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10 Socially Engaged Art Practitioners to Know: 10. Mammalian Diving Reflex

Mammalian Diving Reflex

Based in Germany and Canada, Mammalian Diving Reflex views innovative artistic interventions as a way to trigger generosity and equity across the universe. Founded in 1993, Mammalian is a research-art atelier dedicated to investigating the social sphere, always on the lookout for contradictions to whip into aesthetically scintillating experiences. We are a culture production workshop that creates site and social-specific performance events, theatre-based productions, gallery-based participatory installations, video products, art objects and theoretical texts. Mammalian’s body of work is interconnected, varied and vibrant, reflecting our unique and growing body of knowledge and expertise on the use and function of culture. We create work that recognizes the social responsibility of art, fostering a dialogue between audience members, between the audience and the material, and between the performers and the audience. In all its forms, the company’s work dismantles barriers between individuals of all ages, cultural, economic and social backgrounds; we collaborate with non-artists, and offer both participatory opportunities for the audience as well as the traditional option of simply watching the proceedings as they unfold. It is our mission to bring people together in new and unusual ways, in Toronto, Canada, our home-base, and around the world, to create work that is engaging, challenging, and gets people talking, thinking and feeling.

We get our name from a reflex found in mammals, which increases the chances of survival when we’re plunged into a cold watery environment by snapping the vocal cords shut over the trachea, locking air into the lungs and slowing the heart rate, thus consuming less oxygen. For us, this is a metaphor for surviving difficult times, not through a comprehensive rational plan, but by getting the mind out of the way and letting the body do its job. With our work, we’re always trying to overwhelm with ideas and sensation so that the participant is left with only the reflexive responses of the body to guide them. We trust we’ll get through this century in one piece, we just have to get out of the way and let our natural tendencies of generosity unlock and redistribute the world’s abundance.


Photo: William Pernulis

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