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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, April 14, 2024

Artists ask: How much is that human in the window?

Walking into a life-size gerbil cage, complete with floor shavings and a water tube, is not something a person gets to do everyday.

But for those who have ever wanted to empathize with their favorite hamster or bird and see things from its point of view, then "PE(s)T," the new exhibit at the Atlantic Works Gallery, is the thing to see. A collaborative installation between artists Liz Nofziger and Peter Pizzi, "PE(s)T," asks what it is that transforms an animal from an unwanted nuisance into a member of the family.

According to the creators, an animal becomes a pet when it has been invited into a human's world and is given a home. With that in mind, the artists have converted the entire gallery into an interactive playpen to show what that "home" might feel like to its inhabitants.

The shock value of the installation is its greatest asset. Bars are painted on the walls to indicate the cage-like nature of the piece, and the floor is several inches deep with wood chips and hay. A gerbil tube and a bird perch have been created to human scale. Visitors are encouraged to crawl and swing their way through the exhibit.

"We are playing with perspective, making the familiar unfamiliar and inaccessible" Nofziger said. Also life-sized are the food and water containers (the pellets are made from Dunkin' Donuts' Crullers), as well as papier-m??ch?© excrements scattered around the gallery. Tellingly, the humor is not lost on the artists.

Nofziger and Pizzi both have full-time day jobs as an artist's assistant and photographer, respectively. They were interested in creating an installation on their own, however, so they worked together to form the theme and setup of "PE(s)T." Despite careful planning beforehand, it still took the pair five days to fully install the exhibit.

With so much time and energy devoted to this project, one might guess that Nofziger and Pizzi are animal fanatics. In fact, Pizzi is an animal lover and has several pets of his own. On the other hand, Nofziger doesn't particularly like animals and has no interest in being responsible for pets. This difference in interests gives the installation a dynamic voice and a multitude of readings. The atmosphere they created, for example, can be seen either as a playroom full of colorful toys and fun distractions or as an inescapable prison.

In one area of the wall, the bars take on three-dimensional form. Behind them is an alcove which the artists have turned into a small living room with a sofa, TV, and other human items. This is the one familiar space in the installation, but the bars prevent the viewer (and make-believe pet) from accessing it. This emphasizes the role-reversal that is taking place; the visitor now becomes the display.

There is, however, a peephole behind the living room through which viewers are allowed to sneak a peek. Not only that, but the TV in the living room, visible through the hole, is also playing surveillance footage of the room. This provides yet another vantage point on the whimsical yet unnerving world that Nofziger and Pizzi have devised.

Perspective is compounded many times over in "PE(s)T" by the strange juxtapositions of space and size. In viewing humans from the inside of an animal's world, visitors begin to question the purpose of the imprisonment and who or what it actually benefits.

As Nofziger sways back and forth on the bird perch/human swing suspended from the ceiling, it is clear that she relishes her creation and wants everyone else to enjoy it as well. She and Pizzi will be hosting an Easter egg hunt in the installation on Easter Sunday, and they welcome anyone to stop by.

"PE(s)T" succeeds in attacking a concept with real but lighthearted intent. It illuminates the relationship between humans and animals by taking the viewers out of the familiar and into the containment to which many people subject their most beloved pets.

Love it or hate it, it's an undeniably original experience which will subsequently make a person look at any caged animal in a very different light.