Daniel Lee

MANIMALS

Camera art

Daniel Lee Interview / Camera Art

1 Your works seem to be based on two kinds of inspiration: on one hand, the animal qualities of humans, as the most authentic and ancient part of their existence and as expression of their biological history; on the other hand, a new kind of zoomorphic aesthetics, as a very cultural question. Which kind of inspiration is more important for you?

I grew up in Taiwan, a traditionally Buddhist environment. Buddhists believe in reincarnation and the circle of life, which includes humans and animals alike. Personally, however, I am partial to Darwin’s theory of evolution. I believe we still retain some animal instincts within our behavior as well as a degree of physical resemblance.

2 Your characters are animalized humans or humanized animals? Or, more simply, are they maybe inhabitants of a different dimension, as opposed to the mainstream guidelines of contemporary society, which tend to take away our personal identity?

Most characters I’ve made so far are basically animalized humans, besides the “Origin” series. I sought to create images that struck closer to home – portraits that bore an eerily realistic resemblance to our human side. However, on a deeper level, beneath the flesh, I feel that we are closer in nature to our animal counterparts than most would believe.

Despite the entire history of human evolution, our existence is only a few steps surpassed by other animals.

3 What is your opinion about the ancient theories about zoo-physiognomy? (In Italian and European renaissance culture there have been several researchers who tried to point out the animal characteristics in human features). Do you think that animal-like looks in the face of someone can determine or represent the character of that person?

As it pertains to my work, no matter how much animal-likeness is shown in my pictures, I did it as an expression of artistic fantasy. It was never in my interest to make a statement about the link between human and animal features. I believe that’s also the difference between illustration and art.

I do think that the animal-like looks in the face of someone can determine or represent the character of that person. Some traditional Chinese people also believe that animal-like looks would determine a person’s life as well. For instance, a pig-looking person would be having a happier or wealthier life than others. I think that was how Chinese Zodiac mythology started.

4 Do you think that animals can still be an important inspiration in contemporary art? Many people think that any trendy artistic research today somehow has to relate to inorganic technology: what is your opinion on this?

Well, the computer, the internet, the new technology is about to change our world into a new age; it motivates today’s artists for sure. But I don’t believe that all trendy artistic research needs to be related to inorganic technology today. Actually, my earlier work “Judgement” series has been included in a major event “Gene(sis)”, Contemporary Art Explores Human Genomics recently in Seattle. Sooner or later, the biotechnology is going to change our life. From all of the animal cloning and stem-cell research, I think that the relationship between animals and humans would be close than ever.

5 The human or animal body appears to be a very important point of your works. But the bodies you represent seem to live beyond our actual present time; they could be part of some kind of parallel world. What do we have in common with your creatures?

To be honestly with you, before each project, I had no idea what a half-human, half-ox man should look like. After working intensely on the work for a few weeks, it could sometimes ended up being an unexpected image even to me.

The characters I create have the spirit of an animal, but they still can resemble a person you might know or have seen from somewhere. Like the creatures I created, we as humans all share animal-like qualities such as instincts, the desire to hunt, and the inborn competitiveness to survive. What I’ve tried to say in these portraits is to emphasize that humans and animals are still sharing many similarities.

6 Do you think that western culture still bears in it some kind of prejudice, that won't allow us to live our relationship to animals in a correct way?

I see Western culture as a good example of natural selection. People compete with one another and the strongest survive. Unfortunatilly, humans are selfish in general and see other animals only as lesser inhabitants of this planet.

Traditionally, people in the east used to treat animals as fellow creature to humans. Therefore, Buddists won’t kill any life including all animals; people believe reincarnation with animals and the Chinese Zodiac represents12 different animals in the year of birth.

7 In your works Darwin's theories of evolutionism seem to go beyond science, becoming a new input and inspiration for creativity. On the other hand, there is also a strong reminder about metempsychosis, the transmigration of souls between animal bodies and human bodies, as a religious and philosophical question. Do you think that these different traditions could have something in common?

Well, thanks for your compliment. I made the series of “Origin” which I took on as a challenge to my ability to be able to transform a fish into our human form. It was the first time that I switched the subject of my art from eastern mythology to western scientific evolution. My prior works viewed animals as a fellow species of humans, within the reincarnation cycle. Meanwhile my evolution series looked upon animals as our ancestors.

Yes, I had crossed both traditions since I was raised by both cultures. There’s one thing in common, which both tradition believe that humans and animals are related. Eastern religions explained the relationship by the point view of paralleled space, and some western scientists suggested it under the transformation of time.

8 We are used to consider "animality" as belonging to our instincts and
ancient biological memories. But couldn't it also be a cultural question?

I think that you’ve just point out a very sensitive question. In my opinion, I think that the major western religions won’t accept Buddhist’s cycle of reincarnation. Of course, conservative people would also be against Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. As a result, it limits the study about to consider "animalism" as belonging to our instincts and ancient biological memories.

The good thing is that, not all scientists and modern artists would totally agreed with western religion, instead, they would search and explore for the right answer for ever.