In a pristine white space of the Centre d’art Neuchâtel in Switzerland (CAN), the camera used in Linda Tegg’s video Goat Study Part Two (2011) pans our view very slowly around an unusual triangular plinth upon which a sentient young black and white goat stands. With the platform at the top being so small, the goat seems forced to stand still but for the occasional twitch of its ears, movement of its head or when its tongue emerges to lick its lips – behaviour that is nothing ‘out of the ordinary’ except when it occasionally shifts its dainty hooves around the edges of the platform with an agility that enables its body to circulate as if to keep the camera in its view while the animal’s head stays in ours.
Its quite the reverse of Goat Study Part One (2011), where our view remains static as five goats move or stand in various combinations on the floor of another white space in CAN with windows to an external world along its walls. Instead, the pace of the camera’s movement around the lone black and white goat in Part Two intensifies the whiteness of the second, more enclosed space. This induces a visual experience that resembles gazing into a white void, where time and space are collapsed into a distorted sense of infinity but for the unusual ‘statue’ that is set central to the space and our view. And herein lies the poetry of Part Two: with its head raised for most of the time, the young animal appears as proud as the tradition of sculpture it recalls from across the ages, to works like Michelangelo’s David and beyond, when the human form was made to stand majestically in its marble perfection atop its plinth. But this statue is living, and what is more, its a goat – a herd animal with references extending as far back as ancient Greece and rarely considered to exist anywhere other than in a landscape or as a meal.
Tegg’s proposition is made complete with Goat Study Part Three (2011) and Goat Study Part Four (2011). While the still photographs of the former highlight the living aspect of her ‘statue’, captured as it climbs down from the plinth’s apex, the latter is a short video showing the animal in its ‘natural’ environment – ie. a sloping green meadow scattered with wildflowers – but in an unnatural stance, standing on a white plinth for a few minutes until it alights to do what we can only presume as the screen whites-out: to frolick in or eat the grass.
The four parts of Goat Study (2011) build on her poignant work Sheep (2009), a video tryptich of another herd animal. While each animal was selected in response to the locations or countries in which her works were produced – the goats in Switzerland, the sheep in Australia – both demonstrate a sophisticated discourse Tegg has developed by combining physical construct with behavioural constraint to playfully question the traditions and clichés that underpin her animal or human subjects as well as the production of meaning in art.
This is particularly evident in the latter half of Goat Study Part Two, when the camera, by circulating closer to the goat, intensifies a sense of living poetry in the animal’s constraint. The combination of its unusual stance in an unnatural environment becomes a reflexive tool to question clichés regarding the animal’s rural identity but also various art historical traditions: from the pure white modernist space of the gallery that controls the way we see and interact with art to the sculptural tradition of using plinths to set beautiful objects above ourselves and enhance a sense of awe. Being triangular, however, this plinth symbolises a mountain, a form that goats are often associated with but which also refers to the site the work was produced in.
With Sheep (2009), on the other hand, the viewer is placed between a pair of large screens hanging opposite each other. One screen shows a majestic sheep walking through acres of long grass until it arrives at a slightly raised viewpoint where it stops and looks across the field, as if in search of something. Perhaps this is for the girl crying on the opposite screen, who the sheep is eventually seen standing, quite protectively, behind. By imbuing it with such pathos Tegg undermines the reductive attitude held towards the animal, seen so much as a product for its wool and meat since colonization in Australia that it yielded the colloquialism “living off the sheep’s back”. Finally, on the third, smaller screen of the tryptich which is placed low and horizontally at a distance from the bigger screens, we look down to observe how the animals were trained to do what Tegg captured in her diptych in the gallery in which Sheep was exhibited.
In appropriating specific methods of display in art, and filming at least part of Goat Study and Sheep in the galleries in which they are exhibited, the processes involved in the construction of their meaning is simultaneously reflected back into the work and revealed to the viewer. Interestingly, this process becomes literal by Tegg’s incorporation of mirrors in two other video works, Dancer (2010) and Wolf (2011). By reflecting the (as titled) subjects and their ‘natural’ and unnatural environments back to themselves, they and the audience are made complicit in the process of realising the cultural ideals they represent; while one exposes the almost ridiculous discipline of ballet that requires training of the human body so it fits within its physical ideals, the other explores the ‘wild’-ness of Mexican Gray Wolves who sit on the cusp of domesticity and wilderness as, now extinct in Mexico, they are bred and trained by humans who live ‘next door’, in Texas.
By combining and revealing the physical constructs of site with behavioural constraints on her subjects, it is with poetry and poignancy that her works undermine our view of such cultural ideals. The view of both the aforementioned herd animals as commodities is cleverly replaced by the artist’s ability to give them individuality, intelligence and dignity. This is highlighted in knowing that the apparent constraint of her subjects is a conceit, Tegg working much of the time with animal trainers to induce this appearance in their natural and/or unnatural environments. This is clearly demonstrated in her work Horse (2009), specifically in the photograph of a fully groomed, bridled and saddled horse rearing in the midst of the curving staircase that surrounds it in Melbourne’s Alliance Français building.