Interspecies Eden

Interspecies Eden
Installation views.

Interactive mixed media environment and performance. 
Designed for both rodent and human play, discovery, and tactile exploration.

Interspecies Eden was a hybrid environment and performative installation that played with the participants’ perception of scale, landing in the register of installation for humans, and conversely, operating as a sprawling, multisensorial, and explorable landscape for rats. The scientific research of Jaak Panksepp also figured prominently into the conceptualization of the installation, as Panksepp’s work in affective neuroscience charted six networks of emotion in the brain that are fundamentally analogous across all mammal species: play, care, seeking, rage, fear, and lust. The Eden installation was designed with the first three in mind, using play, care, and active exploration (seeking) as a universally-mammalian way of engaging spectator-participants.

The work was also an expanded version of my own bedroom, which had doubled as a rodent “free roam” space for the seven years (2011 - 2018) in which I cohabitated with companion rats. Importantly, these objects were not constructed for the installation; they were gradually accrued, built, and given to the rats as gifts: cardboard castles, straw dwellings, fleece blankets, hammocks, suspended nooks, artificial ponds, river rocks, yarn bundles, and more. These objects were child-like but also battered, documenting a material history of having been lived in. Constellations of nibble-marks were prominent, and tousled fabrics were layered with napkins and arranged into nests, according to the idiosyncratic logic of each rat. A faint whiff of rodent urine lingered in the cardboard. The work was a physical record of their activities—a trace of their actions and memories as well as mine.

This assemblage of objects existed in various iterations before being temporarily recontextualized for the gallery. Transposing private, domestic objects into an art installation effectively domesticized public space, while also functioning as a demonstration of an alternate form of kinship. Here was the ephemera of a family unit in which “pests” and retired psychology experiment subjects had been raised as adopted children. This utopian notion of an alternative, trans-species family was at the heart of the Interspecies Eden project, and so its form relied upon conjuring up associated aesthetics of domesticity: the handmade, feminine crafts, and the child-like.