Zoo - Richard Billingham At Compton Verney, Warwickshire

By Caroline Lewis | 24 October 2006
video still of a boy mimicking a tiger roaring at him from behind glass

Tiger Roaring, 2005. Courtesy Anthony Reynolds Gallery

Video installations featuring animals in zoos comprise the current exhibition at Compton Verney in Warwickshire.

Zoo, by Richard Billingham (running until December 10 2006), has been created from footage taken in zoos across the UK, Europe and South America, exploring the impact of confined spaces on animal behaviour in acutely observed detail.

close up video still of two elephant faces

Elephant, 2005. Courtesy Anthony Reynolds Gallery

The project springs from Billingham’s nostalgic memories of childhood visits to Dudley Zoo in the 1970s, and is also informed by John Berger’s essay Why We Look at Animals (1980). In the essay, the art critic and novelist examines the inherent dualism in man’s historical relationship with animals.

The public zoo came into existence when animals began to disappear from social life in England, during the process of urban industrialisation in the 19th century. By focusing on the psychological space of the zoo enclosure, the Zoo series also captures the complexities of the viewing relationship between captive animals and their public audience.

photo of a panda sitting in a tiled room with plants on the other side of a window

Panda, 2005. Courtesy Anthony Reynolds Gallery

Zoo features both rare and more commonplace animals, and questions the paradox at work as the loss of the animal’s natural habitat coincides with their preservation in an artificial environment.

Richard Billingham, born in Birmingham in 1970, came to widespread recognition with a series of photographs of his family shown at the Barbican in 1994. Artangel commissioned him to make the TV film Fishtank, filmed on hi-8 video, and in 1997 he won the Citibank Photography Prize.

His work was included in Saatchi’s Sensation exhibition of Young British Artists and he was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 2001.

Also at Compton Verney until December 10 is Vive la Parisienne: Women through the eyes of the Impressionists.

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