Artist in Residence PROJECT | GENERAL OVERVIEW
I’ve always wanted to have a part of my art practice dedicated to working on conservation based artwork. I have also wanted to participate in an artist in residence, however find it hard to commit to time away from the studio and daily responsibilities. So I decided to create my own opportunities and to reach out to wild animal conservation groups to see if they’d be open to sharing their specific insight, conservation based statistics, and areas of particular concern with me, so that I may then incorporate these themes into a body of artwork.
My goal with this part of my practice is to work on it as the inspiration comes and ultimately to wrap up the project with a selection of images or prints that could become fund raising or awareness raising images that benefit the organization in some way.
2018 Artist in Residence | Wildlife Defence League
In late Spring of 2018 I started my first ever AIR with a grass roots non profit organization called Wildlife Defence League. Although they study and educate the public on a range of issues facing wildlife in British Columbia, I focused my body of work on the decline of the caribou in BC. Initially I was interested in studying the horrible treatment and shooting of wolves (having done a lot of wolf related artwork from a conservation standpoint), however when I met with the organization they commented about the caribou being equally important to look at. Caribou decline is not the fault of the wolves (as the government claims), but it is actually poor forestry practices that are leaving the caribou exposed not only to wolves but also to avalanches (often caused by snowmobiles that access caribou ‘s limited safe areas via logging roads), overexposure, loss of essential food sources (lichen) that grows on old growth trees, and predation by all sorts of carnivores who use logging and snowmobile tracks to access caribou that otherwise would have an advantage in deep snow due to their evolutionarily unique hooves.
2018 PROJECT SUMMARY
I was initially going to focus on the idea of caribou on our coins, and the irony that it is the forestry industry (money) that is causing their extinction. However I have found myself completely inspired by the biology of caribou antlers. There is beautiful symbolism to explore with them. As the purpose of doing this AIR is to raise awareness of both the caribou decline and the wolf cull, I am excited to be formulating some large scale projects around the antlers and their symbolism.
· Antler biological facts:
o Out of the entire deer species, caribou are the only ones where the females grow antlers as well as the males.
o Antlers are the fastest growing tissue in the animal world, growing up to an inch per day. It takes some animals a lifetime to grow a single set of horns, but antlers grow each year - a huge physical feat in itself.
o No two antlers are the same and each year a new set is grown.
o The males and females grow and drop their antlers at different times of the year.
o Male caribou (bulls) grow their antlers usually starting in March and then drop them in November after the rut. Their antlers are primarily for show and for battle, so their antlers are generally extremely large and impressive. Male antlers can weigh as much as 20 pounds.
o Female caribou (cows) grow their antlers starting around June and they usually keep them for the winter. Their antlers are usually smaller as they are used mostly for foraging and minor tiffs with the other ladies at a food source. Cows who are pregnant actually keep their antlers until late spring, making them the only fully antlered caribou at that time of year. The reason for this is so that she can forage for more food and also fight off predators for as long as possible to ensure the safe birth of her calf. Cows will drop their antlers a few days before giving birth.
· Caribou stats:
o The South Selkirk Mountain Caribou herd that was at 11 members in the spring of 2017 was counted to have only 3 female members remaining this past April. They are functionally extinct. By the time you are reading this they may very well be ghosts already.
o Caribou are also referred to as Grey Ghosts because they tend to move around a lot, they travel quickly (up to 80km an hour) and in the winter months they often disperse into smaller herds, making them more difficult to find.
o There are 54 herds of caribou in British Columbia.
o Until June 15 2018 the BC Government is accepting public comments on their draft Provincial Caribou Recovery Program: https://engage.gov.bc.ca/caribou/
· Thoughts for a body of work based on biology & stats:
o As antlers are each unique and grown by both sexes every year, each antler in my AIR must each be created as original works as well.
o As it is the forestry industry causing the entire issue, the antlers must be done on paper products, in a way, this is the caribou symbolically reclaiming the forest back.
o In line with being opposed to the forestry practices, the paper products for this project must be recycled, handmade or reused in some capacity.
o The paper used for this project must not be uniformly cut (which I see as man’s mark on the forest); they need to have organic or torn edges.
o The antlers must be hand drawn with pencil, graphite, or another medium that is a natural product (mud?) tbc. Drawing is a direct connection to our inner nature, the most immediate way to document movement on a surface, and a means to touch the surface we are creating on. If we are drawing on paper, we are connected to nature. A drawing is direct proof of one’s existence and time.
o As caribou are linked to the concept of Grey Ghosts, the antlers must be in muted tones (graphite) and there should enough negative (clear) space around them in the drawing to allow one to imagine the ghost beneath the antlers.
o I am creating an entire herd of grey ghosts; with further research I hope to create a visual record of the caribou herds that remain in BC. I have ideas to turn this project into a large scale public art / awareness project.
o I am open to the idea of making purchasable items from this project, which monies over cost donated to WDL and perhaps down the line to include other organizations who are working towards educating / assisting towards recovery of caribou in BC and Canada.
o For displaying these I feel that pins on the wall (like butterfly specimens) will be the most effective way to capture the fragility of caribou status, and to provide a shadow effect (ghost) of the piece.
Once I have the outcome of this project roughed out I will look for venues to host the Grey Ghost Antler Project / Herds (working title). This may take place at a venue many years from now or may take place as part of a larger conservation based exhibit I produce later on.
*As of the end of 2018 this project is yet to be mounted in a full scale setting. Sign up for my e-newsletter to receive updates on future exhibits, and feel free to contact me if you have questions or inquiries around this project.