Profile — 23 Nov 2018
Melanie Bonajo’s video installation Progress vs Sunsets: Reformulating the Nature Documentary is the second work in a trilogy focusing on the effects of technological advances on vulnerable, marginalized groups. While the first installation in the series concentrates on the elderly, Progress vs Sunsets invites children to consider the ways that viral animal photos and videos have redefined the relationships between humans, wildlife, and the environments they share. Bonajo asks which voices are ignored during processes of growth and development, and draws attention to the extinctions and casualties that are the inevitable side effects of innovation. She approaches her work from an intuitive, feminist point of view, emphasizing the importance of process over product, and casting doubt on narratives of progress.
In contrast with the professionally produced, science-driven nature documentaries of previous decades, which depicted animals in their natural habitats, the viral memes and videos in Bonajo’s installation show them inhabiting a distinctly human world, where they serve primarily as objects of entertainment. The artist points out that shifts in the representation of animals have occurred in tandem with greater animal rights issues, such as large-scale environmental destruction and increased urbanization, which push animals into closer proximity to people. She notes that while policies that promote the interests of native inhabitants over immigrants are considered xenophobic in human communities, they become necessary to the survival of animal ecosystems. Bonajo sees the treatment of animals as directly connected to histories of imperialism, slavery, and forced migration. By illustrating how categories such as “human” and “animal” have fostered hierarchies and the creation of “others,” the installation serves as a case study in how oppression operates. The artist’s choice to include children in the project stems from her belief that they have not yet fully internalized dominant Western patriarchal systems of thought that favor reason and objectivity, and are guided instead by emotion and intuition.