SEEING AND BEING SEEN: DRAWING AN ANTI-ZOO OF LIBERATED ANIMALS
Hannelie Coetzee’s First Exhibition In America Features 19 Drawings Of Hyenas, Wildebeests,
Zebras, Warthogs, Penguins And Giraffes Frozen In Glimpses Of Queer Intimacy
Washington, D.C. – Morton Fine Art is pleased to present an exhibition of ink on paper drawings from an ongoing eco-queer focused series by Johannesburg, South Africa-based transdisciplinary visual artist Hannelie Coetzee. Bringing together recent drawings—a medium Coetzee has freshly pursued since the pandemic—In mid-loping gait focuses on the artist’s fluid embrace and trenchant application of drawing. Wedding her engaged, direct observation of wildlife with deep research into zoomorphism and queer ecology, the exhibition rethinks ways of being (human) through actual ways of (animals) living, viewing animal life as another nation on par with human life. Coetzee’s first solo exhibition with the gallery, In mid-loping gait will be on view from November 11 to December 19, 2023, at Morton Fine Art’s Washington, D.C. location (52 O St NW #302).
Returning to drawing for the first time since childhood, Coetzee’s ink on paper works are propulsive, almost electric renderings of queer behavior in a suite of animals: hyenas, wildebeests, zebras, warthogs and giraffes. Informed by a foundational reading of eco-queer theory and art, Coetzee’s first steps were very much to become knowledgeable and sensitive to other ways of being—to being otherwise—as demonstrated and embodied by animals. Coetzee shares glimpses of giraffes necking and warthogs bounding about, intently observing them in their own social worlds. Long engaged in an environmentally-focused, research-based and site-specific practice, Coetzee’s work in drawing finds the artist in a free and improvisational, albeit still decidedly rigorous mode. Freezing glimpses of queer intimacy in animal life, the drawings on view wordlessly express one of queer ecology’s main tenets, demonstrating an often contested matter with just a few stained pools and lashes of whipping ink lines: that the purported “unnaturalness” of human queerness is rebutted by common, everyday queer behavior in the natural world.
 Biological Exuberance, Bruce Bagemihl, 1999; Ecofeminism and Climate Change, Greta Gaard, 2015; A lively conversation about sexuality, nature, and environment, Mortimer-Sandilands et al., 2010; Morton, T. (2010) ‘Guest column: Queer ecology’, Pmla, 125(2), pp. 273–282.
Restricted during the pandemic, like so many others, Coetzee began to prioritize trips to view wildlife first hand, drawing wildebeests, baboons and hyena out the window of her car in Kruger National Park. Trips to the Bushveld followed and allowed more en-plein-air opportunities. Deeply “participating” with the natural world, Coetzee recognizes the qualities of a dance in these works, particularly in respect to the animals’ movements. Recording a range of glances, positions, postures and gestures, the drawings in In mid-loping gait emerge through empathy and economy. With each and every drawing and subsequent redrawing in the studio, Coetzee distilled down her labor and her subject’s actions into a few strokes. Moreover, Coetzee occasionally let the wet ink run in the wind and be propelled by her own paper motions in concert with the animal scene before her, such that the end result looks like the animals are shaking their head or body or caught mid-act—drawing a paired relationship between both their actions. Variously stained and streaked, Coetzee’s quietly liberated menagerie exerts a certain hold on the paper. The hyena holds a particular place of interest for Coetzee. Misunderstood, marginalized underdogs, Coetzee captures them in assured and composed collectives.
Choices of material, location, collaboration have long been fundamental considerations for Coetzee and her process, her practice deeply probing questions and dimensions of materiality. At least five different types of paper stock are used among the works in the exhibition. Coetzee explored the papers’ texture, surface appearance and permeability. Many of the papers are sustainably sourced or from found and salvaged industrial documents, including pages from mining ledger books. Placed in these industrial settings, Coetzee’s animal portraits take on socio-political dimensions, raising questions of “naturalness/unnaturalness” while alluding to concerns of climate change, loss of habitat, freedom. In mid-loping gait wields queer eco-art as a transgressive tool to bring about a more diverse climate culture for the future.
Working in a relational manner, Coetzee has used skeletons and sculptural works as “models” for drawings and now drawings as “blueprints” for sculpture works. Use of discarded, repurposed materials is a mainstay of many of her public projects. Leaving a light footprint while leaving a substantive mark, Coetzee’s practice is informed by place, material, research as well as her background in photography and the sciences, having completed a transdisciplinary Master of Science Degree (MSc) in Global Environmental Change in eco-cultural environmental sustainability at the Wits Animal, Plants and Environmental Science School (2022). Stepped in both these worlds, Coetzee is doubly sensitive to their limits and potential. Thus, while feeling deeply “welcomed” in the natural world by actual eco-queer creatures, Coetzee thoroughly understands the fragile foundation upon which life lives on Earth. She also recognizes the privileges of her positions and the various manner in which knowledge is created and shared. Favoring grassroots knowledge, Coetzee seeks knowledge that builds upwards.
An anti-zoo of liberated animals, In mid-loping gait signals how nature has always been visibly, if ‘silently’ queer.
 According to a 2023 study by scientists at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, wild land mammal species constitute less than 6% of the total weight of Earth’s mammals, with humanity and domestic animals making up the remainder.