Eco-Human Theory and Practice
ISSN 2713 – 184x
Eco Art Therapy
Ecological Education
The "Green" Arts


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Alexander Kopytin

Doctor of Medical Sciences, Professor, Department of Psychology, St. Petersburg Academy of Postgraduate Pedagogical Studies (St.-Petersburg, Russian Federation)



This article is embraced in a series of publications for a new thematic issue of the journal entitled: ‘Animals as partners: cultural, ecological, therapeutic implications.’ It offers a critical exploration of how a shifting cultural, aesthetic, political and media-shaped landscape assigns various roles and values attributed to animals in contemporary society, and the consequences for living conditions of animals and humans alike. It integrates research from innovative critical animal studies and a range of areas such as ecology, sociology, philosophy, and cultural studies, and considers human-animal relationship from the post-human, environmental humanity and eco-human perspectives. In order to grasp the relevance of the deeply intertwined relationship between human and animal, or between the culture/nature dichotomy, the nexus between science and contemporary art is discussed and illustrated with artworks of some renowned artists.

Keywords: animal studies, critical animal studies, human-animal relationship, post-humanism, eco-humanism, animal advocacy, animal rights, contemporary art



Animal lives have always been entangled with human life and culture, for example, on metaphorical but also on practical, material levels, in cultural metaphors, myths, in the spheres of education, identity-making, and art. Animals figure in human society and culture in multiple ways, while frequently being marginalized or reduced to commodities, production units, status symbols and tools. Several shifts entering the new 21st century have been part of what has been called the “animal turn,” referring to a new stage of scholarly interest in the human-animal relationship, predominantly activated on an interdisciplinary level.

The “animal turn” coincides with the establishing post-human and eco-human perspectives that challenge the anthropocentric worldview and have been brought to fruition due to the environmental crisis and the crisis of the humanities. The human-animal discourses in the last 20 years have become embedded in the underpinnings of political, ethical, and economic considerations evoked in the problematic post-human and environmental context.

Animal Studies (AS) and Critical Animal Studies (CAS) as new fields of research challenge the traditional views of human and animal bonds, deal with the fundamental question of what it is to be human, and simultaneously ask what it is to be nonhuman. These new fields of research brought to life a vast collection of subjects and methodologies with different approaches to the question of the nature of human and other animals.

Animal Studies (AS) emerged out of the animal rights movement, and concern the following main questions:

  • How have animals been represented in culture through history, and how is it possible to discuss animal representations at the present time?
  • How is the human-animal discourse integrated in language, philosophy, art, history, the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and anthropology?

Critical Animal Studies (CAS) is a critical theory and an activist field putting theory into practice, which inquires into the ways in which humans interact with animals, critically engaging with processes that emphasize animal subjection.

CAS is the academic field of study dedicated to the abolition of animal and ecological exploitation, oppression, and domination and informed by the following main theoretical positions: (1) first, that the traditional ontological and ethical divide between human and nonhuman animals, on which the anthropocentric worldview is based is no longer viable; (2) second, this worldview implies not only the exploitation of animals, but also  the oppression of human groups, members of different “races,” nations, ethnicities, classes, and genders, in other words speciesism, racism, classism, sexism, ableism, statism, and militarism, and should be challenged and changed into a more inclusive and ethical mode of relationships.

One key aspect of CAS is a holistic understanding of the commonality of oppressions viewed as part of a larger interlocking global system of domination. CAS seeks to understand: What is speciesism and how does it intersect with the discrimination of various human and animal groups? What ideas and developments in modernity have made large-scale animal production and its globalization possible? What place do animals have in struggles for social justice and change? [11]

CAS is different from the approaches of mainstream AS through its activism, based on the conviction that rather than continuing to focus on individual change alone, human and animal rights initiatives must be transformed into a social movement, working towards effective political and legal changes. It is vitally important that such a social movement be guided by abolitionist principles, rather than merely seeking to regulate the most obvious forms of abuse.

Matsuoka and Sorenson [8] believe that to respond to the fact that the animal exploitation industries are important components of a hugely destructive system, killing not only billions of animals, but also contributing to environmental destruction and the extinction of species, as well as threatening human survival, a realignment and refocusing of the animal advocacy movement is required, entailing a global shift in consciousness. The goal should be to work towards trans-species social justice.

