For a political economy of the petting zoo (p. 9-10)
A strange image of emancipation: a cage overgrown by
grass. Do we pity the cage or the animals it once
housed? In its heyday the Forest Park Forest Zoo
staged curious exchanges between children and animals.
Mostly, the children want to lavish physical affection
on its captive animal population. Moreover, the
children's parents pay a nominal fee for the privilege.
The steady succession of petters reduces the animals
to mere receptacles of an otherwise uncomprehending
sympathy. Small bags of feed are sold nearby. Some of
the animals – chiefly the goats – have become quite
adept at extracting these, with a minimum of contact,
from the young visitors. The goats viscerally reject the
premise of The Velveteen Rabbit; they refuse to be cuddled
down to nothing. The children, nonetheless, fundamentally
believe in this principle, whether they've ever
read the story or not. For them, petting is a gateway to
This is a zoo for mammals only. Most of them are
domestic animals. What kind of zoo is that?
The architecture of the petting zoo is curious.
Everything works, but everything is nonetheless proplike.
In this, it owes some allegiance to miniature golf.
The façade is paramount. We see a barn, but we know it
is a “fun barn” because of its alternating red and white
stripes (vaguely reminiscent of a KFC franchise). The
bars of the cages are decidedly less fanciful, but we
tacitly agree to ignore them as a necessary, thus
unavoidable, compromise. You could talk about
spectacle, but it's all too small and too remote.
Everything is too shabby: our hastily assembled and
painted surfaces. You could easily imagine it falling apart. What holds it together is flatness. This flatness
corresponds to snapshots, which correspond to
memory. Luckily, these correspondences truncate the
sorrowfulness of time passing and the crumpled
ambitions of the Forest Park Forest Zoo entrepreneurs.
For some reason, Amy O'Neill decided to makes flats
based on the petting zoo buildings and to display them
in a basement. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
Make no mistake; these are fragments. Yet through
triangulation, people who walk by them might deduce
some spatial sense of the Forest Park Forest Zoo – or,
at least the syntax of its attractions. Displayed
underground, the elements become tomblike. You feel
a lot is missing: the animals, the forest, the sun, etc. Oh
yeah, the children and their parents, but aren't you
standing in for them? The flats are lit by spots. They
cast sharp silhouettes on the basement floor. Walk by
and look over your shoulder. You see the flip side:
unpainted plywood propped up by 2x4s. Look through
the bars and there is nothing. Just bars on one side,
bars you can walk around. The easiest cage in the world
to escape. Or the hardest. You too begin to feel proplike.
What brought you here and what are you supposed
to accomplish? A park is to a forest as a dungeon is to a
basement. Tell me the way to Forest Park.