Visualized Bird Song – by Elisabeth Pellathy

Voice of the New Caledonian Owlet-Nightjar, visualised by Pellathy

“First, it should be stated that the single most significant threat to bird populations is habitat destruction, in all of its forms and with all of its causes.” – Sibley Guide Book

“Sounds, once generated, never die; they fade but continue to reverberate as sound waves across the universe” – Guglielmo Marconi, radio pioneer.

So many things are disappearing at such an alarming rate that perhaps we will only have a catalogue of objects to remember what they were and how they existed in our environment. How can we begin the conversation to preserve?

Using the dense audio resources found at the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the voices of the top ten most endangered birds of the world are cataloged, collected and charted becoming objects and prints representing the voices of these birds. The bird songs are mapped in sound editing so ware and then traced in 3D modelling soft ware and 3D printed. Digital drawings, made by removing the router bit from a CNC machine and replacing it with a ball- point pen, and following the tool path of a stereo-lithograph, accompany the 3D prints.

The bird calls become more than just records – instead an encounter with a frozen instant of time. A visualized model charts the intangible and elicits reaction on the fleeting nature of what is here now, but may not last. A moment of reflection with individual species from endangered bird species possesses a poetic quality. I think of the objects and prints as a catalogue of the disappearing, much like an 18th century wonder-cabinet.

The display serves to rarify the object, contain it and isolate it. The bell jars reference a specimen that has been collected and displayed which also becomes a commodity to be owned. Perhaps the viewers will contemplate the collective idea of objectifying the experience of the natural world.

Elisabeth Pellathy is an artist and academic based at University of Alabama, Birmingham.

An interview with Ackroyd & Harvey – by Fred Carter

For over 25 years, Dan Harvey and Heather Ackroyd have worked together to produce innovative environmental art which inhabits a unique juncture between performance art and climate science, organic process and artificial preservation, personal response and public space. Their artistic practice ranges across photography, sculpture, architecture, and installation to tackle a range of issues from global warming and international politics to arboreal ecology and biodiversity loss. Following their high-profile Radical Action Reaction at COP21 last year and this year’s large-scale exhibition and architectural work at the University of Cambridge, Fred Carter caught up with Harvey and Ackroyd at their Surrey studio to discuss what it means to be an artist in the midst of environmental crisis.

FRED: I first came across your work in relation to the Cape Farewell Project way back in the early 2000s, which highlighted the threats to polar ecosystems and Arctic ice. But I think the way we talk about climate change has changed a lot since then. What do you think has changed in our relationship with climate science and the challenges to representation that face environmental art?

HEATHER: Well, what was then called the greenhouse effect just kind of pinned itself into my consciousness in 1988. That was the very first time that James E. Hansen, who at the time was the leading atmospheric scientist working for NASA, popped his head up above the parapet and said that we’ve got a major problem going on here. He said I am 99% sure that it’s because of the fact that humankind is burning so much fossil fuel. So this is always within my consciousness.

I think from a very early point meeting Dan, our work was going on in urban spaces and in found spaces. It could have been a disused domestic property or disused factory spaces and we would bring these dynamic materials into them: water, mud, germination, fire, mould, and sprouting elements. So we’d act upon these architectural carcasses and bring in these disruptive materials that we would then shape and create quite formally and aesthetically to make these pieces.

 Implanted Spirit, 1991

Our work in a way was always addressing this edge, these precipices where the urban stakes claim, takes away, or erases nature. Where it takes away an orchard or takes away a garden or takes away a field or an overgrown parking lot and places in the bricks. But we just felt there was this incredible vulnerability to it. Going to places like Australia and working on the west coast in Perth, where you felt all of this colonisation which seemed very European, you saw all of these houses with their patch of grass and water sprinklers throwing water all over the place… and yet it was on desert.

DAN: It was a thin veneer of civilisation and of Europeanization.

HEATHER: You felt as though if you were a giant you could just take a palette knife and just scrape it all away and just flick it away. It felt just superficial in some way. It was that sense of tenuousness; that humanity holds its place by threads of existence at times.

So I think when we first went up with Cape Farewell to the high Arctic we were kind of enthralled and inspired and found the whole experience very profoundly moving. In a way, out of that experience came this very large piece of work that we just showed at the David Attenborough building called Stranded, where we were working with the carcass of a whale.

Stranded, 2007

DAN: The whale was always one of those iconic creatures, I suppose a bit like the polar bear in some ways, and the idea was to try and get hold of a carcass and to subvert and do this chemical process on it.

