“We’re not so different, you and I”, is one of the most well-worn tropes in cinema history. It’s also something you could imagine Bobo Wallmansson saying to a chimpanzee - such is his admiration for the similarities between the human and the nearly-human. This admiration has made chimps a muse in the multidisciplinary artists' work.
What is effectively one large body-of-work dedicated to our closest ancestors, Wallmansson explores a very interesting concept to do with Chimpanzees, largely based on the interactions that occur and perceptions that change when we view chimps out-of-context.
In this sense, ‘out-of-context’ means far from home. Surrounded not by fellow ‘animals’, or what we’d think of as animals, but by another kind - us. The Swedish artist, who captures our hairy compatriots in a variety of mediums, focuses on the way our (and their) world changes when Chimps are in a built-environment, a man-made place, rather than their natural habitat.
Moreover, his work forces us to consider how differently we view the situation - both of chimp and ourselves - when one interacts with the other. On a nature documentary we might see them and think ‘Ha! How different we are,’ but Wallmansson explains on his website that, “My great fascination for chimpanzees is based on our similarities and our way of seeing ourselves in them, because as soon as you put a chimpanzee in a human-encoded environment, you stop seeing them as animals and instead start focusing on what we have in common.”
Underpinning these paintings, with their clear bio-social interests, are statements about the precarity of nature. As the artist states, he is sounding out particular relationships between the human animal, the ‘animal animal’ and the world we cohabit, “I usually say that I describe a generation gap in my paintings, between us and the chimpanzees, how they live as part of nature while we live off it, something that is no longer sustainable.”
For the artist, this relationship seems to be asymmetrical. Chimps live harmoniously. We destroy. Therefore, the sculptural aspect of Wallmansson’s work are talismanic reminders of how to better engage with the world around us. His paintings, a mash-up of natural art and pop art, play humorously and reflectively on this complex triangle.
Examining the timeless and the temporal, the artist wonders what the world would look like fully-chimp. Would it be a better place? What about one chimp-free? What would last longer and why? Disillusioned with our throwaway culture, he hopes to turn our attention to a more holistic vision of the world where things hold more value. If we are more compassionate about our primate friends, perhaps we will place more value on the world we share.
A part of that is a commitment to behave and consume in a responsible manner. At the moment, Wallmansson paints chimps as an active species. There may come a time, though, when they stand as reminders of our own hubris, with his bright paintings not as an insightful reminder, but as memorials of yet another species becoming extinct.
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