Chimpanzees get their own video art from Rachel Mayeri via The Arts Catalyst

By Mark Sheerin | 18 October 2011
A photo of a chimpanzee on grassland
Rachel Mayeri, Primate Cinema: Apes As Family (film still). Commissioned and produced by The Arts Catalyst (2011)© Rachel Mayeri
Exhibition: Rachel Mayeri, Primate Cinema: Apes as Family, The Arts Catalyst, London, October 19 - November 13 2011

Along with tool use, empathy, laughter and language, it emerges apes have some new common ground with human beings: a fascination with cinema. And not content with starring in films (Planet of the Apes) or appearing as extras (2001: A Space Odyssey), they now have their own film: Primate Cinema: Apes as Family.

Using humans in body suits, artist Rachel Mayeri has made a 20-minute drama for chimpanzees. But human audiences can also view it in a split channel film in which the reactions of the chimps themselves can be seen on one screen.

Chimp proof televisions were made for the outdoor enclosure of Edinburgh Zoo where the film was premiered, with additional footage captured in a screening pod. The most involving sequences from the simian family saga even provoke one or two of the male apes to kick the screen in anger.

Even so, it appears likely the plot was lost on most of the chimps who saw the film. It features a young female chimp befriending a group of outsiders and bears comparison with Wizard of Oz. But between the apes' lack of understanding and that of ourselves, Primate Cinema: Apes as Family promises to be a darker viewing experience.

The Los Angeles-based artist is screening the film n in London for the first time this month. It will surprise some to learn that Apes as Family is a sequel. In 2007 Meyeri made the apparently noir-ish Baboons as Friends.
  • Open 12pm-6pm Tuesday-Sunday (8pm Thursday). Admission free.
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