Animal Persons
Source: Australian War Memorial

Animal Persons

An Interview with Marta Bogdańska
Berenika Steinberg
time 10 minutes

Why is it so difficult to let go of a sense of superiority over animals? Are we capable of telling history from their point of view? Berenika Steinberg discusses this topic (and a few others) with Marta Bogdańska, the creator of the Shifters album.

I met the visual artist, photographer and film-maker Marta Bogdańska many years ago, when she was based in Beirut and showing her exhibition about Syrian refugees, Exilium, in Warsaw. This time, we got together to talk about Shifters, Marta’s latest project. Shifters is the title of an exhibition and an album of more than 800 pages. In the book, Marta uses a wealth of archival material to look at the history of using animals in armed forces and intelligence agencies.

Berenika Steinberg: A few years ago, when I heard you were doing a project about animal spies, my initial thought was: “How interesting and fun!” Now that I’ve had a look at Shifters, I realize that ‘fun’ was clearly the wrong word in this context.

Marta Bogdańska: That’s true – this topic does feel exotic and that lures you in initially, like bait. At first, you have no idea what to expect, you become invested in the subject. Only after a while do you realize how scary the story underlying the project really is; what has actually happened to animals in wars and espionage programmes. What we have done, and are still doing, to animals. True, technology has advanced and, when it comes to the army or espionage programmes, animals are used less extensively, having been replaced by drones and other technologies. But other means of exploiting animals


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It’s Possible That Animals Also Perceive Beauty
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You may have seen a photo on the internet of two friendly little penguins that meet in the evenings to admire the Melbourne city lights reflected in the sea, flipper-in-flipper. It’s easy to be skeptical about the interpretation of the shot. But then perhaps humans aren’t the only creatures capable of delight. 

You don’t have to be a romantic to see that the natural world is full of beauty. From picturesque landscapes to unbelievably colorful birds and fish—all around us there are sights that can provide even the least emotionally-inclined person a moment of aesthetic pleasure. As someone who isn’t (or at least doesn’t consider themselves to be) overly effusive, I still find it hugely gratifying when, for example, our ship weighs anchor in Ilulissat, Greenland, and sails into the fairy-tale world of yellow-crimson sunsets and incredibly blue icebergs reflected in an expanse of liquid gold. At such moments, I can almost hear a gentle clicking in my head: everything falls into place, and the world surrounding me feels exactly as it should be. There’s no place I’d rather be. 

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