But I think what I’ve found interesting since 2003, when I first went up to Svalbard with the Cape Farewell project, was that you got a feeling that actually information was getting out there and people did start to believe the story of climate change. Then suddenly there was this movement back again. Channel Four did a program called The Great Climate Change Swindle and that did so much damage. I think there are still people who believe that. There’s so much denial still going on and yet it’s so stupid because it could be so easy to actually switch now, the technologies are there. Everything is there but we’re still being led by this because the power is still in the hands of the mad men.

HEATHER: I think now what we’ve realised through all our reading and all our interactions is that even though the physics and the science of climate change is actually relatively straightforward, the political and economic machinations are huge. It plays out on so many levels to do with monopolies of power and deliberate attempts to vandalise the science. Absolutely calculated attempts to introduce chaos and confusion into the thinking. And that happened very early on. After James E. Hansen made his statement that generated all manner of revolt from the corporate ranks and from the fossil fuel industry. They sensed danger and they reacted in a very calculated and intellectually corrupt way. And that’s still playing out.

My thinking now is to ask what kind of work do we make that really has resonance and is doing something more than awakening. I think the communications in and around climate change were done very effectively by the cultural sector many years ago. We’re in a different situation now and I have to really work out how to use our artistry, our understanding, and our perception to best effect. And we did a big piece in Paris…

FRED: Yes, I wanted to ask about that as well. There’s a general trend that I can see in your work from those very domestic spaces to begin with – houses, churches, chairs – towards a more political stage. And in fact the piece in Paris at COP21 was a stage in itself. Do you think your work has changed in response to that changing space?

HEATHER: I think Dan and I have always been very adaptive in the way we work and, in a way, the found space gave us an autonomy in a way that the gallery couldn’t. The exterior space, again, gives us access to the accidental audience.

DAN: Yes, you’re not really tied to the elite or to the people who always go to galleries. In a found space people are curious to see it because they’ve walked past it and it’s always been boarded up and in a public space you’re just confronted straight away with it. So immediately you have a much larger audience.

Radical Action Reaction, 2015

FRED: So do you see something like Radical Action Reaction to be a public piece of art in a similar sense to one of the early found spaces?

HEATHER: Yes because if you do something inside, even if the door is open, there’s still that metaphorical threshold. Somebody has to make that decision to go through the doorway. If you do something in a public space like the Botanic Garden [in Cambridge] then you’ve got people running, you’ve got children, and suddenly they’re going “what’s that?”

DAN: So you sort of hook them in. One of the beautiful things about the living medium of grass is that it has a vibrancy and a colour to it that you know instinctively isn’t synthetic and when it’s grown like the curtains we used in Radical Action Reaction it is really quite lush, quite sensual.

HEATHER: We wanted to bring our dark arts. We wanted to bring something tantalisingly sensual and seductive, so beautiful so that people would go “what’s that?” Because they were quietly enthralled with the piece and they were realising that it was living grass, they then stopped and read what was being said. I’ve never seen so many people sit and read. It was just great because what we did was that we caught their attention and their curiosity.

Actually, at that point we were framing the tree within that urban setting and saying that we need to plant our cities, following Joseph Beuys, and that we have to make our cities as green and forest-like as we can on every level.

FRED: It’s interesting that you mention Joseph Beuys. His idea of the gezamkunstwerk sees the artwork as something interactive – a social sculpture – and some of your pieces really necessitate engagement. In Seeing Red… Overdrawn, for example, the act of writing on the artwork is a very powerful thing and a way of engaging with scientific knowledge and Latin names in a way that we don’t normally in museums. Is that something conscious?

DAN: Well over the years we’ve used the IUCN Red List of critically endangered animals quite a lot, but when you look at the list like that on a computer you might only get 20 names or something up on your screen. There were 4,734 when we downloaded it and had it printed. When you actually stand in front of a three metre by seven metre wall with those names on, even if you’ve been standing in front of it for a week, you still see new names coming out. There’s something about the scale of that piece that meant that even though there was a lot of information there, you could sort of access it all at once visually which I think is something that you couldn’t do in a book or on a computer screen. It was like a huge war memorial and yet each name wasn’t a name of a person, it was an entire species. I think when you understand that, it really hits home.

We had very good invigilators with iPads looking up the species and things so that there was also this interaction with the public.

Seeing Red… Overdrawn, 2016

HEATHER: If someone said “what is that? I love the Latin but what is that?” then we could find out for you, so that became quite interactive as well.

DAN: And on the performance side of it too, you had to wear white cotton gloves before you were given the pen so you took it seriously and then maybe you had to climb the ladder to reach one at the top. I think it was a very successful piece in the end.