CAS draws on the critique established by ecofeminist theorists and activists, “who have outlined the patriarchal character of speciesism and detailed the entangled oppression of non-human animals and women. In this sense, critical animal studies understands that the exploitation of other animals is not only a matter of economics, but also of the construction of human identities and hierarchies.” [11, p. xx]

AS and CAS have a strong connection to new methodologies, such as a theory of anthrozoology [2], biopolitical aesthetics [7], and the concept of “zooësis” [1]. Anthrozoology is a type of material semiotic approach which scrutinizes the spaces that animals occupy in human social and cultural worlds and how they are communicated. Predominantly, this approach considers through what modes “animal lives intersect with human cultures” [2]. At the same time this approach explains how humanity is established in relation to other nonhuman animals.

The concept of “zooësis” [1] also brings attention to the “commonplace” of human-nonhuman-animal contact zones, of secluded and omnipresent social practices, simultaneously examining the meaning of animals, or species figuring as mediators for humans’ alter egos. Zooësis as a concept activates more-than-human perspectives, addressing new modes of thinking, materializing, embodying and imagining human/nonhuman histories and ontologies.

Biopolitical aesthetics [7] is an interdisciplinary method at the intersections of art history, histories of science and medicine, postcolonial and race studies, which brings attention to the body (organic and mechanical), displayed as an aesthetic object in the age of biotechnological reproduction.

Beside all these methodologies, a wide spectrum of ecopsychology concepts dealing with the issues of human identity (ecological identity or eco-identity), ethical modes of human interaction with the more-than-human world, and the subjectivity of natural objects, have been applied to consider human-animal relationship from this new perspective. It can be also postulated that the concept of ecopoiesis could be very viable for our reconsidering human-animal relationships as establishing communities of subjects that “create, provide, and augment homes for themselves and their component communities…, of which they are part, providing the conditions for their flourishing, exploration, and creative advance into the future.” [6, p.12].

Contemporary art also demonstrates a highlighted interest in animals, indicating that animals are understood as something more than mere metaphoric reflections of the human, and thus seen as worth examining in their own right. Advances in earth art, eco-art, bio-art, plant-art, and taxidermy art are indicative to the search for new forms of representations beyond the traditional human identity.

In order to fully grasp the relevance of the deeply intertwined relationship between human and animal, or between the culture/nature dichotomy, it is crucial to recognize the nexus between science and art. Interdisciplinary connections, particularly between the natural and human sciences and art, together with recent developments in ecology, provide the basis for overcoming the dualism between body and mind, between human and animal, through situating humanity as an emergent complex of processes and structures within nature.

According to this “human ecology or eco-human perspective, through humans the ecosphere has become conscious of itself and its significance, and the problems confronting it, the most important of which is the current trajectory of human civilization… This recognition reveals the quest for justice, the proper understanding by the human component of the ecosphere, of the dynamics and significance of the ecosystems of which humans are part, as integral to healthy ecosystems. The advance of the dialectic of recognition whereby people constrain themselves according to their growing appreciation of the significance of ‘others,’ both people and other organisms, or more generally, ecosystems, are the constraints required to return local ecosystems and the global ecosystem to health.” [6, p.13]

Post-humanism, environmental humanity and eco-humanity as the new perspectives for considering the human-animal relationship

The animal and artificial life discourses in the last 30 years have become embedded in the underpinnings of political, ethical, and economic considerations evoked in the post-human context. While humanism is credited with attributing the conscious, autonomous and intentional human subject as the dominant source of agency, posthuman philosophy constitutes the human as: (a) physically, chemically, and biologically enmeshed and dependent on the environment; (b) moved to action through interactions that generate affects, habits, and reason; and (c) possessing no attribute that is uniquely human, but is instead made up of a larger evolving ecosystem [5].

The trend towards the integration of posthumanism with the ecological agenda, taking into consideration human-animal relationships from the new perspective, is vividly manifested in Haraway's work Staying with the trouble: Making kin in the chthulucene [4]. It contains a call to unite humans and non-human life forms in the interests of survival. Human exclusivity, neo-colonialism and Darwinian theory, according to Haraway, justify the right to destroy people and other living beings. This is the leading cause of environmental degradation, which now affects the entire planet and causes various manifestations of inequality in social life. By deconstructing human exceptionalism, post-humanism opens up new possibilities to act in accordance with an ethical position in the human relationship to the world of nature.

