On safari

On safari

A grotesque world of shameless and brutal killings

One of the most striking works at this year’s Venice Biennial – an edition mostly memorable for its poor presentations, lack of quality work and deficient theme – is the video of the French artist Marie Voignier (b. 1974) Les Immobiles of 2013. The artist presents an author commenting on his own book, page after page, image after image. The man, a faceless figure during the entire film, tells, between amusement and nostalgia, the hunting parties in Africa of which he was the guide in the 70’s and 80’s. The lightness of his remarks is in total rupture with the cruelty of the images that illustrate them. Proudly, the wealthy European idlers pose alongside their trophies lying on the ground. In the course of the pages, the corpses accumulate while their numbers seem insignificant, and their stories just amusing (only if the anecdote is good according to our condescending narrator). Les Immobiles is a repelling and shameful account of a post-colonial Africa that feels wrong and misplaced. A strong feeling of unselfconscious rage and disgust are evoked minute after minute.

That same feeling aroused after watching the documentary Safari (2016) of the Austrian film maker Ulrich Seidl, a horrifying portrayal of Austrian big-game tourists at a Namibian hunting lodge. The sheer smugness and chilling lack of imagination of these people playing the ‘Great White Hunter’ is mind boggling.

It makes you wonder how it is possible that some people have such a cruel hobby. An animal is a ‘Stück’, bleeding is ‘sweating’, black people ‘can’t help that they’re black’. The vocabulary and views of the protagonists call as much aversion as their disturbing and odious acts. The bringing down of a giraffe is particularly gruesome (showed in detail and without any thrill), followed by the ritual of posing for the trophy photo (with riffle, leaves in the mouth of the giraffe, rock under its head). The savagery ‘ends’ with the skinning and dismembering of the animal in preparation for the ultimate satisfaction, the souvenir on the wall. There are no words for what you see.
Safari is more than just a portrayal of killing animals. The question is not whether human beings are murderous, but when he/she gives himself/herself the right to kill. What justifies the act in itself? What makes us different from animals?

After watching Les Immobiles and Safari, I could only make one conclusion. Man has forgotten to be human and behaves as a wild animal. No safari is needed.