Review of Candice Lin’s The Animal Husband

Candice Lin, Piss Protection Demon, 2022. Glazed ceramic and wolf piss. Installation view. Courtesy Talbot Rice Gallery, University of Edinburgh. Photo: Sally Jubb.

Exhibition under review

Candice Lin
The Animal Husband
Talbot Rice Gallery, University of Edinburgh
16 March – 1 June 2024

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Upon first entering “The Animal Husband,” Candice Lin’s first solo exhibition in Scotland, one is confronted by the aroma of wolf piss. Piss Protection Demon (2022) greets visitors austerely, its feline body and punctured head emanating an acrid, milky smell while never quite congealing into a stable form. There is a dark, damp, and erotic energy that echoes throughout this former 19th-century natural history museum. Weaving in older sculptural and media works alongside new pieces designed specifically for the space, Lin’s “The Animal Husband” ruminates on institutional complicity in the work of empire and the possibilities and fissures in thinking human-animal relations under the Western colonial regime.

Lin’s interventions into dominant narratives around the human and animal are at times grotesque, with gratuitous references to bestiality and castration. Her insistence on not looking away, indeed in paying sustained attention to the animal, allows her to question how the category of the “human” is constructed and maintained through Enlightenment and colonial ideals. Yet Lin takes care not to collapse human and animal struggle onto one another, instead carefully sifting through the ways that narratives of human ownership and supremacy over the non-human have leaked into characterizations of groups of people as animal-like to justify slavery, war, colonization, and genocide.

Candice Lin, ‘The Animal Husband’. Installation view. Courtesy Talbot Rice Gallery, University of Edinburgh. Photo: Sally Jubb.

The video piece that lies at the center of the exhibition, The Animal Husband (2024), juxtaposes stop-motion claymation of the artist and her cat, Roger (or the cat and his human, Candice), alongside Roger’s own speculative narrative about shared human-feline histories and the harvesting of his “ball juice.” Interspersed throughout the video are color-inverted photos from the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Slide Collection. As noted in the description of the archives online, the collection includes “photographs of indigenous peoples from around the world, international travel scenes, [… and] images and portraits of domestic animals (chiefly sheep, poultry, cows and pigs).” Here, we see the easy ontological and rhetorical slippage between indigenous peoples, tourism, and domesticated animals under the administrative archival gaze of empire. The exhibition’s title is tied to the natural history museum as both a space and a colonial entity. It plays cleverly with the multiple meanings of husband/husbandry, connoting patriarchal and heterosexual notions of forced breeding and taboo human-animal intimacies.

What makes something tame or wild or something to eat or something to love? Lin deconstructs and analyzes her desire to pet or sleep with her cat by entangling human bodies and hands with fur and feathers. We might read her turn to these textures through Rizvana Bradley’s notion of the haptic, “resistive practices whose perverse affinities and anti-generic tendencies move us toward the composition of different times, spaces, and zones of experience,” or Sharon Holland, Marcia Ochoa, and Kyla Wazana Tompkins’s theorizations of the visceral, that “abject and erotic territory—the blood and guts, the cum and shit… [that construct] the human and the non-human in the context of a transcolonial, transnational, and hemispheric modernity.”1 This attention to the erotics of the conjoined and entangled human-animal body gestures to the ungovernable possibilities of touch and feeling.

Based on early female anatomical models, The Moon/Inside Out (2013) consists of a dismembered pelvis, vagina open onto the viewer and innards spilling out onto the table. Look inside the opening between the white ceramic vaginal folds and there is a video depicting constructions of white femininity in relation to the racialized other. To watch the video, I had to fall to my knees, eyes open to the hole in front of me. Many viewers will likely miss it entirely—the piece is also tucked away in the corner of the second floor, almost hidden. Lin seems to want us to think with her, to put in the work. Indeed, as we have seen throughout the exhibition, Lin does not simply want us to look at, but through, between, into. To follow Joshua Bennett’s writing on blackness and animality, it may behoove us to embrace “getting out of animality by going through it.”2

Candice Lin, ‘The Animal Husband’. Installation view. Courtesy Talbot Rice Gallery, University of Edinburgh. Photo: Sally Jubb.

At the very back of the exhibition is an image of what looks to be a flower. Cicatrix (2024) is based on medical diagrams of castrated eunuchs, composed by an American missionary doctor who served as personal physician to the Chinese royal family in the 19th-century. Lin has fashioned this invasive diagram into a mural, and it stands opposite Piss Protection Demon (2024), simultaneously beautiful and abject. In Lin’s design of the exhibition, the building, too, is castrated. There is a disruptive intention woven into Lin’s usage of space. The single screen hanging from the wall spins and reflects light in wayward directions. The second-floor alcoves shine under an eerie red glow that directs viewers’ gazes upwards. Lin has carved illustrations into the top layers of paint and mortar. Dust and debris still line the floor from these feral incisions. The multimedia show and its various talismans—amulets, collars, kites, illustrations, and videos—recall a mutated place of both worship and ritualistic desecration.

The stakes of Lin’s excavation of animalized otherness became even clearer after I left the exhibition and shared lunch with some of the students encamping on the University of Edinburgh’s Old College Quad. The Talbot Rice Gallery sits, mere steps away, in one of the surrounding buildings. The encampment had begun just the day before, dedicated to “the countless Palestinians who have been martyred.” One of the students informed me of another violence specific to this place, where former Prime Minister Arthur Balfour was both Chancellor of the University and Britain’s Foreign Secretary when he issued the Balfour Declaration in 1917. Almost ten years earlier, he wrote that “[the different races] have been different and unequal since history began; different and unequal they are destined to remain.”3 This is the language to which Lin gives form, and it is the language, too, that resurfaces in the present when, for instance, Israel Defense Minister Yoav Gallant says that his nation is “fighting human animals.”

Candice Lin’s work provokes us to unfurl shared histories across colonial space-time through human and non-human material. The violence of the natural history museum and the university are not spared here. Our halls are not hallowed. “Castration is still possible” is emblazoned across one of the dyed kites hanging from the ceiling. Yes, we might still (choose to) alter ourselves radically. We might embrace a different way of making sense of the world, and being in ethical relation to one another. We might lay ourselves bare.

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Thank you to curator James Clegg for offering me a walkthrough of the exhibition.

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  1. Rizvana Bradley, “Introduction: Other Sensualities,” Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory 24, no. 2–3 (September 2, 2014): 131; Sharon P. Holland, Marcia Ochoa, and Kyla Wazana Tompkins, “On the Visceral,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 20, no. 4 (October 1, 2014): 394.
  2. Joshua Bennett, Being Property Once Myself: Blackness and the End of Man (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2020), 2.
  3. Arthur James Balfour, Decadence: Henry Sidgwick Memorial Lecture (Cambridge, UK: University Press, 1908), 47. Nicola Perugini has written a fascinating piece that looks deeper into the ties between the university and the British empire that Arthur Balfour specifically sought to cultivate.