Animal Patterns & Felt Pelts
Friday, November 18, 2011
Felt Pelt: Zebra by Jenne Giles 2007
I hear that animal patterns are back in style in a big way. Truly, animal patterns never seems to stop being stylish. Whether we like it or not, it is one of those classic fashion motifs: sometimes classy, sometimes clashy.
Animal patterns have historical and cultural roots. They can remind us of African animals, as many of our most recognizable patterns come from the unique fauna, namely Leopard, Cheetah, Zebra, Tiger, and Giraffe, from this part of the world. They can remind us of the Age of Empire and of safaris and sport-killing, which fetishizes exotic animal skins as the ultimate trophy, an emblem of wealth and status. How masculine, we think, is a room with mounted heads on the walls and animal skin rugs on the floor? Perhaps a more modern sensitivity thinks: “how macabre?”
Animal patterns came back into vogue in the 50s-60s as a popular Bohemian motif, a symbol of sex and women’s sexual empowerment. This time, we were not talking real animal skin but a symbol of the wild animal within. ”It is Cadillacs and wildebeest, hippies and hunter-gatherers, Zulu royalty and the Rolling Stones, Mickey Hartigay & Jayne Mansfield and Adam & Eve.” (~quantumbiologist) No matter how you approach it, animal patterns have an undeniably primal power.
From time to time, I like to return to the rich conceptual material of animal patterns and skins. I don’t know if that means I endorse the idea, but it holds tremendous fascination and potential. Felt can recreate the fetishistic “realness” of the animal pelt to a disturbing level. Though no harm has come to any animal in the process, it seems to cross some forbidden line back into the animal zone. I definitely noticed an element of alarm or danger in people’s reaction to animal-inspired pieces. Well, art is about asking these sorts of questions: if it is a perennial classic in fashion, what does it mean about why we wear it? As women, are we the hunters or are we the hunted when we wear animal symbols? Interesting issues….
A fascinating article on animal prints:
Leopard print has never gone out of style — and has probably never notbeen in style, somewhere on Earth. (Many paleontologists believe that dinosaurs wore leopard-like spots.) Perhaps the reason for its endurance is that its parents are these two very different nostalgias. One is a deep-seeded yearning for the Paleolithic and pre-civilization, a length of time far longer than post-civilization humanity, when we as a species were in a more even conversation with nature and depended more on our physical prowess, our animal senses, and our understanding of the wilderness. To be sure, there are many people on Earth who are not far removed from this lifestyle, but for those of us in the “first world,” nostalgia for the time of spears and shamans exists as a distant cultural memory, perhaps stitched into the threads of our genetic code, like a dream we can’t quite remember yet which tugs on our hearts upon waking. We cannot shake the feeling that something, somehow led us astray from our true identity as the human ape, and adorning ourselves in leopard print reminds us of our species’ connection to wildlife of the world and our once-intimate relationship to it.
The other type of nostalgia, of course, is this: