Lisa Roet

As I have gone along with this project the world has changed and somehow the image of the ape and monkey keeps being relevant in being symbolic of these changes.

Tell us a little about your background – what did you study and what path led you to what you are doing today?

I was always interested in animal behaviour, animal language, and apes as a child and wanted to study zoology after leaving school. I did not do well in Physics so I could not reach University level for this study. Instead I had an art teacher at school who encouraged me to study Fine Art. In 1988, after art school, I moved to Berlin and lived there for 5 years. I first started working with the image of the ape as a way of looking at mankind while the wall was coming down in Berlin. I had travelled through the Soviet Union and was interested in the differences between socialism and democracy, and how this shaped its people.

I started watching the interaction between West and East Germans, I was drawing in zoos in both East and West Berlin. I noticed fundamental differences in the way the apes were kept in their enclosures. By drawing the ape, it was a way of projecting the humanity around me. I think also because my German language was limited at that time I was focused on body language as a way of helping me to understand my own environment. As I have gone along with this project the world has changed and somehow the image of the ape and monkey keeps being relevant in being symbolic of these changes. Scientific discoveries such as the genome and DNA, environmental issues, global warming and deforestation all involve the study of apes. I am also interested in how we perceive the image of the ape as 'The Other' through popular culture. King Kong, Planet of the apes just to name a few.

What was the inspiration for your commission through Global Project Space?

In 2016 I became aware of the depth of nature to be found in Yunnan and also the discovery of new subspecies of animals and in particular monkeys. And like many other places and animals on earth, these new subspecies are also on the critically endangered list. I have spent many years documenting the newly discovered species of monkeys being discovered worldwide. I became a documenter, in the traditional sense of the old research missions such as in Darwin and Wallace's travels. These new species are all endangered as deforestation was the reason for their discovery. In 2007 I travelled with a science team into central Borneo as part of the Australian National University research Primatology team looking for a newly discovered, but at the time no yet photographed or documented monkey called a Slivery Langur. After this I followed other such discoveries globally. In January 2017 I read about a newly discovered sub-species of Gibbon found in Yunnan Province by a Chinese led international team of scientists. My imagination was captured by the fact that the scientist, Professor Pengfei loved Luke Skywalker from StarWars and hence called this new species of gibbon, the Skywalker Gibbon. I straight away started fantasising about building a giant SKYWALKER to reach out over the skyline of Beijing, one of the biggest urban centres in the world. Gibbons are also the only primates, other than humans whom are monogamous. They partner for life (though sometimes stray behind the backs of their partners). Their love call to each other is beautiful and I have often heard it in the forests. The artwork at The Opposite House SKYWALKER Gibbon has a love call, a recording of a male gibbon calling for love. Its call is projected over the roof tops of Beijing.

What books have influenced your life and work?

'The Shadow of Man' by Jane Goodall.

Frans De Waal, a Primatologist who's scientific, yet 'popularist' enough that it (his writing) is easy to get into - 'The Age of Empathy, Peacemaking amongst Primates' and 'Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex Amongst Apes' are incredible. He uses all his research into apes to compare to human behaviour. Really powerful!

Werner Herzog documentaries about Man's relationship with nature - 'Even Dwarfs Started Small' and more recently, ' White Diamond'. Though not for the faint-hearted!

'High Rise' and 'The Drowned World' by JG Ballard - both 'instinctual and amazing'.

Have films also influenced you?

All documentaries by Werner Hertzog

What projects do you have planned for the next year?

I am now working on two projects. One is a collaboration with Chinese artist Shen Shaomin, which is a video/performance work to be exhibited in Frankfurt later this year. The other is a new 20m work, an Orang-Utan for the new World Trade Centre in Jakarta to be installed in 2019 with an accompanying installation at Art Jogjakarta 2019.

  • Lisa Roet

    Visual Artist