The classical greek image of the mythological chimera was that of a monstrous, female, fire-breathing creature: an incongruous mixture of the head of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a dragon. Humankind has imagined and portrayed fantastical creatures since the beginning of time. But today this ancient myth exists in biotechnologically engineered forms.
The current scientific definition of ‘chimera’ is any organism composed of cells derived from at least two genetically different zygotes. Translation: featherless chickens (bred for ease of production); mice with human brain cells; hybridized creatures like the geep (sheep+goat), liger (lion+tiger), beefalo (buffalo+cow), and donkra (donkey+zebra). Most recently, the world’s first primate chimeras have emerged, created from several different species of monkey embryos. Human/animal chimeras are next.
My current body of work is inspired by these modern-day chimeras, however I pick up where science leaves off, fusing the animal with the human. Details and craftsmanship are key elements in my work, as I seek to create seamless, lifelike forms. I have cast, for example, the bodies of a raw chicken and a human doll baby in resin, taking pains to unify the seemingly ‘separate’ elements into plausible whole. Often, my creatures sport weird, disturbing, or unexpectedly sexy body parts. I have mixed the body of a giraffe with the cast head of a female mannequin, her face “made up” with false eyelashes and her mouth filled with acrylic casts of my own teeth. If viewers look into the mirrored tiles that cover the plinth on which she stands, they will see a reflection of the human vagina I placed on her underbelly.
Overall, my hybrid creatures are vulnerable, whimsical, and can act as lighting rods for the viewer’s catharsis. Although grotesque, they appear utterly real. Questions seem to issue from their parted lips: “if I could talk, what would I say?” “Are you, as humans, ready to listen?”
Working for so many years with hybrid forms has helped me see myself as a mixture: mother/professional artist; instinctive animal/wise woman; healer/sufferer. I’ve learned a great deal about humanity in adopting the part-beast as my own. This work has taught me that to be fully human is to be fullychimera, a verb, a goal towards which we must all aspire rather than a static state of entitlement. Animals, driven by instinct, teach us to trust our inner natures.
To see more of Jamie Levine’s work during Art Fair 14C, please visit Exhibition Rooms 862 & 864.
silicone, human hair, children’s clothing, circular play rug
While most mothers of a certain social circle worry about getting their daughters into a good school, hybrid toddlers like this one (part human, part giraffe) are going unnoticed in the classroom every day. (Well, maybe not now, but soon, they will be.) Who are their mothers? Would the local zoo, or genetic laboratory, be able to handle calls from the local PTA when the time for the bake sale rolls around?
As an artist, and, as a human being, I have long been concerned with the issue of genetic engineering – in particular, how its rapid progress has been largely ignored by a public that is unprepared to deal with the inevitable ethical fallout. In the past, I created what I call “chimeric hybrids,” and this young girl is one of my favorites. She not only calls attention to ethical issues of species, but of gender as well. If a half-human baby has less rights than a pure human baby, then how much less well will a female hybrid be treated?
Maybe, if we are willing to imagine the life that a little girl like this would lead, we can more clearly examine, and prepare for, a more equitable future for our own little girls?
Believability is key. So, as if I were shopping for my own child, I sourced the clothing and sneakers from local stores, and bought the carpet (in a cheery jungle motif) online. The toddler’s head is cast silicon.
This nice 3 year-old gazes down as if she’s shy, and who wouldn’t be? One day, her horns and her neck will grow. Will the social jungle be ready for her?