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The Arts Catalyst Presents Rachel Mayeri Primate Cinema Apes as Family

In the Budongo Trail enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo three chimpanzees sit watching a video, engrossed in a chimp-centred drama made especially for them by video artist Rachel Mayeri, the first artist to make a film expressly for chimpanzees.

In Primate Cinema: Apes as Family, the artist imagines a primate social drama in a contemporary urban context and shows this to a chimpanzee audience. Her two-screen video installation juxtaposes the drama enacted by humans in the guise of apes (of a young female city ape befriending a group of outsiders) with mesmerising footage of the reactions of its ape audience at Edinburgh Zoo.

“As the watchers of the watching chimps, we perceive—or we imagine—fascination, puzzlement, and flashes of anger in their responses. Sited in different spaces in Los Angeles and Edinburgh we are never sure whether we are seeing a lab, zoo, wildlife park, rumpus room or post-apocalyptic landscape inhabited by half chimp/half humans,” explains The Arts Catalyst’s curator, Rob La Frenais. “Mayeri’s intriguing and amusing story-and-response structure contains dark undercurrents in its contemplation of the lives of our captive close relatives.”

Giving chimpanzees television to watch is not new: chimps in captivity all over the world are often shown TV as form of environmental enrichment. To make Primate Cinema: Apes as Family, artist Rachel Mayeri collaborated with comparative psychologist Dr Sarah-Jane Vick, testing different styles and genres of film to gauge chimps’ responses and discussing issues around cognition and communication in research primates. Mayeri and Vick also explored the idea of whether chimps ‘lose themselves’ in what they are watching as readily as humans.

Rachel Mayeri is a Los Angeles-based artist working at the intersection of art and science exploring subjects ranging from the history of special effects to the human animal. In 2009 her Primate Cinema: Baboons as Friends (2007), a film noir re-enactment of a baboon social drama with human actors, was presented by The Arts Catalyst as part of Interspecies: artists collaborating with animals in London and Manchester. The leading electronic arts festival—Prix Ars Electronica—awarded Primate Cinema: Apes as Family an honorary mention and a version of the video was previewed at O.K Cyberarts 11 in Linz, Austria, 2011.

Associated events
Simian Safari – an AND salon and bus tour hosted by Rob La Frenais with Rachel Mayeri and Sarah Jane Vick, 3–530pm Sunday 2 October 2011, Knowsley Safari Park, Merseyside. Online booking

Cinema for Primates: Apes as Family, screening and talk with curator Rob La Frenais, 7pm Wednesday 7 December 2011, Nottingham Contemporary. Online booking

Collaboration and support
Primate Cinema: Apes as Family, is a collaboration between Rachel Mayeri and Dr Sarah Jane Vick, has been commissioned by The Arts Catalyst and made with financial support from a Wellcome Trust Arts Award, Arts Council England and the Aix-Marseille Institute of Advanced Studies.

Abandon Normal Devices Festival (AND) is an energetic festival of new cinema and digital culture. The festival takes place annually in Liverpool and Manchester with a regional programme that erupts across Cumbria, Lancashire and Cheshire. Abandon Normal Devices is funded by Legacy Trust UK and part of WE PLAY, the Northwest cultural legacy programme for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Abandon Normal Devices Festival
29 September–2 October 2011, 11am–6pm, admission free
34 Slater Street, Liverpool L1 4BX, 29 September–2 October 2011

The Arts Catalyst
19 October–13 November 2011, Tuesday–Saturday 12–6pm, Thursdays 12–8pm, admission free
50-54 Clerkenwell Road, London EC1M 5PS

Cinema as Primatology – symposium with Rachel Mayeri and Sarah Jane Vick,
4–6pm Tuesday 18 October 2011, The Crypt, St James Church, Clerkenwell Green, London EC1R 0EA. Admission free, online booking

Image: Rachel Mayeri, “Primate Cinema: Apes as Family,” 2011. 22 minute dual-screen video installation (stills).

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