Clair Chinnery

The Feral Memorial, Work in progress, date: ongoing, printed card, 7500mm x 1750mm (installation view, OVADA gallery, Oxford – left. Detail – right)

‘The brumbies were pests, sweeping past and carrying tame horses off with them… “a very weed among animals.” […] In the 1930s when bounties were offered for horse ears … one man shot 400 horses in a single night.’
Alfred W. Crosby, extract from Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900. Cambridge, 1986.

The Feral Memorial seeks to explore human attitudes towards certain animals that have come to exemplify the ‘shaped’ ecologies of contemporary, post-colonial global environments. The ‘Brumby’ represents one such animal and has undoubtedly left its mark on the landscape and ecosystem/s of Australia. The Brumbies, which are feral descendents of horses brought to Australia by the English in 1788 and 1795, divide opinion. Seen by some as a pest (damaging natural flora, creating habitat loss for indigenous species, causing soil erosion, and damaging farmland), Brumbies are seen by others as a symbol of national identity and cultural heritage: like the Mustangs of the USA, deserving of a rightful place in the landscape of Australia. Brumbies, therefore, represent societal ambivalence toward an animal that has adapted well to an environment in which it did not evolve.

The chapter containing the above extract from Alfred Crosby’s Ecological Imperialism had a palpable effect on the artist, who tried to envisage not only what 400 pairs of feral horse ears would look like, but also to imagine the mass of carcases left by one man’s act of slaughter. The Feral Memorial is a work in progress. Currently it consists of 400 A5 size cards hung in eight rows of 50 each. The cards have thick black borders, reminiscent of funerary stationery from the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Eighty-one of these cards contain a printed reproduction of a portrait drawing (made by the artist) of the ears of a different horse. The time consuming process of making these drawings is ongoing. For the artist this activity represents a form of ‘atonement by proxy’ through which wider thoughts and legacies of colonial history are filtered.

Clair Chinnery is an artist and academic who lives and works in Oxford , UK where she is a Senior Lecturer in Fine Art at Oxford Brookes Univeristy. Her background is in sculpture, but she regularly moves across and between traditional media boundaries e.g. drawing, artists’ books, sound, video, photography and digital art practices, as well as continuing to work with objects in sculpture-based practices. Thematically her interests utilise natural history to understand contemporary human behaviour and society, and explore issues of gendered and maternal experience. Her current project Cuculus Prospectus combines these areas of research interest and engages more deeply with interdisciplinary issues and practices.