However, a number of significant contradictions in post-human academic study of human-animal relations have been revealed, reflecting the ambivalence toward recognizing humans as animals while asserting human exceptionalism. Donna Haraway, in particular, has achieved a strange prominence in the field of animal studies. There are several ambiguous aspects of Haraway’s work, due to her celebration of the idea of hybridity, or the collapsing of boundaries between humans and other animals, since hybridity is in fact a repressive position that supports technocapitalist exploitation of humans and other animals.

Gary Steiner [11,12] introduces us to contemporary debates on animal subjects and humanism. Focusing on Jaques Derrida, Steiner argues that such an approach is “bizarre” and ill-suited to effective protection of other animals and believes that posthumanism seems to offer a convenient means for adherents to pose as radical defenders of animals while continuing to kill and eat them [11, p. xxiv].

According to Gare [3], “Posthumanism is claimed to be anti-elitist and aligned with ecological thinking, but in fact offers a debased view of life and provides no place for people taking responsibility for ecological destruction. … Beyond this, it is difficult to gain a clear picture of what the posthumanists stand for. Continuing deconstructive postmodernist scepticism about reason and anti-elitism, they simultaneously uphold being non-judgmental as a virtue while engaging in enforcing political correctness and upholding the new ‘cancel culture,’ defending this on supposedly scientific grounds. While censoring humanists of all kinds, they appear to have embraced the promise of the new information technology, with the hope of achieving immortality through freeing ourselves from the constraints of being embodied…This posthumanist world vision legitimates indifference… to the damage to people, other life forms and ecosystems by what they claim is economic and technological progress.” (p.43).

Thus, the search for new environmental ontologies of human and other animal beings, beyond the post-humanist perspective, providing a more just and consistent moral position in our perception of human and other animals and relying on human and natural ecology is needed. It appears that ecology provides the foundation by which humans can redefine their relations to each other and to the rest of nature. In this situation, the eco-human worldview affirms the value of human beings in their relation to themselves, on the one hand, and equality, freedom and value in relation to other people, society and nature, specifically non-human beings, on the other hand. This search for new environmental ontologies as a platform for more just relations of humans and animals brought into fruition, in particular, the environmental humanities and eco-human approach.

The environmental humanities challenged the human-centered viewpoints that separate "nature" and "culture" and the white, male, European- and North American-centric viewpoints of what constitutes "nature." The environmental humanities are characterized by a connectivity ontology and a commitment to fundamental axioms relating to the need to submit to ecological laws and to see humanity as part of a larger living system. The consequence of such connectivity ontology is the development of a broader concept of justice that includes non-human life forms within the domain of those to whom rights are owing.

Similar to the environmental humanities, eco-humanity/eco-humanism frees the humanistic worldview from the ideas of the superiority of an individual or certain categories of human beings over other peoples and the claim to dominance over non-human beings. According to Ecopoiesis: A Manifesto of Ecological Civilization [6], humanity is regarded as a very complex experiment by the global ecosystem (ecosphere, Gaia). All this complexity is made possible by the unique kind of human language (semiosis) which enables humans to constitute their worlds as shared worlds in which individuals see themselves as components of the worlds of others, making them more essentially cultural beings and thereby more creative than any other animal (p.13).

According to this document, the dialectic of recognition is the capacity for people to recognize and appreciate other human and non-human life forms as other subjects sharing with them a common world. It is by virtue of this dialectic that humans form identities, develop a sense of justice and a sense of themselves as individuals with potential to be realized. “This human dialectic involves new constraints of thought and action in taking into account the freedom and significance of others based on recognition of others, … reveals the quest for justice, the proper understanding by the human component of the ecosphere, of the dynamics and significance of the ecosystems of which humans are part” [ibid, p.13].

According to the same eco-human perspective, the traditional distinction between the human being as a subject and nature and other animals as objects is no longer capable of accounting for the world in which we live. All forms of life, all living species are capable of ecological awareness and synergy and acting as co-creators of the ecosphere contributing to its well-being and resilience. Life here is understood as “ecosystems, that is, as communities of dynamical processes in symbiotic relation, constraining themselves and able to constrain each other directly or through the mediation of signs, thereby coordinating their activities to contribute to their common good, reproducing and developing the environmental conditions for their reproduction and flourishing, and thereby maintaining themselves in existence as living communities.” [ibid, p. 13].

The role of art for exploring human-animal relationship

Animals have always been popular subjects for artists to represent in their works, either as part of the environment or as primary subjects. This has been the common thread in all wildlife representations in art, though the manner of portraying animals has changed throughout human history, following changing norms and increased animal life awareness.  

