Artist Allison Hunter on Zoosphere

On view in the Main Hall Video Gallery through September 13, Allison Hunter’s Zoosphere has captivated visitors of all ages, particularly young children. Circa caught up with the artist this summer.

CIRCA: Although these animals were all filmed at the Houston Zoo, there’s little trace of the zoo environment in these beautiful, even haunting, images. Were you in some sense interested in “emancipating” them?

ALLISON HUNTER:  I removed the background to help the viewer better focus on the animal. However, I discovered through the process of making this work that by changing the color of the background, the environment took on a more surreal feeling, which I chose to embrace as more ambiguous, allowing the viewer to come up with various scenarios. 

Unless otherwise noted, all images: Allison Hunter, Zoosphere, 2010, still from five-channel video (color, sound), running time: continuous, dimensions variable, Courtesy of the artist, © 2013 Allison Hunter

CIRCA: You’ve described the videos in this work as “individual stories.” Can you elaborate?

ALLISON HUNTER: I approached each video as an opportunity to address the specific physical attributes of each zoo creature individually. For example, I would vary the scale of the projection based on the individual creature or creatures depicted. The actual frog is extremely small and threatened by human impact on the environment. By enlarging the frog video so it loomed over the scale of any human, I symbolically reverse the power dynamic. I also slowed the speed of the video to highlight the body language, which I found similar to that of a modern dancer. In this way the viewer could discover similarities in this foreign body. 

Photo: Tiara Paris

CIRCA: We’ve seen children in the galleries want to touch the animals on the wall and jump into the video pool on the floor. Is this a part of the watching experience that interests you?

ALLISON HUNTER: It’s an interesting effect that says a lot about how we experience art in institutional spaces. We are taught to react to wall art by standing back, a good few feet. But an artwork/film work, on the floor, is so unusual, we aren’t sure of the rules, so we explore it differently. I love that children would come up with the idea of rolling over the carpet where the video played. I got to see this happen when I visited the exhibition last month. I loved that interaction. It was a result of the reconfiguration design that the curators and designers at the NCMA proposed to me since we could not show the entire original installation. 

CIRCA: What hasn’t already been said about this work that warrants notice, from your perspective?

ALLISON HUNTER: All of the creatures in the exhibition are facing the camera, eyes open. This position is meant to ask the viewer to consider what we do when we stare at another being. When we observe, are we aware that we are being looked back at as well? This position is one to consider as we find ourselves in zoos, in life, with zoo animals, and with each other. 

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