Becoming Simian: Darwin, Picasso and Creative Evolution
Brauer, F. 2019. Becoming Simian: Darwin, Picasso and Creative Evolution. Doing Darwin Down Under. University of Sydney 23 - 24 Aug 2019
Unconvinced of Charles Bell's theory that the facial muscles of humans were unique in conveying expression, Charles Darwin visited London Zoo to see for himself. Continually he noticed the similarities between primates and humans in expressing pain and suffering, as well as the close proximity of the tittering of monkeys to the laughter of humans. Not only did Darwin discover that primates could use tools but also that they had the facility to make them and share them with one another. To expose the anthropocentric fallacy inherent in homosociality, in The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals Darwin narrated how primates lived in closely-knit communities in which they shared their food, groomed one another while exuding compassion, cooperation and altruism. His research became seminal to Anarcho-Communism, Zoophilia, animal welfare societies and artists alongside the reconception of zoos and natural history museums – none moreso than the Musée national d’histoire naturelle in Paris under the Directorship of Darwinian Neo-Lamarkian zoologist, Edmond Perrier.
While funding facilitated expansion of the collection of live primates in the Jardin des Plantes, postcards of the Galerie des Singes taken around 1901 reveal how apes, gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans and monkeys were situated within the Muséum displays as the culminating point in the evolution of complex organisms. The conjunctions of anatomy in the new displays to convey the Darwinian Transformist message that all organisms are associated became clear to many Modernists, particularly Picasso. That Picasso was familiar with these displays is indicated by his comments to André Malraux about the bones he encountered there appearing “never sculpted” but “moulded” and about his having rounded off the ends whenever he drew them. Equally aware of the Jardin des Plantes, Picasso would sneak in around midnight with the son of zoologist, Joseph Deniker, both pretending to be monkeys and taunting the lions until they roared. Picasso’s performances as simian were captured by his pen and ink drawings, particularly one inscribed Picasso par lui-même in which the monkey-as-Picasso pictures himself with tail unfolding, paintbrush behind one ear, crayon behind the other and a mischievous grin – the kind that Darwin likened to a “hideous grimace”. By no means an isolated example, the prospect of ‘becoming simian’ was pictured by Picasso in various forms throughout his long life.
By focusing upon these conjunctions of Picasso with Darwin’s research, as mediated by the Musée national d’histoire naturelle and Anarcho-Communist discourses, this paper will explore how Picasso’s desire to become simian may be regarded as a quest for a primitive evolutionary state in contact with raw animality, spontaneity and playfulness that he considered had been lost by the civilization, colonization and rationalization of homo-sapiens and their demarcation from animals. By unravelling the relationship of Henri Bergson to Darwin in L’Évolution Créatrice, it will also explore how ‘becoming simian’, following Gilles Deleuze’s and Félix Guattari’s concept of ‘becoming animal’, signified for Picasso “creative evolution” – a new form of consciousness Bergson called “supra-consciousness at the origin of life”.
|Conference||Doing Darwin Down Under|
|Accepted author manuscript|
File Access Level
|Publication process dates|
|Completed||24 Aug 2019|
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