Сontemporary art suggests “contact zones” of multispecies aesthetics, often using a more-than-human, environmental or post-human perspective as a great influence into moving towards a transdisciplinary knowledge of the human-animal relationship.  Olofsson Hjorn [9] believes that “using the concept zooësis in contemporary art is an initiative to break a traditional linear way of describing and perceiving the world. The method… includes more attentiveness to the marginalized stories, which also means involving other valuable senses beyond vision, to inform a more ‘empathetic’ or ‘attentive’ way of approaching a subject in art.” [9, p.140]. Art enables not only the translation but also the exploration of complex relationships between humans, nature, technology and society [ibid, p. 143].

Through the start of the 21st century we have experienced such contact zones in earth art, eco art, bio art, new media, and taxidermy art. Following from this, we can expect that these new perspectives and understandings of the world we co-inhabit with other life forms invite new ways of engaging on this planet (and others) beyond the prerogatives of the human animal.

By “deconstructing the animal” from its taxonomic placement, symbolic and mythological borders in art, these new artistic strategies serve as a means of invaluable knowledge about the planet we co-inhabit with other life forms and show us how to conceive of life, to remember, to mourn, to survive, to forgive, and to help us move the sorrows of our earth towards a more compassionate ecological stance in the world.

Hence, exploring the representations of animals in contemporary art is crucial to our understanding of the philosophical and ethical question of what we think and how we perceive of animals, moreover, to recognize the presence of the other life forms in art and how their presence affects human perception.

Some representations of animals in contemporary art

Janis Kounellis’s, untitled/12 Horses (1969)


Figure 1: Jannis Kounellis, Twelve Live Horses (Untitled) at Galleria L’Attico in Rome, 1969. Source:

One of the early examples of animals-qua-art came out of the Arte Povera movement, the group of Italian artists who laid the groundwork for what we would now call “installation art.” Jannis Kounellis initiated the movement’s use of humble found materials into new territory with his 1969 “piece of art,” which simply consisted of a dozen live horses hitched side-by-side to the walls of Rome’s Galleria l’Attico. The horses were presented as they were and had an imposing effect on gallery visitors.

The space of the room and the bodies of the animals were storing silence, a vast absence. This large-scale installation stands still, harnessed to the massive political, social and cultural change of the 1960s. Particularly, Arte Povera can be linked to the Vietnam War and the worldwide student protests. The installation also occurred at the height of what is known as Italy’s Economic Miracle. Never before, and never since, has Italy experienced such a mass migration of its population from the rural south to the industrial cities in the north.

The artist explained that the work was meant to invoke “the spirit of the Enlightenment.” Re-staged at the 1976 Venice Biennale, the piece was a landmark in performative, time-based live installations.

Joseph Beuys’, I like America and America Likes Me (1974)


Figure 2: Joseph Beuys’, I like America and America Likes Me (1974)

When it comes to working with animals, some artists are content to simply bring the animal into the gallery context.  Others take a more active role. For his 1974 performance I Like America and America Likes Me, Joseph Beuys shared a room with a live coyote for three days at the René Block Gallery in New York, engaging in various actions that incorporated the canine as both observer and participant. The performance involved props that included a felt blanket, a cane reminiscent of a shepherd’s crook, a flashlight, animal fat, and copies of the Wall Street Journal that were delivered daily. The human being and the beast shared their living space in peace which lent the work its drama and heft. The sense of reciprocity in human-animal interaction was critical to this piece of art, as both “actors” affected the course of the performance, creating a sense of danger not fully resolved until Beuys’ exit. This performance was based on the artist’s mythologized personal history: As a downed fighter pilot, a Tartar tribesman nursed Beuys back to health by insulating him in animal fat and a felt blanket. The performance was a therapeutic and shamanic intervention through which he sought to address his personal and societal physical and psychic wounds.

During this time, Beuys saw the United States as divided over its involvement in Vietnam War and its racial divisions and subjugation, and wanted his performance to also address the split between Native American and European worldviews. His selection of the coyote, a Native American symbol of transformation and trickery, invoked its animal mythic teacher teaching humans to survive. Whereas settlers viewed coyotes as an aggressive predator to be exterminated, to Beuys, the coyote symbolized native America's spirit. Beuys felt that America needed to reckon with the coyote to lift its trauma. It is obvious that this performance also reminds us about the genocide of indigenous people and the extermination of animal life, forced out of balance by European settlement and that colonization of America was accompanied with dramatic environmental change and loss.

