Enclosure 99: Humans
Are we human or are we dancer?
This article is from 2011.
The youngest female folds her body into a knot in the corner of the Perspex-fronted cage, slipping her head into the lap of the youngest male. ‘As you can see, this one is particularly flexible,’ explains the zookeeper, wryly. ‘And this one; well, we think he’s going to be a good breeder.’ A slightly older male begins to imitate one of the children in the crowd, to her delight. The rest of the pack are bored, listless and rained on. One of them begins a slapping, whirling movement around the sides of the cage, beating his palms against the glass, and slowly, the others pick it up, copying each others’ variations intently. When they reach us, they stare briefly, wide-eyed.
Janis Claxton has been here before: in 2008, she and three other dancers took over an area of Edinburgh Zoo for Enclosure 44 (the revision in number comes from the percentage of DNA that humans share with chimpanzees), but this time, she’s working with a far bigger pack. Five of her ‘human animals’ – the dancers moving wordlessly around a zoo enclosure, open to the public and on show from 10am-6pm every day – are from China, others from Holland, Australia and New Zealand. They’re constantly engaged in loose, improvised movement which tests the limits of their group and their bonds, and, given this year’s weather, has clearly put them under some very real strain too.
The dancers aren’t acting animal, exactly: even while their silence makes them seem more feral, the movements they find themselves in are still definitely human, but there’s something about the artificial division between them and us that keeps an audience made up of passers-by, amused children and bemused parents, staring right back. It calls to mind the routine barbarity of reality television; it also works as an uneasy commentary on some of Enclosure 99’s neighbours.
Edinburgh Zoo, 314 0350, until 28 Aug, 10am–6pm (last entry 5pm), entry with zoo ticket: £15.50 (£5 for children under 15 years).