OOZing Humans, Non-Humans Away From Zoos

Event: OOZing Public Workshop, a project by Natalie Jeremijenko
Location: Van Alen Institute, 12.04.08
Speakers: Natalie Jeremijenko — Van Alen Institute New York Prize Fellow 2008-2009
Organizer: Van Alen Institute, in partnership with the Social Science Research Council

Rhinoceros Beetle Wrestling Device, by Natalie Jeremijenko.

Photograph by Chris Woebken. Photograph provided courtesy of Van Alen Institute, ©2008

OOZing, by Van Alen Institute New York Prize Fellow Natalie Jeremijenko, seeks to identify productive cohabitation between animals and humans in the city. “Zoo” spelled backwards (and “without cages,” as the artist and engineer stated), OOZ is a project that she hopes will challenge society and policy makers to redefine the role of non-humans in the urban landscape.

Jeremijenko dismisses the notion that nature is “out there somewhere” else; instead, humans are part of a natural system and must acknowledge socio-ecological relationships to improve urban conditions. Recent sightings of coyote in Central Park and wild turkey on Staten Island are intrinsically natural, she stated. Jeremijenko believes that the zoological model of collecting species in categorical boxes opposes the natural state of biodiversity and creates a separation between humans and animals.

“We screwed up,” she said, referring to current climate and food crises. Her work seeks to amend that error by using technology to investigate social change. With a touch of humor, Jeremijenko’s experiments include a bat detector, a rhinoceros beetle wrestling device, and toilet facilities for pigeons. Those who interact with her work build new relationships with the animals, thus leading to a different understanding of the creatures. This is necessary to move forward and improve the environment, she believes. Rather than observing animals through a simulated ecosystem in a zoo or whispering around them in a park, Jeremijenko boldly asserts: “Perhaps we can do something, and perhaps it could be good.”