Newton and Helen Harrison, Survival Pieces/Portable Fish Farm

Newton and Helen Harrison were among the pioneers of the eco-art movement, and worked for over forty years with biologists, ecologists, architects, urban planners and other artists to initiate collaborative dialogues to uncover ideas and solutions which support biodiversity and community development.

The pair began collaborating on environmental art with the piece Fur and Feathers, a world map of extinct and endangered species. Some of their early works also included Survival Pieces (#1-#3. Following conversations with planktologists Richard Eppley and Michael Mullin from the Food Chain Research Group at Scripps Institute of Oceanography, Newton designed an experimental ecosystem of green microalgae (Dunaliella), brine shrimp (Artemia), and salt water to be installed outside the main entrance to the museum in four low connected basins.

Each basin was filled with algae and water with a different saline content. The color of the water in the basin changed with the levels of salt, creating an artwork that used natural systems to create fields of color. The brine shrimp were introduced near the conclusion of the exhibition, eating the algae and “drain(ing) the color from the work.” The artwork as a whole was a demonstration of a simple feedback loop, and of what art critic Jack Burnham called a “systems esthetics” emerging from the relationships found in a living and technological system.

The first Survival Pieces dealt with mineral (in Making Earth) and vegetable (in Hog Pasture), but when animal was added to the series, all hell broke loose. Portable Fish Farm was Survival Piece #3, and shown in September 1971 at the Hayward Gallery in London.

Newton built six rubber-lined tanks in the gallery, with the intention of establishing a demonstration fish farm replete with fish feasts. A series of five feasts were planned, at which catfish would be electrocuted per Humane Society of America standards, filleted, fried, and served.

However, the gallery and the artist greatly underestimated the British public’s visceral reaction to what the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) announced as the “ritual execution” of catfish. Portable Fish Farm posed questions that confronted the philosophical implications of what we should eat, of who was allowed to prepare it for us, and of the distance we enforce between the living animal and the meat on our plate. Judging from the public outrage, it was clear: the proper place for food production was behind closed doors and done by people who are not “us,” and the food on our plate was most acceptable when it first passed through the supermarket and a refrigerator.

Portable Fish Farm was, in fact, the conceptual hinge between an Earth Art that used nature primarily as material and site for art-making and an Ecological Art that not only engaged ecological systems, but also embedded ethical values, advocacy and activism into the work. Like the concurrent development of environmental ethics, ecological art is a movement catalyzed by environmental crises. It is a “crisis discipline,” to use a term from conservation biology, with little room for neutrality.

Adel Abdessemed, Don’t Trust Me (2008) and Usine Factory (2009) Taxidermy and Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf (2010)


Figure 3: Abdessemed, Don’t Trust Me (2008)

Infamous for his jarring and often upsetting compositions, Adel Abdessemed has made a name for himself through his video works exploring the brutality inherent to basic survival. The most controversial of these pieces are Don’t Trust Me (2008), which showed a man using a sledgehammer to bludgeon a series of farm animals to death in front of a brick wall, and Usine (Factory) (2009), in which a veritable menagerie of animals, including snakes, toads, roosters, and pit bulls, was pitted against one another in an uneven battle for survival. Bloody and hard to watch, the works showcased the most familiar form of human-animal interaction: crude physical violence and spectacular death, a dynamic that people are largely shielded from by their mediated experience of the food chain, picking up their cold cuts in the supermarket and oxblood brogues at the shoe store. The ethical questions embedded within the works remain implacably provocative. His other provocative pieces include Taxidermy and Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf (both 2010), a cube and wall relief, respectively, fashioned from dozens upon dozens of preserved animal carcasses subsequently charred to a crisp and some others.

Abdessemed claims that his works involved either no agency on his part or no harm done to the critters in question. In particular, he merely scavenged secondhand stores to collect existing trophy creatures for Taxidermy and Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf. He shot Usine in Mexico, where animal combat is legal, and did the same for Don’t Trust Me, which takes place at an actual slaughterhouse carrying out business as usual.

Patricia Piccinini, Kindred (2018)

Patricia Piccinini is an Australian artist using a variety of media as her material, including painting, drawing, sculpture, installation, digital prints, video and sound. Central to Patricia Piccinini’s practice is the inquiry into relationships, between humans and the environment, between the artificial and the natural. Crucial to the creatures she creates is the examination of empathy and connection. Piccinini’s oeuvre activates the boundaries between species, that is, between humans and other animals, but also between the artificial and the natural, which incorporates machines and animals.

