About the Photographer
American, b. 1954
Informed by the biological sciences and social theory, Alison Ruttan’s multidisciplinary practice examines the psychology of behavior expressed through physiological response. Accordingly, much of her work focuses on appetite, sexuality, and aggression, alternating between serious and humorous engagement with the question of “what is human?” The Four Year War at Gombe is a series of photographs that illuminate behavioral links between humans and other primates. The images depict people acting out scientist Jane Goodall’s accounts of a Tanzanian chimpanzee community that she observed for many years in the 1960s and 1970s. After living in peaceful cohabitation, the chimp community inexplicably broke into two, with one faction waging a long-term, calculated war on the other. In vignetted scenes of both peaceful, bucolic existence and blood-drenched massacre, Ruttan’s pictures of people behaving like apes reveal a blurred distinction between animal and human behavior.
Alison Ruttan completed a BFA at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (1976), and an MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1992). Ruttan has exhibited nationally and internationally, including at Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago, IL; Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, IL; Ampersand International Arts, San Francisco, CA; Gallery Wit, Wageningen, the Netherlands; Directors Lounge, Berlin, Germany; and The Drawing Center, New York, NY. She is the recipient of several awards, including an artist residency at Wild Animal Park, Escondido, CA (2005); Art & Technology Residency, Wexner Center for the Arts, Ohio State University, Columbus (2004); Visual Artist Awards, Illinois Arts Council (1993, 1996, 2002); and Faculty Enrichment Grants, School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1997, 2000). Ruttan is Assistant Professor in Contemporary Practices at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.