Briony Morrow-Cribbs lives and works in Brattleboro Vermont, where, with her friend and fellow printmaker Helen O’Donnell, she co-owns and operates Twin Vixen Press.
Animals are born, are sentient and are moral. In these things they resemble man. In their superficial anatomy – less in their deep anatomy – in their habits, in their time, in their physical capacities, they differ from man. They are both like and unlike.
It is through difference that we contrast ourselves with the world of animals. Observing our ability to develop language and capacity for symbolic thought, we define ourselves by the places where we diverge. By defining through difference, our similarities; such as the experience of inhabiting a physical body, are often pushed aside. However, looking at animals through the lens of what we have in common with them, we are provided with a glimpse of ourselves, a mirror to a part that is otherwise never reflected. Looking from this angle, we can begin to identify a different way to exist, a place where we find ourselves simultaneously detached and linked to the other creatures that inhabit this world.
Keeping in mind that we can hardly avoid seeing one as a reflection of the other, my menagerie is an exploration of the categories, “human” and “animal” and the intersections between the two. My latest body of work uses groupings of animals inhabiting a psychological space usually identified as the domain of the human: emotional interactions and complex relationships. While the representation of a single animal can occupy the space of the “other” (or non-human), the interaction between two or more stresses the commonalities between human and animal. What happens when familiar “human” sentiments are portrayed in the space between two animals? Some of these pieces speak of the qualities of tenderness and vulnerability while others show instinctive and savage moments of procreation – each provides an undeniable link to our beastly counterparts.
In this body of work the projection of the human experience onto the animal breaks down the intricate emotional shifts we usually associate with humans. These works press the viewer to ask certain questions of the presented scenes: Can we continue to define ourselves in opposition to a scene that is charged with the delicate nuances of passion, shame and excitement? Why do we often reserve certain kinds of animal imagery to represent us at our “worst”?
In combining the processes of copper plate etching and hand-tinting I have found the ideal vehicle for the realization of these concepts. Through adopting a tone of scientific objectivity, I can create scenes that are simultaneously tense and engaging. By employing an intricate system of dots, dashes, concentric lines, and then hand-tinting the image with watercolors, my method references early naturalist engravings. The characters, consisting of creatures both real and fantastical, create disturbing juxtapositions while retaining elements of the familiar. Upon viewing these scenes, a moment of subversion occurs, sensations of disgust meet those of longing, the monstrous moves amid the beautiful, between revulsion and desire; creating a moment where boundaries are blurred and classification is denied. And thus are we, finally, confronted by nature.