Shan Crosbie is completing her honours year in Art History at the Australian National University and gets a real buzz out of ‘getting people together to do cool things’. She sees herself as both a manager and a maker. She is a practicing artist as well as a curator. She is also a passionate animal rights advocate and a bit of a gym junkie.
Could you tell me about your journey as an artist – what mediums do you use? Can you tell me little bit about your methods?
So I decided to do art school a bit differently and learn about other people’s artwork instead of my own, i.e. doing an art history degree. What I have found though is that my studies really help to inform my art practice in a positive and constructive way.
I’ve been going to life drawing classes since I was 14. My mum enrolled me in a drawing class that turned out to be a life drawing class, and to her horror and my delight I have been drawing and painting naked people ever since. I mostly work in oils on canvas but, with my increasing interest in animals rather than people, my medium has also developed and I’ve begun to use elements of printmaking and sculpture in my practice.
Last year you started a blog called Words + Pictures with the ANU’s CAHAT (Centre for Art History and Art Theory). What was the idea behind it? Is there anything you’re particularly proud of having published through the blog?
Words + Pictures was an initiative set up by myself and a very hardworking and enthusiastic lecturer from the Centre of Art History and Art Theory, Robert Wellington. As a student of Art Theory, I always found myself existing somewhere between the Art History students and the Fine Art students. To me, it seemed strange and almost wasteful that there wasn’t more collaboration and connection happening between the two streams of students.
In an attempt to bridge this gap, we created the Words + Pictures CAHAT blog. The initial concept of the blog was that Art History students pair up with Fine Art students and the Fine Art student shares their work with their Art History partner who then writes an article responding to their work. What I am most proud about is that these partnerships have resulted in some fantastic pieces of work and some long lasting friendships between students who would otherwise have taken much longer to connect, if at all.
How did you become interested in the issue of animal rights? How does your interest in animal rights transmute into you work as an artist? Could you tell me a little bit about your work Pigs and Dogs?
I have always considered myself an animal lover, much like I’d venture to say around 95% of Australians are. However, two and a half years ago I started dating my boyfriend Joss and his choice to leave animal products off his plate really challenged the way I was living at the time. Through his quiet and patient influence I slowly started to think more about the hypocrisy of loving animals while paying for them to be raised and slaughtered for my taste buds. After going vegan I became hyper aware of the atrocious reality we inflict upon farmed animals that we have been socially conditioned from birth to literally swallow without question. It was like I had been unplugged from The Matrix and I suddenly felt I had a great responsibility to help others get out too.
So I started making art about animals. I think creative activism is a great way to connect people with the issues in an interesting and unthreatening way. I have several exhibitions coming up this year about farmed animals, but one of the big ones is called Pigs and Dogs at the Belconnen Arts Centre in June. The show is literally about pigs and dogs and with the work I hope to create a discussion about why we love dogs and eat pigs despite their similarities in nature and intelligence.
Your honours thesis is about the sexual politics of consuming meat through the lens of 17th-century Dutch still-life painting. Could you tell me a little bit more about this?
For a long time now I’ve been interested in why a woman’s body can be reduced into parts, objects and meat through advertising and language. A woman’s body is often reduced to something consumable – a ‘fine piece of meat’. Reading Carol J. Adams The Sexual Politics of Meat, I was also horrified to find so many examples of advertising where a woman’s body is used to sell chicken legs or rump steak. We live in a society that sexualises meat and animalises women and I wanted to know why.
In regards to my honours topic, it’s a bit out there but I’ve come across these amazing 17th-century Dutch still-life paintings which seem to perfectly illustrate this phenomenon. They are lavishly painted images of dead animals often arranged in the most incredibly sexual ways. I’m particularly interested in the popular depiction of young women skewering plucked chickens onto long metal rods for our viewing pleasure.
What do you think of the connection between women’s rights and animal rights? And how are they related to feminism for you?
I think the connection is as simple as the fact that it is wrong to put the needs of one group above the needs of another. When Mary Wollstonecraft published her Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792 her views were seen as so ridiculous that a parody publication was shortly released entitled Vindication of the Rights of Brutes (animals). The fight for the rights of different groups have been laughed upon for centuries, just as the fight for the rights of animals are being laughed at today; the difference is that animals are unable to fight for themselves so someone else has to.
In my honours thesis I’m attempting to show that women and animals face similar exploitation and objectification by a dominant culture. There is a great history of vegan and vegetarian feminists that have recognised their own exploitation and discrimination in the lives of animals and have realised that they couldn’t justify fighting for their own liberation while they consumed someone else’s exploitation.
What’s something you hope to communicate through your work?
Through my work, above all I hope to communicate compassion. I have to be so careful that, as my sphere of compassion for animals widens, my sphere of compassion for humans doesn’t contract. I often feel quite alienated from other people through my contemplation of the lives of animals, but I know it is only through making meaningful, positive connections with people that I will ever make any difference. There is a lot wrong with the world but I am determinedly hopeful for the future, there really is no other option.