HEATHER: But it came through quite late. We had a meeting with Tim Cluttenbrock, who works in the zoology department, very early on in our R&D phase and he struck the table and said; “what are you going to do about the fact that it’s five to midnight on the planet?” That just stayed with us and I kept saying to Dan “I just don’t think we’ve got our five-to-midnight piece yet.” Then that piece just kind of punched through.

DAN: It’s certainly a piece we’d like to do again… the list is already much longer.

FRED: Absolutely. Do you feel a “five-minutes-to-midnight” sense of immediacy in your work now that maybe you didn’t before?

HEATHER: Yes… but I think for me a lot of it is just about tempering the anxiety. I think it’s been there for a long, long while and I just think it’s increasing. I just read a George Monbiot article online where he’s saying that unless we just do not draw up to the surface what’s there in reserves, then we’re not going to hold to the Paris Agreement figure of 1.5 degrees. We’ve also got the whole lag in the system still to play out. A lot of people I’ve met say that we passed 1.5 degrees probably about 8 years ago. I can feel the stomach tightening but I don’t wish to get depressed. I’d rather use the anger and the anxiety to creative effect, I’d rather turn it into something visible, visual, and aesthetic. I’d rather channel the emotion into that.

Yet we don’t want to hit people with it. With the Cambridge piece, we were actually working on eight different pieces in tandem. It’s like an orchestration. So you may have one piece that’s slightly more “in-your-face” or “activist” and some other pieces that are really more nuanced, very subtle and, very poetic although they may allude to various crises. The exhibition in the Attenborough building was like that. We had Stranded alongside The Polar Diamond and the IUCN Red List, then the light boxes for the spirits and the trees. So there were many different levels to it and many different emotions. It’s orchestration at times.

Spirit + Conflicted Seeds, 2016

FRED: Something that struck me in your work is that so much of it is to do with preserving, as well as memorialising. The Spirit piece uses this very antiquated way of preserving and a lot of your early work with research into grass is concerned with how to preserve and how to keep things. Is there a sense of not mourning a loss but of trying to retain something?

HEATHER: Actually we’re working at the moment on a project to do with Ash Dieback disease and Ash conservation.

DAN: The brief is to celebrate the Ash but when you go round these forests in Kent where 80 percent of the trees were Ash, out of that 80 percent are dead already and now, once you start to see it you see it everywhere. It’s really shocking. It’s really hard to actually celebrate a tree when you know that you’re losing it all the time.

I think with this work about trying to preserve and conserve, so much of our work has been ephemeral that possibly now in our work with the trees and so on there’s a lot more longevity to them. They’re going to improve with time, provided the trees stay healthy. There are certain trees that actually have the possibility to be immortal, to live forever. It’s only exterior things that will kill them. That, to me, is really intriguing. There’s a lot, too, that we’re still learning about trees and I find that really fascinating. That’s perhaps one of the reasons we’ve started working with trees is that they are going to be around a lot longer than we are, for one thing, whereas a lot of the grass works were impermanent.

The first grass works, the exterior pieces not the photosynthesis works, they very much go through a process of growing, changing, and finally decaying, being stripped back. With the photographic work there has always been that thing with the fleeting image and trying to fix the image, a bit like the early black and white photographers. I think that’s why we really pushed to keep photos for longer and, with the chlorophyll in the grass we use now, we can keep them provided they have a low light level. If you put them in stronger sunlight they would fade within a week or so because it’s a natural pigment, the chlorophyll. We do live in an unstable world.

HEATHER: It is that thing about bringing stability into a situation. I don’t see stability as being somehow boring or status quo. You have to work at stability, in a way. It’s not a given. Going back to how they used to preserve the museum specimens, it’s amazing how you can still see this creature that was killed around 120 years ago. It’s amazing that it’s all still there, it’s all preserved.

FRED: I was really interested in something you’d written in Signs of Life, you said you’d been interested first in the arcane arts and the folklore of grass, before you got into the scientific rigour. I wondered how you saw that develop in your work or what was the tension between these sacral spaces of the church and the more rationalistic, scientific side?

HEATHER: Well that’s the beauty of being an artist and not a scientist, you can get it all in! Actually the other project we’re working on is with an organisation called ArtAkt, it’s being curated by Marina Wallace who is also curating an exhibition that will be at the Ashmolean in Oxford called Spellbound: Magical Thinking Past and Present. We’re working specifically with Sophie Paige, who is a senior historian at University College of London, and her specialist area is medieval cosmology. So we are now steeping ourselves in magic and astrology. I’m reading C.S. Lewis’ The Discarded Image right now and you know what, it feels so good to be back! It’s back with the names and the people that I was frequenting and falling asleep with when I was in my twenties when I was reading a lot of stuff about alchemy and magic and Karl Jung.

DAN: It’s interesting to really understand what it was like in medieval Britain and the way the mind worked then because it’s very different from the way we see the world now. There have been enormous shifts in perception and yet we still believe in a type of magic. If you ask someone for their wedding ring and say that you can replace it with an exactly identical copy, they’ll want their wedding ring back because they believe it’s imbued with something.

HEATHER: In a way I think we tend to ascribe a certain logic and rationality but actually it’s not working like that. I keep thinking that I’m kidding myself to think that politics is logical and rational. It’s not about that.

At the moment we’ve not quite found the right form for it yet but I’m thinking you almost need something like a post-Dadaist response to what’s happening now. It’s just so absurd. I cannot take Boris Johnson seriously, I cannot take Trump seriously. It’s just absurd. It sickens me.

The Dadaists were brilliant, their response to the atrocities of the First World War was brilliant. They said; “how do we begin to make sense of this, you cannot make sense of it.” I feel a little bit like that at the moment, you know. It’s coming at it from the flank, highly lateral and subversive. I want to dig deep, to disappear and come up; to draw those arcane arts back into it.

7000 Oaks, 2014

FRED: Finally, I hear you’re also about to do a TedX talk together, which is a new kind of format for you. It’s a very short 20 minutes, so if someone could take away one thing what should it be?

HEATHER: I don’t know, I think something we will definitely talk about is how the haem molecule, in the blood, and the structure of the chlorophyll molecule are incredibly similar. It’s old knowledge for us on some levels but I think we need to understand we are of nature. We’re not superior, we’re not an advanced life form; we are of nature. And we need to find within us the guardianship and the custodianship that comes with it.

But we’ve got to pick it right, because anyone can just say, “that’s bloody worthy innit!”

DAN: I think the thing is, though, that everything is interconnected and we are part of everything. We can all make a difference. It’s not being worthy, really, it’s just being aware.

HEATHER: Yet still, in a way, that rhetoric is easy. You can use words to get everyone going “yes, yes, yes!” But I don’t think I’m going to go for a single point or a single message, I’m going to go for a chain because that’s how my brain works anyway. I think for me it’s slightly more elusive and I think I probably work more through an agency of charm and incantation… and whatever we put in their drinks!

Fred: I’m looking forward to it! Thank you for your time guys.

Music for Elephants: A Eulogy for the Future – by Jenny Kendler

With her new work, Music for Elephants, interdisciplinary artist Jenny Kendler algorithmically translates data predicting future poaching of African elephants into a score for a vintage ivory-keyed player piano. Each note played on a restored player piano from 1921 represents the number of elephants who may die in the future from ivory poaching in a single month. Much as an elephant would caress the tusks of a loved one who has died, a ghostly absence seems to play these notes. As was common before the 1970s, the keys of this beautiful, antique instrument were crafted from ivory, the very material that drives people to kill elephants for their tusks. Though pianos are no longer made with ivory, this piece serves as a haunting reminder of how our unchecked or ill-informed desires can have devastating impacts our ecosystem and other beings.

The score, both eerie and meditative, counts down month by month, from a population of around 400,000 African elephants remaining today, predicting how many elephants may die in each month that the world does nothing to stop ivory poaching and illegal trade. Lower, longer notes represent greater numbers killed for their ivory. During the 10 minute piece, poaching increases at rate of only 1.5% annually—but after only 300 months (25 years), the count of living elephants falls to zero, the piano’s ivory keys fall silent…and elephants are extinct. Sadly, scientists warn us that extinction could happen even sooner, if rates of poaching and regional instability increase even further.

To create this work, artist Kendler partnered with wildlife specialists at environmental non-profit NRDC. The data they gained access to shows unequivocally that African elephant populations have been declining precipitously in past decades. Extrapolating from data she gathered on elephants’s natural births, deaths and rates of illegal poaching, Kendler’s algorithm shows a dark future of what could be—if we are unwilling as a species to undertake meaningful action to protect these magnificent beings with whom we share the Earth.



A Brief History of Elephants and the Ivory Trade

The African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) is a species known to us all, and beloved by many. Deeply social, long lived and with a famously long memory, elephants are much like us. Like us, they are highly communicative in ways we are only just beginning to understand. Like us, they change their environment, keeping savannas open and grassy—something that may have allowed for our own evolution. Like us, they care for their families. Elephants are known to mourn their dead, habitually revisiting the sites where loved ones have died to caress their bones, and pass ivory tusks between family members. We can only imagine that like us, they know love and loss. And like us, their only real threat are humans.

