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UNITED KINGDOM. SCOTLAND. 'Primate Cinema: Apes as Family' by Rachel Mayeri in Edimburgh
31/07/2012 10:12:19

In the Budongo Trail enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo three chimpanzees sit watching a video, engrossed in a chimp-centred drama made especially for them by video artist Rachel Mayeri, the first artist to make a film expressly for chimpanzees.

In Primate Cinema: Apes as Family, the artist imagines a primate social drama in a contemporary urban context and shows this to a chimpanzee audience. Her two-screen video installation juxtaposes the drama enacted by humans in the guise of apes (of a young female city ape befriending a group of outsiders) with mesmerising footage of the reactions of its ape audience at Edinburgh Zoo.

As the watchers of the watching chimps, we perceive - or we imagine - fascination, puzzlement, and flashes of anger in their responses. Sited in different spaces in Los Angeles and Edinburgh we are never sure whether we are seeing a lab, zoo, wildlife park, rumpus room or post-apocalyptic landscape inhabited by half chimp/half humans. Mayeri’s intriguing and amusing story-and-response structure contains darker undercurrents in its contemplation of the lives of our captive close relatives.

To make Primate Cinema: Apes as Family artist Rachel Mayeri collaborated with comparative psychologist Dr Sarah-Jane Vick, testing different styles and genres of film to gauge chimps’ responses and discussing issues around cognition and communication in research primates.  

A documentary film, The Making of Primate Cinema will be screened daily as part of Edinburgh Art Festival, in the Budongo Trail theatre, Edinburgh Zoo.

Rachel Mayeri is a Los Angeles-based artist working at the intersection of art and science exploring subjects ranging from the history of special effects to the human animal. In 2009 her Primate Cinema: Baboons as Friends (2007), a film noir re-enactment of a baboon social drama with human actors, was presented by The Arts Catalyst as part of Interspecies: artists collaborating with animals. The leading electronic arts festival—Prix Ars Electronica—awarded Primate Cinema: Apes as Family an honorary mention in 2011.

Learn more at

Image: Rachel Mayeri, Primate Cinema: Apes as Family, dual screen still 2011. To feature at Edinburgh College of Art for the Edinburgh Art Festival 2012.

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