exhibition and performed live by the artist on July 2, 7.30pm is based on the legendary female chimpanzee Dr. Zira from the film series “Planet of the Apes.” After twenty years of research in seclusion, Dr. Zira returns to the public sphere to present her assessment of the special characteristics of human aggression in the twenty-first century.

A presentation by the artist Marcus Coates and a performance by Ines Doujak (with John Barker and Matthew Hyland) will both address aspects of empathy and objectification as well as colonial myths and the politics of representation on April 30, 6.30pm. The lecture Is Culture a Golden Barrier Between Human and Chimpanzee? by primatologist Christophe Boesch takes place on April 30, 8pm.

Klaus Weber and co-editor of “Frieze” Jörg Heiser talk about the exhibition on May 3, 5pm.

Erik Steinbrecher. Photo: Andreas Meichsner

Tetsuro Matsuzawa gives a lecture on May 17, 5pm. The Japanese primatologist and behavioral scientist is a professor at the Primate Research Institute of Kyoto University.

An exhibition catalogue will be published by Spector Books. It includes a comprehensive introduction by Anselm Franke and Hila Peleg, contributions by John Barker, Christophe Boesch, Astrid Deuber-Mankowsky, Ines Doujak, Matthew Hyland, Rachel O'Reilly, Cord Riechelmann, and others, as well as a documentation of the exhibition.

Works by Lene Berg, Marcus Coates, Anja Dornieden & Juan David González Monroy, Ines Doujak, Coco Fusco, Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys, Pierre Huyghe, Louise Lawler, Damián Ortega, Nagisa Ōshima, Erik Steinbrecher, Rosemarie Trockel, Klaus Weber, and Frederick Wiseman.

Curators: Anselm Franke and Hila Peleg
Contributions and collaboration: Cord Riechelmann and Christophe Boesch

Exhibition design: Kooperative für Darstellungspolitik 
Exhibition and publication graphic design: Studio Matthias Görlich

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