Carla Bengtson, Learning Lizard, 2017, lizard head bob interactions, site document, A-Z West, Joshua Tree, CA


Every Word was Once an Animal

March 07, 2020 to November 29, 2020

This exhibition is part of a collaborative creative project led by UO Professor of Art, Carla Bengtson that merges art, science, dance, music, and olfaction. Inspired by the research of Dr. Emilia Martins (Arizona State University) on the group learned, gestural language of Western fence lizards, Every Word was Once an Animal explores the overlapping forces of nature and culture between humans, animals, and language. The interdisciplinary exhibition blends Bengtson’s playful investigations into the lifeworlds of nonhuman animals with choreographer Darion Smith’s interest in embodied language, composer Juliet Palmer’s investigations into the material possibilities and constraints of human and nonhuman utterance, and artist Jessie Rose Vala’s evocations of the intimate relationship between sculptural form and the mythic mind.

For the exhibition, the team will transform the Focus Gallery into a hybridized, multisensory space that evokes the embodied and olfactory sensory worlds and communication strategies of Western fence lizards, or blue bellies, immersing the visitor in a world that is neither fully human nor fully lizard. Throughout the duration of the exhibition, dancers will periodically enter the gallery and initiate a non-verbal dialogue with museum visitors. By shining a light on the parallel and differing ways in which humans and animals create and perform meaning, Every Word was Once an Animal challenges the stereotypical divisions of mind/body and human/animal, while making it more difficult for its audience to disregard the perspectives, desires, and rights of other species.

This exhibition was made possible through a JSMA Academic Support Grant, grants from the University of Oregon’s College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Art + Design, along with funding and support from the Oregon Arts Commission, the Ford Family Foundation, Spring Creek Projects’ Long-term Ecological Reflections Program, and the Center for Art Research.

Online Resources:
Gallery Guide
Video: A Minute Exhibit
Video: Every Word Was Once an Animal
ideo: Darion Smith dances in the installation at JSMA, 2020

Every Word was Once an Animal: Virtual Tour