Zoo with Simone Forti

Pip Wallis

*This text was developed under the instruction of American artist and dancer Simone Forti on site at the Los Angeles Zoo, the location of much of Forti’s own research into movement.



Don’t look at snakes

when we’re fighting

Tree green serpent curled

as water bowl

The zebra stands still with its head raised and a mouthful of hay, not chewing. Stopped mid-action, midway through eating, it thinks ‘I can’t remember the reason to continue, to do the next thing, to carry on doing the things that keep me alive’. Zebra has no purpose, not even to die, and she’s indifferent to the food in her mouth since there’ll always be more.

The young guy serving in the canteen near the zebras asks C what she’d like before walking through swinging stainless steel kitchen doors and returning with a cup of coffee. He asks S what she’d like, walks through the swinging doors and rings through her coffee. When I reach the front of the queue he repeats the sequence. Each time he does he walks slowly only lifting his feet just enough to clear the floor, his arms wapwap. This even though I said twice, ‘I’m having the same, get mine while you’re there’. Someone will tell him when it’s time to stop. 

Once I would’ve been frustrated but someone bought me a book of on-point cultural theory that taught me to celebrate the slow moving waiter, the stealing co-worker, the disinterested teller. The tiger sleeps behind a log. She refuses to show her green eyes and long teeth to the fat kids with candyfloss. But her sleeping, her tail brushing the clay floor irregularly, her hind leg shudder–stretching, pleases them anyhow. It reminds me of that refrain, that co-option of rebellion, ‘you’re hot when you’re angry’.

We sit in the centre of the spider monkey enclosure, which is shaped like a donut so that we can watch the animals in-the-round. A skylight and a tree in the middle gives the place a sanctimonious feel. I wonder when the word research began to replace entertainment in the zoo industry. A boy of about eleven skirts the curved wall, attached like a winch to the handrail in a standing crouch, with his head down. During his continuous loop his lips don’t move but I recognise the low sounds of Aspergic self-address. He’s far less interested in the monkeys than they are in him; their performative play for attention always returning, or at least confirming, our looks.

We climb around an arid garden along the back fence of the zoo reading the two-line love poems scratched by teens into the wide flat cacti. It seems like an optimistic response to the boredom of watching other animals forced to exhibit all their relational and bodily activities—sleeping, eating, fucking, shitting, birthing, dying—to instead enact your agency in secret on an also living–dying thing.  

Later at the Pierre Huyghe exhibition at LACMA, Human, the dog, moves through the gallery with purpose. Watching the animal make art, visitors become subservient, craning respectfully from the other side of gallery, not wanting to disturb her work. Finally, after settling on the faux fur rug and seemingly dropping into sleep, she opens one eye to check we’re still watching.

Pip is currently Curator in Residence at Chisenhale Gallery, London where is she seconded from her role as Curator at Gertrude Contemporary, Melbourne. Pip is Editor of un Magazine issue...


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