We don’t know how many elephants there were before humans began carving up their land, capturing them for work or warfare and killing them for meat and ivory. We do know that from several million at the beginning of the 20th century, their population is now around 400,000—for perspective on the increasing direness of the situation, over 100,000 African elephants were massacred between 2010–12 alone. By far the largest cause of these deaths is the illegal poaching of elephants for their ivory tusks.


In the 19th century, King Leopold of Belgium’s desire for access to this “white gold” led to a devastating colonial occupation of Congo, a country now in free fall, which continues to be a major source of poached ivory. In the 1970s, before international trade was banned, ivory was used mainly for carvings and piano key tops, with about 40% of ivory going to Japan, 40% to Europe and N. America, and the rest staying in Africa. Today, illegal ivory often funds murderous regional militias like Sudan’s Janjaweed and Joseph Kony’s brutal Lord’s Resistance Army, and is traded through international criminal networks. Most of this ends up in Asia, where an economically booming China consumes over 70%. The murdered elephants’s tusks are carved up and sold for upwards of a thousand dollars a pound, to be made into chopsticks, rings and other wealth-demonstrating consumer trinkets.

Notes from the 6th Extinction: A Time of Choosing

Since ivory first became associated with power and wealth and traded as part of global capitalism, the hunger for ivory—and the associated devastating consequences—have only grown.

It is now up to us as a species to decide what matters. The way human beings feel about a species is now one of the main factors in its survival—so our empathy, or lack thereof, has become an ecological force.

If we give in to our desire for more, we may lose the chance to ever understand the minds of these remarkable others, so much like our own. There are those who long to make contact with alien minds from other distant stars—but we have them here, on our planet, if we can only put aside our greed and sense of ‘human exceptionalism’ and recognize our kin.

If you’d like to help, Save the Elephants is doing excellent work on the ground in Africa to monitor populations, support anti-poaching efforts, and build paths to human/elephant co-existence.

Special thanks to the artist’s husband Brian Kirkbride for invaluable assistance in writing the software to generate the score. Thanks also to environmental non-profit NRDC, where Jenny Kendler is Artist-in-Residence, to NRDC’s Elly Pepper for her assistance in gaining access to and interpreting poaching data, to Artprize curatorial fellow Alison Erazmus and to Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Coordinator of Public Programs and Interpretive Practices, Ann Meisinger.

Find out more about Jenny Kendler’s work here.

Ritual Burials – by Katie Tume/ Mother Eagle

For the past year I have been working on a series of pieces based on the ritual burials of animals.

This series explores the way we as humans share an ancient history of ritually honouring animals in life and death, and invites the viewer to consider how the sacred place those animals once held has now changed. In the transient nature of life and death, there are clues all around us of the importance and significance certain animals have – in the names of plants, in the folklore and mythology of global cultures.

Inspired by ancient Celtic burial rites, the composition of each piece suggests a burial ground where the spirit of each animal is ritually honoured with sacred plants, symbols and runes.

Our ancient ancestors believed in reincarnation. Although specific funeral rites varied throughout Europe and indeed the globe, one common thread is that the human remains were being prepared for another world, where they would be infused with spirit and live again. Early on in this project I visited the British Museum and saw examples of ‘grave goods’ – objects of personal and spiritual significance placed in the grave or burned, believed to travel with the soul to the next life.

Many tribes or clans were believed to be descended from animals. We know of ‘Cat People’ in Scotland, and ‘Wolf Tribes’ in Ireland. Some families were even said to have descended from animals; at least six families in Scotland and Ireland were thought to share ancestry with the seal. In our early tribal culture, most had their animal totems – Sheep and Raven people in Sutherland, Horse people of Kintyre. In Switzerland they have discovered altars to the Bear more than 70,000 years old. Ceremonial headdresses made of antlers over 10,000 years old were found in Yorkshire.

Our ancestors chose to be buried with their animals, as guides or companions. Although hunting was commonplace, every part of the animal was used – even its excretions for healing rituals. The hunt itself was considered sacred, and the Goddess was asked for permission before daring to take the life of any creature. Animals held a role in our ancestors’ society far beyond anything we recognise now.

This series specifically looks at ten animals, all native to the British Isles at some point and all with special cultural or religious significance to pagan communities. Despite the sometimes literally God-like status some of these animals once held, many are now either endangered or lost entirely from the UK. In fact, of these 10, only 2 have populations defined as ‘stable’. Certainly it is true that every single one of these creatures faces persecution in some way.

