Sculpture Journal

Vegan attendance: reading Gibbons’s animals

Sculpture Journal (2020), 29, (3), 379–394.

Abstract

When we encounter the work of Grinling Gibbons, we find ourselves in the presence of multiple non-human animals. However, it is unclear how one should address these presences. On the one hand, for ecofeminist scholars such as Josephine Donovan, the aestheticization of animal death is to be vehemently resisted and the embodied presence of animals recovered by looking beyond the surface: a mode of looking that Donovan terms ‘attentive love’. On the other hand, a re-reading of the philosophical ideas of Simone Weil, upon which Donovan premises her argument, suggests that attention to others requires a mode of radical detachment. These two positions speak in important ways to the dilemmas faced by a vegan spectator. Drawing on Jason Edwards’s previous work on ‘the vegan viewer’, this article seeks to reconcile a vegan resistance to Gibbons’s depictions of animal death, in their spontaneous falling under human dominion, with the aesthetic pleasure generated by Gibbons’s craftmanship. I therefore propose ‘vegan camp’ as a means of reconciling oneself to insufficiency and complicity in systems of violence without renouncing pleasure. Vegan camp is detailed as an aesthetics that acknowledges the violence of humanity and one’s inescapable place within it, dissolving the subjective idea of the beautiful vegan soul to pay attention to the pervasive presence of an anthropocentrism that, in the case of Gibbons, decoratively adorns the sites at which animals might be eaten, worn, or offered up for sacrifice.

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Author details

Quinn, Emelia