“Do we really understand the universe better than animals do?”
--The Lives of Animals, JM Coetzee

My work has had common thematic elements of animals and language for several years, examining linguistic and physiological connections between animals and humans. Language happens to play a central role in the human-animal divide, often serving as the singular distinguishing trait that elevates “us” above “them” (despite the fact that they communicate with vocalizing of their own). While scientific perspective on the nature and magnitude of animal consciousness is in flux, the most recent research suggests that animals are capable of higher-order reasoning than previously understood or imagined. Chief among those creatures at the cutting edge of scientific scrutiny are corvids (mainly crows and ravens, but also including jays, rooks, choughs, jackdaws, etc.). The magnitude of their intelligence never ceases to astound me.

Nobelist J.M. Coetzee, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, philosopher and bioethicist Peter Singer, primatologist Frans de Waal and animal science expert Temple Grandin, among many others, have contributed to ongoing discussions around animal consciousness with each advocating a different but parallel rethinking of our traditional separation of man and beast. I would venture to say that none of this thinking – mine or anyone else’s – could have happened without Charles Darwin. In his notebook from 1830, Darwin wrote the words, “I think” above a simple line drawing of a branching tree – an early visualization of the tree of life, which led to his theory of evolution. I am struck by the fact that this humble drawing and phrase came to signify some of the most important ideas in the history of humankind. In brief, I am ever inspired by the Darwinian notion that difference in human and animal intelligence is a matter of degree and not kind.

Taking cues from these varied perspectives, I have been compelled to explore the fraught boundary between human sentience and what we assume – or guess – to be the limits of animal reasoning power, which entails communicative abilities as well. This, as well as the emotive range of animals, has been a particular focus of my most recent work, with language interposed as an unreliable marker of the divide.