The Arctic Hare was the original Hare of Britain, later replaced by the Brown Hare, probably brought by the Romans from central Europe. The Brown Hare is the only game species without a closed season when hunting is prohibited. Numbers have declined more than 80% in the last 100 years, a trend that continues.

There are 18 species of bats in Britain, all endangered and protected by law, and at least 12 species worldwide are now extinct.

Although frogs are numerous, their numbers have declined by in the UK by 75% in the last century due to habitat change and destruction. There are only 2 species of toad left in Britain, the Natterjack Toad is one of the top ten most threatened species of the UK.

Wolves were hunted out of existence in Britain in the18th century, the last one thought to have been killed in Scotland in 1743.

The Bear cult is one of the most ancient on Earth. It lived in Scotland until the 11th Century.

Otters are a priority species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan although it is the only species of this series whose numbers are confirmed to be on the incline in England.

Deer are not threatened in the UK, although this is undoubtedly due to huge numbers being owned and managed as a game species, on private estates and country parks, rather than being a ‘wild’ animal.

The Wildcat is critically endangered. In Britain since the Iron Age, and still existing in Scotland, its numbers could be as few as 400.

The Fox is the only species in this series both truly wild, and with a population considered stable, despite still being hunted and considered vermin throughout the world.

Finally the Barn Owl’s numbers have declined severely in the last few decades, with as few as 4000 breeding pairs remaining in the UK. They have coexisted with man since prehistoric times but a loss of habitat and change in traditional farming practices has put them on the critical list.

When I began this project, it came from my lifelong love for folklore and ancient mythology and a desire to explore this. However, researching each of these animal’s stories, learning of their magic, their power, and in many cases of their centuries of persecution borne out of human fear, I discovered I was personally marking each animal, ritualising my grief too. Even the process of embroidery can often be a meditative one. The in and out of the thread, the inhale and exhale. As I come to the project’s completion I feel both a sense of catharsis, and a strong desire to continue sharing the stories of species we have lost, species we are losing.

Who was it who first decided to name the harebell? What were the circumstances? Were they enjoying the golden late spring, watching the wild Hares boxing and dubbed the first flower they saw? Has a harebell ever been placed on a Hare’s grave? Has a great Bear’s body ever worn a crown of oak leaves?

Do we know when it was, or who our ancestors were when they first became aware of species disappearing? Or the moment when they – when we – first decided to stop ritually marking the death of animals?

 

Katie Tume is an embroidery artist from Brighton, East Sussex. Born in 1980, she is a fifth-generation needleworker who first learned her craft at her mother’s knee. She attended the Surrey Institute of Art and Design as a Fashion and Illustration student, but is largely self-taught in hand embroidery techniques. She completed her first formal training in 2015 at The Royal School of Needlework in Coloured Metal Threadwork. You can read about her fictional muse Mother Eagle here, in a short story she wrote about her. Katie’s work is influenced by folklore, mythology, pagan societies and the old Gods.

Find Katie on Instagram: @mother_eagle_embroidery_art

 

 

Graveyard of Lost Species – by YoHa & Critical Art Ensemble

Graveyard of Lost Species is an ambitious collaborative project and temporary monument by artists YoHa and Critical Art Ensemble commissioned by Arts Catalyst. The artwork – created from a local wrecked boat, and placed back into the Thames Estuary carved with people’s stories of changes in the area – is a physical but decaying memorial to what is passing as our environment and society transform.

The project records and acknowledges wildlife, marine creatures, microbes, people, livelihoods, fishing methods, landmarks, mythologies, and local dialects that once flourished in the Thames Estuary and are now disappearing under multiple threats. The artists worked with local inhabitants of the Leigh-on-Sea and Southend foreshore from 2013 to 2016, to gather knowledge and expertise about these ‘lost species’ and discuss how people and ecologies adapt and respond. The culmination of the research is now imprinted on the boat originally called The Souvenir.

yohawords

Steve Kurtz of Critical Art Ensemble says: “How do you make a monument that, rather than creating a smooth ideological space in which all people are expected to feel and believe in the same way, instead accounts for difference and allows for the contradictions and conflict of history, that lets all the different voices speak out? It might be a community but there is not unity of story – there are vastly indifferent interpretations of what’s going on. We are creating an anti-monument that will come apart, like the memories, over time.”

