Rafael Francisco Salas, Art City–October 2010

Art is strange, an antithetical beast.

It describes ideas that we can’t speak. It is a visceral, visual language that shows us a world we don’t have words to describe. The artists whose work is included in “Animal Instinct,” a new exhibit at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center do much the same thing. The exhibit revolves around our complicated relationship with the animal kingdom, and it holds a beauty and fascination that speaks from those places of the mind that don’t talk.

One of the grandest statements in the museum comes from one of the discreet smaller exhibits, “Babel,” an installation by artist Jim Neel. Personifying our very human penchant to do battle, Neel uses slip cast sculptures of monkeys in ragged and symbolic military regalia, appearing to march to war. Fifty sculptures in formation are reminiscent of the Chinese Terra Cotta Army from 210 BC. The animals in this case stand in for our human failings, as the sculptures appear historical and broken, a failed army marching to a failed end. In the background, the sound of 50 voices reading a sonnet by Percy Bysshe Shelley combine into a whispering lament.

Rafael Salas is a painter, the chair of the art department at Ripon College and a regular Art City contributor.

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