les presses du réel

Suburban Imagination

extrait
John Miller
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 immortality.

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.
Amy O'Neill : autre titre



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