During Summer 2015, The Souvenir, a 40ft 12 ton Thames Bawley boatwreck, was resuscitated from the Estuary mud flats. She was cleaned and re-configured, whilst sited in a prominent public setting on Belton Way, the main thoroughfare between Leigh-on-Sea station and the old town.

yohasax

Arts Catalyst’s Programme Manager Claudia Lastra says “Without the thriving local industry there once was, The Souvenir had fallen into disrepair and become impossible to restore. Since it was built in 1933, local people have memories of this boat. It is a landmark, part of the Estuary’s landscape, and part of the archeology of this fascinating ecosystem. This project allows its heritage to remain public.”

The Thames Estuary is changing rapidly with new industrial infrastructure in construction, including the largest container port in the UK. The estuary’s sea marshes, tidal flats and muddy waters are critical wilderness zones for biodiversity conservation and species migration. Simultaneously, they are also zones for leisure and tourism, fishing grounds and the sites of historic wrecks. Graveyard of Lost Species is part of a wider project commissioned by Arts Catalyst, titled Wrecked on the Inter-tidal Zone,that seeks to explore art’s responsibility to understand and communicate such environments and cultures.

yohaboatcrowd

Photo credit: YoHa and Critical Art Ensemble, Graveyard of Lost Species, Leigh-on-Sea, UK (2016)

Living Planet Report 2016

The 2016 Living Planet Report has just been released by WWF. Prepare for a shocking read.

“The size and scale of the human enterprise has grown exponentially since the mid 20th century with the advent of the new geological era, the Anthropocene. The future of many living organisms is now in question.

Species populations of vertebrate animals decreased in abundance by 58% between 1970 and 2012. The most common threat to declining animal populations is the loss and degradation of habitat. Increasingly, people are victims of the deteriorating state of nature: without action the Earth will become much less hospitable. Humans have already pushed four planetary systems beyond the safe limit of their operating space. By 2012, the equivalent of 1.6 Earths was needed to provide the natural resources and services humanity consumed in that year.

To maintain nature in all of its many forms and functions and to create an equitable home for people on a finite planet, a basic understanding must inform development strategies, economic models, business models and lifestyle choices: we have only one planet and its natural capital is limited. A share understanding of the link between humanity and nature could induce a profound change that will allow all life to thrive in the Anthropocene.”

 

Dear Anton – by Alex Lockwood

Painting by Linnea Ryshke

 

Dear Anton,

I need to introduce you again. Introduce again this practice of writing to you every day for 180 days, the industrial lifespan for your species, Sus scrofa domesticus. I do it to come closer to your life. To try, at least. I began the experiment after finishing my book about pigs in industrial farming. I didn’t know happens when you finish a book in which the subjects of your work are killed. I thought about getting a tattoo of you. I felt responsible. I knew I couldn’t just leave you in the machine, treated as a machine. I needed to stay close; I couldn’t just blow you out in my head like a candle.

So here we are. We’ve got an audience. To recap, I’ve told you already in these letters about: who you are, who I am; explained—as poor as those explanations were—what happens to you in the first three weeks of birthing; about my mother, your mother; then onto philosophy, Thomas Nagel, bats, nature, nature writing, how the media represents you (badly); how I am planning to get you out of there.

Today I’m writing about extinction. Specifically, the connection between where you are, in that factory farm in Iowa, or the warehouse-like hangar in China, and the global crisis of species extinction. Extinction, Anton, is the process by which a species, animal or vegetable (and mineral?) is completely wiped out. That it no longer exists, except in memory, fossils and books. Sometimes we humans say “extinct in the wild” to mean we still imprison other individuals of that species somewhere, usually in zoos, mostly so people can stare at them. I know… All of this is alien to you, as your species is caught in an endlessly renewed hell, a regeneration of billions of individuals every year, every half a year. It’s what the French philosopher Jacques Derrida, a friend to animals, especially cats, a philosophical Doolittle—(so much in that name, Doolittle, when it comes to animals)—calls a perverse cycle of anthropocentric power, a constant re-birthing of life so we can kill it, and eat it. Eat you. And at ever growing cost.

Extinction, Anton, is relevant to your existence. Relevant, not least because of the massive numbers in which your species takes up the space of the ever dwindling numbers of other species outside the animal agriculture industry. (This is not your fault.) The question is not whether there is a link between extinction and the industrial animal agriculture that imprisons you, but rather how to make the existing bondage clearer.

Through statistics? What, by simply telling people that slaughter—the violent killing of billions of individuals from a tiny number of unlucky species—is the largest single contributing industry to the greenhouse gases causing climate change? By telling them that it is the major contributor to deforestation (91% of the Amazon clear cut for grazing and soy for feedlots) and loss of wildlife habitat? That it is the industry most responsible for water use and water pollution? That the industrial animal agriculture complex is the way we choose to prop up our growing global population’s calorific needs, even though there are (much) more sensible and sustainable means? That industrial animal agriculture is our manifest sloth and greed: producing meat and dairy that no one needs? In fact, knowing what we know, that the consumption of animal products is slowly killing us through cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, dementia…? The links are all there, Anton. But telling people doesn’t seem to work.

