Current Issue #488

Emmaline Zanelli's prehistoric echoes

Emmaline Zanelli's prehistoric echoes

Inspired by a residency at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, Emmaline Zanelli’s Looks Like a Fish, Tastes Like a Lizard explores how people connect while delving into her fascination with the techniques used in the research and interpretation of prehistoric life.

Particularly influential for Zanelli was visiting the Crystal Palace Park dinosaur sculptures, a series of life-size model dinosaurs created in 1852 by scientist Richard Owen, with the aid of artist Benjamin Hawkins. Zanelli draws on these and other collected stories of scientific experiments conducted in palaeontology labs and animation studios that result in imaginary depictions of prehistoric life.

“I’m really interested in the methods we use to connect and at the moment that is manifesting through that broad divide of contemporary human life and prehistoric life,” Zanelli says.

Emmaline Zanelli, Fern Eater, 2018, Giclee print on smooth cotton, 84 x 60 cm, edition of 5 + 2AP

Some of the images audiences can expect to see in the exhibition: a polystyrene microscope stored in a cupboard of printed blood cells, an Ichthyosaur built of papier maché National Geographic images swimming above the piano and a character using a stock photo elephant to imagine the gait of a sauropod and Plasticine bones in a vinyl creek bed waiting for scanning to become animated.

For Zanelli it’s about this intuitive desire to connect and envision prehistoric life through the human eye. She is interested in the imagined reality where images are a substitute for lived experience, and the potential effects this might have on our collective perception of nature and where we come from.

While the works continue to explore ideas around the depiction of the human body through images, and look at what is truth and what is illusion, Zanelli’s practice has expanded to involve a more collaborative approach. This has been the biggest area of growth for Zanelli moving on from the visceral, very interpersonal, intimate and quite violent driven imagery of previous works.

Emmaline Zanelli, Wing Studies (video still), 2018, Digital video, 8 min 56 sec

“The performance aspect has opened up to focus more on the control and vulnerability dynamic of sitter and photographer whereas before it was only me performing for the camera. So it was me and the camera as performance and audience,” Zanelli says.

Looks Like a Fish, Tastes Like a Lizard continues Zanelli’s curiosity with how experience can be extended and complicated by images. The resulting works are playful and tactile photographic scenes, featuring elements of costume and installation, in this instance influenced by our connection to our prehistoric ancestors.

Emmaline Zanelli: Looks Like a Fish, Tastes Like a Lizard
Hugo Michell Gallery
Thursday, May 3 to Saturday, June 2

Header image: Emmaline Zanelli, Looks Like A Fish, Tastes Like A Lizard, 2018, Giclee print on smooth cotton, 60 x 40 cm, edition of 5 + 2AP

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