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Hayden Fowler

Goat Odyssey  2006

single-channel digital video, HD, colour, sound

15minutes 40sec

Museum of Contemporary Art, donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Henry Ergas, 2009

2009.40

About the Artwork

A white goat lingers in a sterile, tiled room resembling a science-fiction movie set or a subterranean fall-out shelter. A large circulating fan at the rear of the space creates the impression of a labyrinthine environment, hermetically sealed and separate from the natural world. Goats enter and leave through the two doors of the Goat Odyssey set, inhabiting a space far removed from their natural environment of field and fence. Hayden Fowler uses the goats to represent a particular idea of desexualized and alienated nature. Once wild, these castrated and de-horned animals were among the first to be domesticated by humans, initiating an age-old interdependence between man and beast. Here, that relationship has been taken to an extreme in which the animal is divorced from contact with both humans and nature, inhabiting a dystopian future of factory farming and agri-business that treats animals as commodities.

Fowler’s exploration of humanity’s relationship with the natural world is influenced by a childhood spent on his grandparent’s farm in New Zealand and his university training in biosciences. Fowler’s video works are technically complex productions, involving long periods of research, the construction of elaborate sets and specialised training for a range of domestic animals, including goats, lambs and rats. Fowler constructed the Goat Odyssey set himself and managed the goats in his studio. The term ‘odyssey’ invokes allusions to the classical world, a journey through a time and civilisation that regarded the goat as a potent symbol of blood sacrifice, sexuality and fertility. Pan, the cloven-footed god of music, and his lascivious satyrs, have been displaced in this antiseptic future, their capricious ways and animistic life force sapped by the economic imperatives of science and technology. Fowler’s work suggests the need for an empathetic relationship between humankind and animals.

I am interested in the emotional relationships of individuals to the natural world and the increasing deprivation of this connection within contemporary civilisation. My work is strongly related to the themes of freedom, loss and desire and the romantic hope for a return to nature.

Hayden Fowler, 2006

Hayden Fowler

– About the artist

Born 1973, Te Awamutu, New Zealand. Lives and works Sydney, Australia.


Hayden Fowler creates photographic, video, installation and performance works featuring human and animal subjects in elaborately constructed sets. Much of his work is concerned with the relationship between humans, animals and nature, and our understanding of ourselves as a civilisation and a species. Fowler originally trained as a biologist, majoring in animal behaviour, before undertaking undergraduate studies in art.

Fowler has exhibited widely, including the selected solo exhibitions Your Death, Gallery 9, Sydney (2015); Call of the Wild (Whekau), Michael Reid Gallery, Sydney (2014); New World Order, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand (2013); The Long Forgetting, Dubbo Regional Gallery, NSW (2011); Call of the Wild, Fremantle Arts Centre, Fremantle (2008); and Video Projects, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, New Zealand (2007).

Recent group exhibitions include New Romance: Art from Australia and Korea, Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul (2015); Wild Side: The Animal in Art, Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery, Lake Macquarie (2014); Among the Machines, Dunedin Public Art Gallery, New Zealand (2013); The Visitor, Black & White Gallery, Brooklyn, USA (2012); Awfully Wonderful, Performance Space, Sydney (2011); The Blake Prize, National Art School Gallery, Sydney (2011); and The Animal Gaze, London Metropolitan University, UK (2009).

Fowler’s work is held in a number of collections, including the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Artbank, Sydney; Elton John Collection, London; and Dunedin Public Art Gallery, New Zealand.

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