Sabine Scho’s work is hard to pin down. The German publisher of Animals in Architecture—Kookbooks—is largely dedicated to contemporary poetry, perhaps leading one to an over-hasty taxonomy. Upon closer inspection, Scho’s work, in particular Animals in Architecture, is a hybrid combining prose miniatures, poetry translations and fragments, sociological reflections, and photos with a green color filter. Indeed, Scho’s work on this project first started with photography, spanning nearly a decade of visiting zoos across the globe. In 2012, she started a blog as a kind of accountability mechanism for finishing the book. However, there remained questions of form, content, even language. Largely written while living in São Paulo, Animals in Architecture contains many traces of Anglophone and Portuguese influence.
In each of the book’s twenty-two sections, Scho closes in on animals, whether camels, bats, penguins, or octopus. A quote from Hans Blumenberg is one of the two epigraphs to her introductory essay—aptly describing a central paradox of zoos: the relationships between the animals in the enclosures and the homo sapiens outside. Many of her poems remind us that it is often unclear who is watching whom. John Berger’s essay “Why Look at Animals?” notes that zoos are simultaneously a “living monument” to the disappearance of caged creatures from our culture. People go to zoos to see animals, but it is unlikely that the animals want to see humans. Animals in Architecture documents an attempt to reconnect with these animals and its ultimate futility.
Although I try to keep a close watch on the contemporary German poetry scene and had come across some of Sabine Scho’s work before Animals in Architecture was published in 2013, I was quite surprised by this work’s genre-bending mix of elements. In the following year, I tried my hand at translating these challenging texts and managed to place a couple poems in No Man’s Land, an online journal dedicated to publishing German literature in English translation.
Scho’s regard has only increased in current German-language discourse. In particular, the significance of her contributions to debates on human relations with the environment have continued to grow; she was recognized with the Deutscher Preis für Nature Writing alongside the poet Christian Lehnert in the summer of 2018. The following essay is among the most concise German-language takes on the subject of zoos, animals, humans, and the ways in which architecture exemplifies our fraught relationship.