In the beginning there was the worm: Animal voices beyond the verbal

Four humanimals creep, crawl, sniff and moan their way through a seated audience, towards an empty performance area which awaits their presence. Snorting and snuffling is audible as the liminal creatures rub themselves against giggling audience members, rolling across laps and crawling under chairs. Their faces are painted with dark bands across the eyes—like a species of bird, bandit, or warrior. When they reach the performance area, they crouch in a circle, continuing their muffled cries as one of them stands.

She is the eldest—diminutive, but powerful and fiery. She is Cecilia Vicuña, a senior Chilean artist and poet whose important ecofeminist and decolonial practices have only recently begun to achieve the recognition they always deserved. Vicuña’s very name is animal—vicuñas are the smaller, wilder ancestors of the llama. As she stands before the audience, brandishing pages of poetry, her fellow Chilean humanimals, Sarita Gálvez, Camilla Marambio and Bryan Phillips rock and mutter in loose unison. This is just one of many performances that made up Liquid Architecture’s Why Listen to Animals? series in Melbourne in late 2016. Tweaking the title of John Berger’s famous essay “Why Look at Animals?”, these events foregrounded sound as a way to move beyond anthropocentric ocular modes, to prick up our ears and attune to non‑human, non‑verbal voices.

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