For June’s residency work I continued to explore the caribou antler as the main subject, however have shifted focus a bit. While the caribou antler is a record of caribou status and life cycles, there is a rich symbolic element around them that greatly appeals to me so I’ve continued letting that unfold in the studio.
With caribou on our coins, the idea of economy or value of the species is very intriguing. The whole matter of caribou conservation is actually a matter of value. How much do we value this species? Are they more important than a box of paper? A tree? One person’s brief wild ride down a snowy mountain side? To date we’ve valued our forestry and tourism industries more than the caribou, proven simply by the fact that the caribou are listed as at risk due to human activity, and in some areas of BC caribou are now functionally extinct. Would you rather have a stack of paper on your desk or a caribou in the forest?
So what if we had a way to increase the value of the caribou so that their economic value matches or outweighs the value of forestry and tourism?
The idea of animal economies has been on my mind for a few years now. Every time I hear of animals in suburban areas being removed or destroyed I immediately think What if we valued that animal like value our family pets? We’d never think of eliminating a family pet just because they go somewhere outside of what we perceive as our personal property (birds and bears and Betsy the cat don’t care one iota about property lines).
So, in the vein of creating animal economics, I am interested in trying to create a new value for caribou. What better way to do this than to look at them as a good investment? Seeing as they regrow their antlers year after year, what if it was their antlers (ie their ‘product’) that we created an economy around? Like honey bees creating honey and wax that we then use in our daily lives. Or what it it was something more intricately tied to human health? (Did you know that bee venom was recently proven to cure HIV and that it has been found to eliminate cancer cells?)
There does already exist a niche market for shed caribou antlers, and in Canada it is really interesting to note that you can be fined a maximum of $25,000 CAD for removing a shed antlers from a national park; antlers are considered to belong to the people and the ecosystem of Canada. (A whole other area to dive into here: you have to give the government 100,000 tiny silver caribous (quarters) if you take a single caribou antler from a national park…I’d be interested to know where that money goes once collected).
What are the ways that naturally grown & shed free range caribou antlers can become more valuable products? How can we increase the need for these animals to be part of our economy, to the point of being properly protected and championed (and can we? or would this idea just mean caribou are treated like cattle?)
And in case you can’t see where I am heading here, this argument goes for ALL animals impacted by human activities: I’m talking about re-valuing Animals as a whole in our society.
In summary, for June I did a lot of thinking and a little bit of making. Below is one of the finished June drawings. I’ll be making a set of these as part of this project, using black paper as a way to emphasize the surreal and spiritual nature of these shed specimens.
Meanwhile my thoughts will also be directed towards defining how humans place value on things, and how to embed caribou antlers with these Canadian values. As a side comment, I see some visual cross overs here between my spirit animal artwork: using colour on animals allegorically to show evolution and enlightenment, and using gold paint (or gold leaf) on caribou antlers as the most obvious way to depict value….stay tuned, things are getting interesting!