I had featured the work of New Orleans artist Lee Deigaard a few years ago, and I was so excited when I learned she’d be at the Living With Animals conference at Eastern Kentucky University in March so we could finally meet. I love the photographs in her series Equuleus (“part of a multi-media long-term project, In Your Dreams [Horses], exploring horse personality and individuality, sensory processing and proprioception, concepts of invitation, initiation, and trespass, and shared thresholds of experience between horse and human”) for their playful concept, their surreal, otherworldly quality, and the series’ thoughtful, poetic statement. Boundaries, the horizon, the symbolism of the horse’s back – knowing the meaning of these images to the artist makes me wholly appreciate this project.
From Deigaard’s statement:
“Boundaries – between earth and sky, between species, between bodies in space also exist between incursion and permission, coercion and compliance, between inside and out. Boundaries define concepts of self and other and are often flexible and permeable.
The horizon – that place of possibility – when pursued as a destination always eludes us.
Horses, as they did throughout human history from the third millennium B.C. took us there. The horse’s back in these photographs embodies the horizon; his back carries his rider farther than the rider could walk alone.
Where bodies are in space, within the landscape, can define the parameters of a relationship from formal to intimate. To cross another’s boundaries i.e. to touch them, carries a charge – whether of transgression or connection depends on the context.
Human exploration, whether global or granular, invokes conquest.
The body is a landscape. One body in connection with another body is a relationship.
Human-equine relationships derive from ingrained predator-prey relationships, (im)balances of power (physical and otherwise), and concepts of dependence and interdependence, compliance and autonomy. These are foundational aspects to almost any interpersonal relationship. Knowing a horse is like being in any partnership. Touch, proximity, familiarity, request, response mediate how we interact in close quarters. Acts of grooming and riding are by definition intimate; they involve close contact, communicative touch (and being touched), and mutual cooperation.
Horses naturally attune themselves – to our heartbeats, rates of breathing, the movements of our pupils – they are sensitive to pheromones. The know the subtle language of the body. It is difficult to hide your true self from a horse. He reads you, perhaps better than you do yourself.
A horse – no matter how big or brave – thinks and reacts like a prey animal. He scans the horizon and takes the long view: the movements of sun and stars, the change of seasons, the grass as it grows. He can see very nearly in the round. He is alert to the landscape, his pupils, rectangular and horizontal, are geared towards the horizon and the approach of any distant predator. The feeling of close connection in an intimate relationship also carries a sense of deep strangeness and far places. To know and be known is a wide open frontier.”
All images © Lee Deigaard