Chimaera is a series of five sculptures of animal-people by Kristine & Colin Poole, a couple working out of Santa Fe. The sculptures are of animal people, with a focus on nudity and sexuality, featuring the juxtaposition of animal heads on human bodies.
The idea behind these sculptures is nothing new. The figures are overtly sexual and sexualized. The sexual drive is common to all mammals, human and non-human, and so the use of non-human heads on a sexualized human body highlights our status as mere animals.
It’s a common trope in anthropomorphic art, common enough to be upended three hundred years ago in Jonathan Swift’s 1726 satirical novel Gulliver’s Travels. Gulliver’s final misadventure is to the island of the houyhnhnms, rational horses that have been stripped of identifiable animalistic drives, akin to Star Trek’s vulcans. Humans appear on this island, absent of reason and logic. By making the humans overtly ‘animalistic’ and the horses ‘rational’, Swift is able to highlight the base drives behind many of our actions, and also how extreme rationality can led to inhumane acts.
Kristine and Colin Poole’s intent is less complex. On her website, Kristine says:
“The Chimaera series reinterprets world mythology and cultural stories through anthropomorphic imagery and explores the relationship between human and animal expression, spirits and emotions. These figures emphasize the unity of our cultural roots and revisit the allure of storytelling—how people have, since ancient history, told stories of human and animal attributes combining with magical results.”
Each sculpture is intended to call back to a specific story or myth, so the goat-girl* above is intended to be the goddess Fauna, the female complement of Faunus (and Roman counterpart of the better-known Pan). Below we see a representation of the Egyptian deity Bastet:
To me, the connection of these sculptures to myth and storytelling feels like post hoc reasoning. I don’t think that the connection holds up to analysis.
Going back to Fauna, her body is that of a young woman, perhaps in her early 20s. She is in good shape and her breasts are a good size—maybe B or C cup—and perfectly symmetrical. It’s fair to say that her body is a mainstream idealized representation of the female form.
Fauna’s pose is overtly sexual, thrusting her chest out to increase the focus on her breasts, with the left hand on her hip drawing attention to her crotch. Her legs are spread, and she is wearing a g-string that is out of context with any supposed connection to ancient storytelling, or the muddying of the animal and human worlds.
I would describe Fauna’s body and pose as porny. There are no identifiable animalistic elements below her head. It feels to me like the animal head helps us to perceive her as purely sexual, lacking human agency and of value only for the pleasures her body might bring. You could make the same comments about Pretty Little Pussy above, and of Z’s Tease, below:
Z’s Tease is a supposed reference to Zarafa, a giraffe gifted to Charles X of France in 1827. Zarafa is similarly posed to Fauna, chest out (breasts) and wearing a g-string (crotch), but with the added oddity that Zarafa is a real giraffe rather than a myth. The attempt to link Z’s Tease with Zarafa feels like the Pooles are reaching to find an appropriate myth with which to connect their porny giraffe.
To put it another way, I think that the artistic pretence behind the Chimaera series is bullshit. They are, I think, simply intended to be sexy.
There is one male figure in Chimaera, Hot Diggety Dog:
Diggety may be male, but it’s pretty clear that he is also designed to appeal to the (gay) male gaze. His very human rear is the focus of the piece, and like the female sculptures he is posed to maximize his sexual value at the expense of any human agency or intelligence. It’s telling that his pose is one of supplication, and that his genitals are well hidden from view. He is a senseless object to be admired.
I would have more time for Chimaera if the attending discussions, or interviews with the Pooles, made any reference to the sexual value of the five figures, or even if their explanations simply held water. As it is, at least looking these photographs, I’m inclined to consider them on the same level as the Orangina animals: well-constructed, sexy, artless.
In one interview, the Pooles explained that they started with the human body, adding the head once they decided “what animal would best embody” the expressions of the human portion. I think that this reinforces my instinct that the animal head is an afterthought, a way of ensuring the sculptures can be sexual without the bother of having real human feelings or emotions.
A line in Colin Poole’s website biography is also telling: “…his corporate client list reads as a “who’s who” of Fortune 500 companies.” I think that, for all the craftsmanship and references to storytelling and myth, the Chimaera sculptures are fundamentally intended to sell. I bet they only attract male buyers.
This sounds more negative than I was intending. I caveat my analysis by pointing out that I am looking at photographs, which means that I cannot properly comment on the sculptures themselves. There is no doubt that a lot of skill and craftsmanship has gone into Chimaera, and it may be that close inspection reveals depths to the works that aren’t clear in these photos.
For me, the best work of art to come from Chimaera is a posed shot of the Pooles working on Fauna.
This photo makes the passive carnality of Fauna overt, and positions the sculptors as her owners. It’s the artist-as-pervert, where Fauna is literally bent to the will of those that give her agency.
Putting aside the clumsy references to myth and storytelling for the moment, Chimaera can be seen as the deliberate and overt dehumanization of objects of sexual desire. Colin Poole’s art in particular features the female form and sexuality. The animal heads on human bodies, which he has previously explored in his paintings, may be a deliberate attempt to remove any personal agency from his subjects, leaving them as pure sexual objects, beautiful carnal animals to be admired and consumed.
Looking at Chimaera from this perspective, the sculptures are less anthropomophic and more zoomorphic. They are humans, but with those elements needed for human communication and intelligence—faces, brains—replaced with that of senseless animals.
Contrast this with typical depictions of Pan, such as this sculpture rescued from the ruins of Pompeii, following its destruction almost 2000 years ago:
Pan’s carnality is the focus of this sculpture, but he clearly has human agency, very different from the subjects of Chimaera. His coupling with the goat blurs the line between human and non-human: Pan is clearly human and the goat non-human, yet they are able to share mutual lust. There is a lot that could be said and written about this piece, which was displayed as part of the Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum at the British Museum last year, but clearly it runs deeper than mere carnality.
I would love to have the opportunity to see Chimaera in person. It is currently being shown in an exhibition space in Santa Fe (details here). If anyone plans to make the trip, let me know.
* Corrected about 90 minutes after publication. I originally, and wrongly, called Fauna a deer-girl. Thanks to Keito in the comments for spotting the error.