This week we were assigned to chose an animal and present three examples of its representation in visual culture. In addition to images, we were to write a short analysis of each discussing context, audience, form, etc. As I started my brainstorming, I realized that almost any animal would be suitable for this assignment. Once you start to think about it, you can come up with three different representations of almost any animal you can imagine. I settled on the fish. See all of the images in this presentation document: Animal 3×3 Presentation.
Nemo – fish as loveable underdog
Nemo is a clownfish from the 2003 Disney/Pixar film Finding Nemo. Actually, he is a person, not a fish. He is a six-year-old boy being raised by a single, overprotective father. He has an adventurous spirit and a desire for independence that comes about in defiance of his upbringing (and despite his physical disability).
His likable character made him an ideal spokesperson (spokesfish?) for tourism—the Australian Tourism Commission used clips from the film in marketing campaigns. Nemo’s image came to represent all clownfish and, even broader, tropical fish. It is not uncommon to hear or read the expression “nemo fish” when someone is referring to a clownfish. Nemo’s creator drew him with one small fin and wide eyes; he is basically a baby in need of care. His cute face and loveable personality increased the demand for clownfish as pets after the release of the film. In unfortunate opposition to the gentle environmental message of Finding Nemo, this demand has had subsequent negative impact on the survival of the species and reefs. One can’t help but wonder what Nemo would say about the act of holding his kin in captivity.
GMO strawberry fish – fish as invasive tool of science
This is a hybrid strawberry-fish. It was used to increase awareness of genetically modified organism research and illustrate the work going on in laboratories that could, ultimately, end up in grocery stores. This specific image is in response to tests that introduced anti-freeze proteins from arctic fish into the DNA of strawberries & tomatoes to prevent them from freezing.
In this example, the fish is a tool of science and scientific progress. The fish has utilitarian value; it can be taken apart and the components put to use in other areas. The application will ultimately benefit people who demand delicate foods grown in temperate climate year-round.
This image blends a benign strawberry with a viscous piranha-looking fish. This indicates that genetic modification will make the strawberry harmful; it will bite you back. It also brings up issues of categories and taboo—things should stay in their categories and, if they don’t, things are going to get really messed up. It’s one thing to cross two plants, or two animals, but crossing a plant and an animal is asking for trouble.
Christian fish – fish as religious symbol
The Christian fish has a long history, open to interpretation at, predictably, any point along the way. In the briefest summary: as early as the first century Christians made an acrostic from the Greek work for fish and subsequently adopted the simple fish as a way to mark buildings and identify others of the same faith. Similar fish symbols were already in use by pagans (to symbolize sexuality and fertility, by the way), among others, so it was fairly inconspicuous.
Because this religious symbol is so strongly associated with Christianity, it has the ability to embody different meanings and interpretations depending on how Christian people are viewed in a particular time or place. For people who find Christian thinking to be based on literal interpretation of the bible, it has come to identify a person who holds certain beliefs about science and, even, social progress. As a result, this symbol has spawned numerous symbols in response – the Darwin fish, the Truth fish, the Darwin Eating Truth fish, the Gefilte fish, and the list goes on. Subsequent versions of the fish have similar visual components: thick, dark lines; little detail; non-existent or minimal text. In essence, they are icons.