Member blog: Mona Quilty

My practice is based in learning through sculpture and performance. I believe the way to understanding my shared paths with other animals lies right in front of me: those who rest warm and quiet at my feet, those whose body is still by the roadside, those who sing on the roof at the fall of dusk, and those who peer through the trees as if wondering why I’m here.

In my first solo exhibition in 2019, the Blind Eye of the Needle, at Melbourne’s BSIDE Gallery, I focused on taxidermy as a methodology. My representation of the non-human questioned the taxidermic process as a means of negating animal agency. Through this work I revealed the animal as altered, betraying the supposedly ‘naturalistic’ depictions of animals seen in traditional taxidermy with no evidence of the perpetrator’s hand. In my recent solo show, Finding the Tiger, at Sawtooth ARI in Tasmania, my video work/performance depicted transformation from fox to thylacine by the application of thick black paint. The work interrogated how humans can be bound to an unchanged narrative of other animals, and at whose cost. Through my imposition upon the skin, once again the perpetrator was me. With the premise and execution of my artwork so fraught with tension, I fight in my own head a lot. My ethics around animals are in a constant state of motion, my own contradictions nipping at my heels. What I found most important in these two exhibitions were the questions that arose from my work: how do I transcend the anthropocentric viewpoint when animals themselves are used as vessels for doing so? Even if I manage to pull it off, is anyone even listening?

It’s odd to think I may be perceived in this field as someone who chooses to work with animal bodies as if they were objects of my power. In fact, it is the moment of encounter that informs my practice. I believe the event of the shared gaze between humans and other animals has the potential to suspend our learnt conceptions. But who am I to say there’ll be any shared gaze in the first place? Or on the flip side, what if I look too closely and just see my own reflection in their eyes? I watch my developing ideas sitting comfortably in privilege. I see I play an active role in a system, one that assures me that I can know animals however I want and it doesn’t matter. However, the animals I work with are in my care.  As I walk along the roadside at the end of the day searching for my medium, I am always mindful of how that care is defined and the influences that permit such a thing. There in the same moment, I look for one who got lost, tripped and fell or one that just didn’t understand. The evening brims with different voices but along the gravel all is quiet. This is the special silence that leads me to speak up. I choose to do this through art.

Bio: Mona Quilty is an artist and writer working in both Naarm and Lutruwita. She is currently undertaking her final year at the Victorian College of the Arts, continuing her practice-based study of the human-nonhuman relationship. She recently completed her manuscript Dog Mouth, with an accompanying body of work and has had two solo exhibitions, both dealing with the question addressed in this profile: the fraught question of taxidermical methodologies.

Mona and Birdy