Yasmina Chavez explores the absurdly unnatural nature in ‘They Used to Be Animals’

Curious choir: “Deer Girls,” part of They Used to Be Animals.

As artist Yasmina Chavez portrays it in They Used to be Animals at Counterspace, humans have not only become numb toward the natural world, we’re mind-blowingly insensitive to it. In tending to our own needs, we’ve completely neglected everything else, particularly the wildlife living among the concrete, chemicals and steel of our developed areas.

But the multidisciplinary artist (full disclosure: Chavez works for Weekly sister publication the Las Vegas Sun) is not about to clobber us over the head with a preachy message. Instead, she mirrors the absurdity of it all in a three-part exhibit that includes a video installation, photographs and a series of photomontages—the latter created by placing deer heads on the faces of people posing on Christian album covers.


They Used to Be Animals
Through March 15
Counterspace inside Emergency Arts, 596-2641

Chavez, who normally photographs humans in nature, has noticed how displaced they seem. Here, she inverts that experience by transferring animal heads onto humans in their own environments.

The album covers, found in the bargain bin at an LA record store, served as perfect source material to portray humans as cultish, hiding behind the mask of religion and blind to the spirituality around them in nature.

While the exhibit’s photos of real animals in developed areas seem akin to friendly family snapshots, the video installation is jarring, an intensely dizzying experience that brings together primal dancing, children playing, a highway at night and a reddish goop reaching its boiling point, creating a sense of urgency and chaos.

They Used to Be Animals stems from Chavez’s own feelings of guilt and discomfort when seeing animals out of place in cemented environments, as if she were the perpetrator, responsible by association. It’s not unusual to see birds in parking lots, wolves hunting in suburbs or bloody roadkill along a highway. By placing deer heads on people, Chavez illustrates how unnatural nature has become.

Chavez, who received her BFA from UNLV, successfully refreshes our memory, while instilling a lingering sense of fear.

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Kristen Peterson

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