The fantastical hybrid creatures found in Palaeolithic cave art relate to figures in my recent paintings; semi-humans with interchangeable body parts, faces covered by creaturely masks or man-made augmentations. The creaturely and masking manifest in my work precisely because I believe our political systems have ruptured. The State’s power has again taken on catastrophic enmity toward its people with declared hostility towards; the other and alterity beyond its borders. The Inheritors points to a break-down in symbolic social order, making reference to the Renaissance as a marker of the birth of capitalism, the Weimar republic as a marker of excess and precursor to fascism, as well as the creaturely in the bird-headed figure.
In his essay Creaturely Cobra (1), Hal Foster draws on Georges Bataille to support his assertion that the rejection of the human face can be traced back to the pictorial caves when ‘early man disguised humanity at the very moment he claimed it’ (2). Bataille and Foster both suggest that the ‘rejection of our face’ is fundamental to us as illustrated by paintings of therianthropes, composite figures with human and animal attributes. In these images human forms have animal or bird or even insect like heads, they wear masks or what seem to be helmets. Foster makes a critical assertion that the creaturely can be viewed ‘as a symptom of a crisis in the symbolic order’ and can be traced through history manifesting in times of turmoil. Foster suggests ‘It is less a question of where such creatures are - we have names for those spaces such as the unconscious or the other - and more a question of when they appear. Potentially this is right now, or whenever the symbolic order cracks under political pressure’ (1).
The title of the painting comes from a William Golding novel The Inheritors (1955), in which a Neanderthal tribe encounter the “others” for the first time. The reader is faced with the unsettling truth that the aggressive interlopers are us, and that our presence spells the end of a gentle earth-centred species. As the last surviving Hominid species on earth we are a dangerous lot and we really don’t like difference.
Foster, Hal (2012) Creaturely Cobra October, Vol. 141, Asger Jorn (summer 2012). pp 4-21
Bataille, George (2005) The Cradle of Humanity: Prehistoric Art and Culture, Zone Books p.55