By pushing the limits of alteration Piccinini activates an engagement on the part of the audience. She emphasizes that her practice is not political, rather she wants the audience to connect to the creatures as kin in the world where animal, plant, machine and human unite and commingle, and where the relationship between the creatures and the audience, which at first seems alienating and disturbing, eventually enables a deeper sense of care, openness and tolerance [10].

Paying attention to the “animal,” her art concurrently reveals a close link between human relationships with other animals and some of the most pernicious human social problems, such as slavery, sexism, and environmental degradation.


Figure 4: Piccinini, Kindred (2018). Source:

Piccinini’s Kindred (2018) (Fig. 4), a hyperrealistic sculpture at “human” or orangutang size, is an interpretation of an orangutang-family. The figures, an orangutang mother and its two offspring, are hybrids with features in some parts with primate inspiration and others more reminiscent of human features. Orangutangs, among the animals most threatened by deforestation, are in Kindred a reflection regarding the traditional idea of humans as separated from other animals, with a human perception of themselves as in ownership of, or in control of, nature.

Kindred is about acknowledging common animality, rather than separation between humans and animals. And the special notion about Orangutan is that they are among humans’ closest relatives. Similarly, Orangutan mothers keep their children close and educate them for many years. With Kindred Piccinini wants to highlight that the idea of the fundamental difference between humans and other animals is not actually so real. Both genetic analysis and observation is now showing how small the difference is.

Berlinde De Bruyckere, No Life Lost II/ To Zurbaran (2015)

Berlinde De Bruyckere’s No Life Lost II / To Zurbaran (2015) (Fig. 5), is a two-horse installation encompassing two thoroughbred “horse bodies” lying intertwined atop one another, forced and piled into a vintage natural history display cabinet; the horse-size wax sculptures are treated with horse skin, fabric, leather, and blankets. In its uncanny appearance the horses, bound together by leather straps and with their heads and eyes covered by blankets in the enclosed space of a cabinet, represent sublime beauty and poetic elegance, on the one hand, and horror, fragility, and decay, on the other hand.


Figure 5: Berlinde De Bruyckere, No Life Lost II/ to Zurbaran (2015). Horse skin, fabric, wood, iron, epoxy. Photo: Mirjam Devriendt. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth.

The strong associations to torture and vulnerability, at the same time the idea of the preservation of nature – of the curious and beautiful animal world – in a glass cabinet, is no doubt a display of human’s attitude to nature and science.

This sculpture makes reference to and interprets the portrayal of the “Lamb of God” (1635–1640) by the Spanish Baroque painter Francisco de Zurbarán. The blindfolded foil suggests respite, and at the same time, shelter in a moment of suffering, a moment which alludes to the iconography of the Zurbarán’s image.

Commenting on this artwork, [9], Olofsson Horth writes that “Notedly, racehorses, when not needed anymore for races (which is a gruesome sport with harmful outcome), they are shot, skinned to go into the leather industry, while the meat and cut-offs are shipped for consumption as food for humans and dogs. As it is expensive to keep racehorses, new-born foals are killed off to keep down costs. The racehorse hides covering the disquieting figures are thus entangled in several layers of surplus animal bodies metaphorically, for instance as the sacrificial lamb, or the mythical deer, and corporally. Zooësis in this case therefore incorporates several issues at once; biopolitics, that is, the commodification and aesthetics of surplus bodies, transnationally, aimed at triumphing human prestige and capital.” (p.69)

Olofsson Hjorth [9] also emphasized that, “While matter is accentuated bringing sensitivity to the fore De Bruyckere accepts the lingering in human-nonhuman-animal suffering as one, thereby collapsing body and matter, De Bruyckere seems to ask for acceptance of mortality rather than to search for eternal life or the eternal beauty favored in Renaissance art. This of course challenges the epistemology of aesthetic judgement and perception, literally triggering provocation or abjection.” [ibid., p.75]


The “animal turn” in the contemporary culture coincides with establishing post-human, environmental humanity, and eco-human perspectives that challenge the anthropocentric worldview. The approach of this article has been to attend to the multifaceted issues of animal advocacy, and human and animal rights through the critical animal study and biopolitical lenses. These approaches convey invaluable knowledge about the planet we co-inhabit and how we can move together with other life forms towards a more compassionate ecological way of life.

