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 April 19, 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.

Your Body, Our Language Performance Schedule

Thursday, April 9             
3-3:45 p.m.
5-5:45 p.m.

Friday, April 10 and Saturday, April 11                       
12-12:30 p.m.
1-1:45 p.m.
3-3:30 p.m.
4-4:45 p.m.

Saturday, April 18
1:15-2 p.m.   

Darion Smith - Direction
Composer - Juliet Palmer     
Costumes - Carla Bengtson
Dancers - Agnese Cebere, Kendra Lady,  Amber Noel, Christopher Slayton

Come immerse yourself in an interactive dance exhibit directed by choreographer, Darion Smith in collaboration with composer, Juliet Palmer and dancers. The 45-minute interactive dance exhibit and performance is based on nonverbal communication through the lens of Carla Bengtson's work with western fence lizards (Sceloporus occidentalis) commonly known as the blue-belly. Smith, Palmer, and dancers create a world where sound and movement challenge our senses to reexamine our surroundings and how gesture, innate or learned, reads and is read. To begin, the public is invited to observe as well as interact with the dancers who communicate with each other and the public solely through an exchange of gestures, as they move throughout the exhibit. The interactive dance exhibit segues into a performance that follows the dancers in a procession from the Focus Gallery into the Barker Gallery. In the open space of the Barker Gallery the public can observe the dancers perform more nuanced gestures within movement scores in which dance finds common ground with the world of western fence lizards. 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.