From Leonardo Book Series
Mediologies of Animal Representation
The interdependency of animal emissaries and media changes, from early European colonial encounters with the exotic to today's proliferation of animals in digital media.
Digital screens and spaces are crowded with animal bodies, from cat videos to corporate logos. In Virtual Menageries, Jody Berland examines the role of animals in the spread of global networks. Her richly illustrated study links today's proliferation of animals on social media to the aristocratic collection of exotic animals in the formative years of transcontinental exploration and expansion. By tracing previously unseen parallels across this history, Berland shows how and why animals came to bridge peoples, territories, and technologies in colonial and capitalist cultures.
Berland's genealogy of the virtual menagerie begins in 1414 when a ruler in Bengal sent a Kenyan giraffe to join a Chinese emperor's menagerie. It revisits the beaver's role in the colonial settlement of Canada, and maps the appearances of animals in early moving pictures, computing software, cell phone marketing, social media, and relaxation soundtracks. The menagerie is reinvented for the digital age, Berland shows, when image and sound designers use parts or images of animals to ensure the affective promise and commercial spread of an emergent digital infrastructure. These animal emissaries enliven and domesticate the ever-expanding field of mediation. Virtual Menageries offers a unique account of animals and animal images as mediators that encourage complicated emotional, economic and aesthetic investment in changing practices of connection.