The article offers a critical exploration of how a shifting cultural, aesthetic, political and media-shaped landscape assigns various roles and values to animals in contemporary society, and the consequences for the living conditions of animals and humans alike.

What does it mean to attend to animals in art? How does nonhuman existence come to matter in art and create a new stage of scholarly and artistic interest in human-animal relationship? In order to grasp the relevance of the deeply intertwined relationship between human and animal, or between the culture/nature dichotomy, the nexus between science and contemporary art has been discussed and illustrated with artworks of some renowned artists.

Though their personal perspectives on the issue of human-animal relationship vary considerably, artists tend to create a more inclusive environmental ethical position that engages social and natural ecology, and invites advocacy and activism into their work. Ecology provides the foundation by which humans can redefine their relations to each other and to the rest of nature. At a broader level, ecology serves as the basis for working towards the decolonization of the planet, humans and other animals. It raises the question of revising human relations with the environment, affirming the principles of equal communication, partnership and co-creation with other people and the more-than-human world.


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  3. Gare, A. Against posthumanism: Posthumanism as the world vision of house-slaves. Borderless Philosophy, 4: 1-56.
  4. Haraway, D. (2016). Staying with the trouble: making kin in the chthulucene. Durham, NС: Duke University Press.
  5. Keeling, D. M., and Lehman, M.N. (2018). Posthumanism. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. doi:http://10.1093/acref ore/9780190228613.013.627
  6. Kopytin, A., Gare, A. (2023). Ecopoiesis: A manifesto for ecological civilization. Ecopoiesis: Eco-Human Theory and Practice, 4(1): 6-18.
  7. Larissa Heinrich, A. (2018). Chinese surplus: Biopolitical aesthetics and the medically commodified body. Durham, NC, London: Duke University Press.
  8. Matsuoka, A. and Sorenson, J. (eds.) (2018). Critical animal studies. Towards trans-species social justice. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
  9. Olofsson Hjorth, A.P. (2022). Zooësis and contemporary art. Animal, plant, and machine ontologies: Art representations beyond the human. Master’s Thesis. Stockholm: Stockholm University.
  10. Piccinini, P. (2020/2021). “Some thoughts about my practice”, last modified 2021,
  11. Sorenson, J. (Ed.) (2014). Critical animal studies. Thinking the unthinkable. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press.
  12. Steiner, G. (2005). Anthropocentrism and its discontents: The moral status of animals in the history of Western philosophy.  Pittsburg, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.
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Reference for citations

Kopytin, A. (2023). Post-human and eco-human perspectives on the human-animal relationship in art and science. Ecopoiesis: Eco-Human Theory and Practice, 4(2). [open access internet journal]. – URL: (d/m/y)


About the journal

In accordance with the Law of the Russian Federation on the Mass Media, the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Communications (Roskomnadzor) on September 22, 2020, the web-based publication - The peer-reviewed scientific online journal "Ecopoiesis: Eco-Human Theory and Practice" was registered (registration number El No. FS77-79134).

“Ecopoiesis: Eco-Human Theory and Practice” is the international multidisciplinary Journal focused on building an eco-human paradigm, disseminating eco-human knowledge and technology based on the alliance of ecology, humanities and the arts. Our journal aims to be a vibrant forum of theories and practices aimed at harmonizing the relations of mankind and the natural world in the interests of sustainable development, the creation of Eco-Humanity as a new community of human beings and more-than-human world. The human being is an ecological being, not separate from the world. The Ecopoiesis journal is based on that premise and aims to develop a body of theory and practice within that framework.

The Journal promotes dialogue and cooperation between ecologists, philosophers, doctors, educators, psychologists, artists, musicians, designers, social activists, business representatives in the name of eco-human values, human health and well-being, in close connection with concern for the environment. The Journal supports the development and implementation of new environmentally-friendly concepts, technologies and practices in the various fields of health and public life, education and social work.

One of the priority tasks of the Journal is to demonstrate and support the significant role of the arts in their alliance with ecology and the humanities for the restoration and development of constructive relations with nature, raising environmental awareness and promoting nature-friendly lifestyles.

The Journal publishes articles describing new eco-human concepts and practices, technologies and applied research data at the intersection of humanities, ecology and the arts, as well as interviews and conference reports related to the emerging eco-human field. It encourages artwork, music and other creative products related to eco-human practices and the new global community of Eco-Humanity.