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The Misplaced Contentment

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15 April - 27 May, Abject Gallery, Breeze Creatives, Sunderland, SR1 1RE, UK
Funded by Sunderland Culture

The Misplaced Contentment is a drawing-video installation, a site mirroring artist Dr. Qi Fang Colbert’s inner zoo, a place where the misplaced ‘creatures’ obtain their ‘lives’ under the audience’s gaze. It attempts to remind the audience how our indulgent gaze at a zoo and its animals can ‘fools us by normalising the strangeness of the enforced collages of distinct life forms regarding their biological difference. It invites the viewers to re-consider what is the ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ under the human’s gaze and its power on shaping the shifting boundaries in-between.


Qi interprets a zoo as a site of ‘misplaced contentment’ made for gazing at the controversial and conflicting arrangements relying on technology. It is a false but convincing, working miniature ecosystem mimicking the perfect world of Nature to make impossible encounter of species happen. It makes us forget the obvious strangeness of the abnormal assemblage to force heterogenous life forms into one collective site.

Are the ‘misplaced’ zoo lives in the false ‘contentment’, or do we seers project our misled contentment to them? There is the South American capybara’s pond sharing the Malaysia tapir, the caged cave of Siberian lynx residing by the tree house of Madagascar lemurs, the Antarctic fox’s walled field by a cage holding African birds of prey, which together collages into a surreal picture, a spot on the map between highways. And where’s our sensibility to spot the weird fact that we put great effort in creating this artificial nature on an urban land which has succeeded to drive out the nature by civilisation?

Qi is doubt about her enjoyment gazing at the zoo animals. She treats it as a creative, projective and imaginative making process, a gain of new knowledge by imagining the absent. The gaze penetrates the glass and cage, leaping between where we stand and the beyond searching for the hidden and absent and enables the minds to intrude somewhere naturally rejects us. It shortens or twists the distance between the safe and dangerous, human and wild. A child can safely gaze closely at a fierce lion’s wide-open house behind the glass. While it inevitably peel us off our natural reaction to wildness by silently normalising the weird displays and simplifies our physical relationship with the creatures. But, what happens if we retrieve the instinct to strangeness and wild?

The installation brought the artist’s mental zoo to sight, in which Qi shows her interpretation of wildness to the viewers and call for their refreshed instinct to sense nature in the clueless walk. The mutual gaze between the viewer and the ‘creatures’ springing out of the deformed, misplaced, odd shapes transform the space between the real and conceptual a united but shifting ‘ecosystem’, the aura of the exaggerated strangeness, where both sides are entitled to be conscious subjective to view, seek and discover. We update out sense of ‘surprise’ by admitting ‘individual’ (live or lifeless) is misplaced into an unknown wild beyond sense.

The collaged ‘rocky mound’, ’‘woods’ and ‘glass screen’ expand their domains on the walls and bring the prostrating ‘creatures’ close to the nose. ‘Birds’ walking across the screen in the projections fade in and out, bring in and out their invisible habitats of the blank walls and ‘escape’ from the gallery ceiling windows. Dimmed or brightened, projection lights produce the temporary enlightenment from the confusion.


There, Qi questions the audience how to tell, or are we able to tell ‘others’ from ‘us’, ‘the misplaced’ from ‘the rightful’, the outsiders from the insiders, the weird and common? Does the gaze construct or deconstruct the boundary in between, if we are nothing but little lives in the Russian dolls? Are we truly mobilised or prohibited by what we see as boundaries? Are we fulfilling or withdrawn? Are our ‘inner animals’ gazing or being gazed, enclosed or escaped?

‘O, I got a zoo, I got a menagerie, inside my ribs, under my bony head, under my red-valve heart—and I got something else: it is a man-child heart, a woman-child heart: it is a father and mother and lover: it came from God-Knows-Where: it is going to God-Knows-Where.’

Wildness, Car Sandburg


“As with every bottomless gaze, as with the eyes of the other, the gaze called “animal” offers to my sight the abyssal limit of the human: the inhuman or the human, the ends of man, that is to say, the border crossing from which vantage man dares to announce himself to himself, thereby calling himself by the name that he believes he gives himself.”

David Wills, in The Animal That Therefore I Am

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