'Primate Cinema' – Artist Makes Social Drama for Apes (and Humans Too) [VIDEO]

Cinema is literally going ape (over itself)…well, maybe only if you’re a permanent, primate resident of Edinburgh Zoo.

A group of chimpanzees there was recently treated to a series of televised “social dramas” featuring ape-costumed human actors. One particular episode featured a young female “city ape” befriending a group of outsiders. The reactions from the chimp viewing audience were most intriguing — they “ape” some very human-type reactions to similar social situations, including puzzlement and anger (note: real chimps also appear in the filmed drama).

It’s all part of an unique art project called Primate Cinema: Apes as Family, conceived of by artist Rachel Mayeri, working in collaboration with comparative psychologist Dr Sarah-Jane Vick.

In a first-of-its-kind ape psychology experiment, the team first began testing the apes’ reactions to different film/TV genres (comedy, drama, etc.) to discover various cognitive and communicative issues that might exist for the captive primates. They eventually settled on the “social drama” genre. Then Mayeri wrote the script.

So far, the chimps’ reviews are mixed, but intriguing none the less. The project is scientifically fascinating, but it seems equally so from a pure “primate interest” perspective.

It certainly leads to some rather complex, meta-primate phenomenological questions…but I digress.

The film project is the centralpiece of an art installation featuring two adjacent screens: one showing the scripted social drama, the other showing the reactions of the chimps watching it. Quoting from the Arts Catalyst news release:

“Mayeri’s intriguing and amusing story-and-response structure contains darker undercurrents in its contemplation of the lives of our captive close relatives. “

The exhibition opened as a solo show to the general (human) public this past October 18 , at Arts Catalyst, and continues touring in the UK until the end of  November.

The film Primate Cinema: Apes as Family also previewed at the O.K Cyberarts 11, Prix Ars Electronica exhibition 1-7 September, 2011, where it was awarded an honorary mention.

No word yet when it’s due to screen here in the U.S., but I , for one, will go ape s**t if it doesn’t…

This concept could catch on big too (you heard it here first)…A reality show where we watch chimpanzees watching a drama acted by humans playing chimpanzees…They’ll call it ‘Watching the Chimpanzees’…

In the meantime, you can view a fascinating clip from the project here:


Trailer for Primate Cinema: Apes as Family from Rachel Mayeri on Vimeo.

To Learn more about the Primae Cinema project, download the official news release PDF: Primate Cinema: Apes as Family Press Release (97KB)

Top photo: R. Mayeri,  from the Arts Catalyst News release


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