I saw Rachel Mayeri’s work about a year back in an anthropology class. I didn’t think much of it the first time but now that I have a chance to revisit it, I thought Primate Cinema took a very interesting take on simplifying emotions through the reactions of chimpanzees and it helped me gain a greater understanding of how human emotions arrived the point today.
Mayeri did a series of research regarding chimpanzee and with the help of psychologist, Dr. Sarah-Jane Vick, they created a human disguised as chimp drama and filmed a group of chimpanzee’s reaction alongside with it. The film the chimps watched triggered many emotions that would otherwise take longer to unleash if it was just a regular day, some of the drama included status, territory, and sex. The part that fascinated me the most is how the chimps did not have their full attention on the television. It might be because of their short attention span but I would like to think that they do it because they want to see other chimps’ reactions to certain scenes. I think often times people forget that a drama is a form of art and entertainment, and is created to manifest some sort of reaction. Our daily lives are usually not as interesting and amusing as television shows, and sometimes these television shows can create false expectations when viewers get really into it. Through Mayeri’s work, I was able to see how television is used as a social portal rather than a space people use to escape from reality. Having so many different things happen in 11 minutes is definitely not normal and for them to have this kind of reaction is quite extraordinary because they recognized that this is something unfamiliar and they questioned it. Another part that I like is how the mom and daughter reacted to and treated during the sex scene. Because they cannot conceal their arousal, it created a very interesting environment that would not otherwise happen in a human social environment. The film uncovered many reactions that people in our society has already categorized as ordinary and uninteresting. I think it is great that the artist was able to get such a great reaction out of the chimps given that they can only communicate through body language and prerecorded sounds.
I think it would be interesting to include a third screen to the installation and see how other group of chimps from a totally different location reacts to the original chimps’ reaction. The chimps at the Edinburgh zoo probably watched people every day and through that, a common norm might have been established between them. A group from America from might react totally differently. It would be cool if she tried playing with some of the dynamics around too, like separating the males and females between a glass window or with an opaque barrier to see how they react with and without the presence of the opposite sex.