The notion that the state of humanity can be read and studied by the way we relate to animals is a vital thread in Charlotte Dumas’ work (born 1977, lives and works in Amsterdam and New York). Her choice of subject relates directly to the way we use, co-exist with, and define specific animals, assigning various symbolisms to them as well as our own personal reflections.
Her series ANIMA features the caisson horses of America’s Arlington National Cemetery, the burial site of U.S. service personnel, located outside the country’s capital city of Washington, D.C. These animals are among the few that still perform a duty for mankind that dates back centuries. No longer used in warfare as such, they now have the sole and exclusive privilege of accompanying soldiers to their final resting place. Charlotte Dumas photographed and filmed these horses when their working day was done, as they were falling asleep in front of her eyes and camera. The horses not only convey their vulnerability at rest, but also reflect a falling, the losing of consciousness. Dumas: “As I spent time with them at night I felt this was maybe one of the most intimate and private moments to witness: the gap between wakefulness and slumber, a space for dreaming and reverie.
It is Charlotte Dumas’ belief that the disappearance of the actual presence of animals as a given in our society greatly affects how we experience life and, for example, our ability to empathize with one another.
The gap that currently exists between animals used and seen as a food resource on the one hand and their anthropomorphic use on the other (as they are also often depicted in visual language) contributes to an increasingly contradictory relationship. When it comes to animal topics, emotions often run high. It seems the less we are in direct contact with the animals, the more we lose the perspective of their true capacity and what they mean to us and we to them.
Dumas has been observing different animals, mostly horses and dogs, within specific situations for over a decade. She is particularly interested in the complexity of how we define value when it comes to animals, as well as how we attribute value to ourselves and others. The context of her subjects is what defines each subject.
Rescue dogs who, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, searched day and night for survivors at the Pentagon and World Trade Center. Horses living in the wild, on the fringes of Nevada towns, or on small islands in Japan. Breeds that are almost extinct because of they no longer serve any practical purpose.
Charlotte Dumas has held numerous solo exhibitions at venues throughout the world, including Museum De Pont, Tilburg (2015) The Photographers' Gallery in London (2015), Gallery 916 Tokyo (2016 and 2014), Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (2012), FO.KU.S., Innsbruck (2010), Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam (2009), Stay at andriesse eyck galerie, Amsterdam (2017), TEFAF CURATED, La Grande Horizontale, curated by Penelope Curtis, Maastricht, (2017) Like a Horse, Fotografiska, Stockholm, (2017) Work Horse, Kunstverein Heilbronn, (2018), The Collection Illuminated by Charlotte Dumas, Fotomuseum Rotterdam, (2018) and upcoming Het paard in de kalebas. Een tentoonstelling van Charlotte Dumas, Japanmuseum SieboldHuis, Leiden (2018)