(Pan-)Animal Magics: Ecofeminist Ethics and Aesthetics in the Web

By Rutherford, Leonie | Metro Magazine, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

(Pan-)Animal Magics: Ecofeminist Ethics and Aesthetics in the Web


Rutherford, Leonie, Metro Magazine


The 1990s has often been dubbed 'The Decade of the Environment'. Pollution, deforestation and desertification, ozone destruction, endangerment of species of animals and wildlife, vanishing wildernesses, and energy conservation are some of the visible environmental concerns which have gained international recognition. A less visible but potentially just as important environmental concern has been raised by ecological feminists. This is a concern about the connections--historical, empirical, theoretical, symbolic, and experiential--between the domination of women and the domination of ... non-human nature. (1)

Ecological feminism describes a strand of philosophy and ethics which argues that common and interconnected structures of discourse are responsible for the violent subordination of both women and non-human animals. A frequent strategy is to challenge theoretical and linguistic binaries which support the continued exploitation and subordination of women and 'non-human nature'. To bring about an 'ecological revolution' which eschews the speciesist exploitation of non-human animals and the environment, ecofeminist philosophers have sought to subvert orthodox patriarchal codes which seek to radically separate the category 'Man' from the 'other animals'. Many have argued for the need to supplant an instrumentalist, colonizing view of non-human animals with an ethics of 'care', which grounds responsibility to animals in values that have traditionally been coded as 'feminine' and 'inferior'--such as emotion and particular, localized relationships--a need to debunk the:

familiar view of reason and emotion as sharply separated and opposed, and of 'desire', caring and love as merely 'personal' and 'particular' as opposed to the universality and impartiality of understanding and of 'feminine' emotions as essentially unreliable, untrustworthy, and morally irrelevant, an inferior domain to be dominated by a superior, disinterested (and of course masculine) reason ... a framework that has itself played a major role in creating a dualistic account of the genuinely human self as essentially rational and as sharply discontinuous from the merely emotional, the merely bodily, and the merely animal elements. (2)

The Web (two series, Lucinda Clutterbuck, 1993, 1995), is the work of feminist animators Lucinda Clutterbuck, Sarah Watt and Elisa Argenzio. The two series consist of short films produced with educational and conservationist goals in mind. The metaphor of 'reweaving' the 'web' is central to the holistic trajectory of much ecological feminist thought; (3) a siting of the films within this body of thought will be one of my tasks in this paper. But, more importantly, I want to suggest that the expressive and plastic potential of the animated form is particularly apt to the ecofeminist project in its ability to destabilize orthodox codes of representation and to privilege the emotions and the senses. In stark opposition to the conservative narrative moves of the realist, natural history documentary, or the comic anthropomorphism of orthodox cel animation featuring non-human characters, The Web balances narrative and character-driven strategies with more experimental animation tropes to subvert the dualistic separation of Homo Sapiens from other animal species and, therefore, to deconstruct the 'rationalist' and empirical view of non-human nature that legitimizes regimes of violence.

Animation Theory and the Politicization of Art

Before turning to The Web, I need to set up some initial parameters in order to site my case; that is, that the artistic vocabularies and discursive strategies that constitute what Paul Wells dubs 'developmental animation' are particularly suited to the ideological project of feminist environmental ethics. In Understanding Animation, Wells devotes a chapter to outlining a formal distinction between the qualities of what he terms 'Orthodox', 'Experimental' and 'Developmental' animation. …

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