The species that is perhaps most surprisingly critically endangered by industrial animal agriculture, my friend, is us. We humans.

Not that that’s any comfort to you. Quicker, you say. Quicker.

I can hear the arguments against this, Anton. It’s all indirect. Industrial slaughter isn’t directly killing the white rhino. Animal agriculture isn’t directly responsible for the disappearance of the Asiatic cheetah, in the way that hunting was directly responsible for the disappearance of… oh, so many. Okay, no. Industrial animal agriculture is only directly responsible for the 80,000,000,000 (80 billion) land animals it slaughters per annum—one of whom is going to be you—and the 3,000,000,000,000 (three trillion) or so sea creatures. Mostly, they’re replaced. See you next year.

Remember your mother, Anton?

You don’t, I know. But I do.

This is where another concept may be useful: entanglement. That is, we are all entangled in mind–body­–world relations, and that what happens to each one of us can both cause and be caused by changes to the mind–body–world realities of others. Including the nonhuman other. The philosopher Lori Gruen talks about “entangled empathy” and that we need to give our “moral attention” to the other bodies with whom we are already entangled. Perhaps an example: a person who eats the body parts of another is entangled with that other, yes? Benefiting from that being’s energy? So the relation demands a moral attention, right? But when a human being eats the leg of a lamb these days, there is little moral attention given to the relation. Only economic attention. To convenience. Only the luxury of the taste. (I wrote this during #LoveLambWeek.)

Where has moral attention disappeared to, Anton? Why did we stop feeling empathy for the infant sheep whose legs we eat? There is no moral attention given today, Anton, by 98% of the world’s population, to the desires of those of you trapped in that interminable hell, where there is no living, survival is all. There is no recognition of the already existing entanglements between mind–body–world beings. And that’s because no one wants to be re-minded that there was an entanglement with not only the leg but also the mind of a young lamb, skipping with delight, bleating for its mum. No one, that is, Anton (and this is the mess we’ve got ourselves into) who wants to take direct responsibility.

Anton, I feel that I’m failing. I feel like I’m not doing justice here to the issue of convincing people of the connection between animal agriculture’s slaughter of billions, land and sea, year upon year, and that other slaughter of life: extinction. Maybe that’s because we’re all failing, Anton. Failing you, failing the Asiatic Cheetah, failing all of the red-listed creatures. Do numbers work? They’ve been shown not to. But it’s all I’ve got. Today 225,000,000 (225 million) of your domesticated brethren will be slaughtered for food; and 225,000 new humans will be added to the earth to eat that food; and 80 species will become extinct to make way. Just today. Tomorrow, again. Life shoved out by death. The monoculture of a species: homo rapiens, as John Gray calls us.

So, okay. The connection between slaughter and extinction? Or rather, the connector? Imagine it this way. In the middle you have the Great Human Baby that needs feeding if it’s to keep growing (growth is all!), its two grasping hands seeking sustenance. On one side you have a big pile of slaughtered animal products. On the other side you have a pile of those lovely wooden toys in the shape of animals, a child’s Noah’s Ark and its exotic megafauna. But the Great Human Baby needs to eat, so it grabs at either pile, indiscriminately, and like all babies, it will thrust whatever it finds into its mouth. Burger or snow leopard. Pork chop or parakeet. Cutlet or cloud forest. They’re all being consumed by the same source. Consumption here as both literal and metaphor. The shameful thing, my friend, is that we, the parents, the adults, keep shovelling the animals onto the piles, keep loading them up, so the baby can eat and eat and eat. And aged two (remember: metaphor and literal!) it is already obese. Already has diabetes and chronic heart disease.

It’s too much for me, Anton. Too much. And what have I done for you today other than depress you? You in your metal cavern, in the ammonia reek of your middle-age, the waste-stinking runnels, your wretched Iowan life. How has any of this helped you understand the connection between the extinction of species and the death that is looming for you?

Agh. I can’t give in to this helplessness. I am still looking for a way to help you escape. I know this is also what drives those who are working so hard, in conservation for example, to save individual animals who are, unlike you, part of a species not endlessly reproduced for its economic value.

Who’s better off, though? Those endangered lemurs and frogs, or you pigs? And why do conservationists still smother apple sauce on your belly and legs?

It’s a misnomer, isn’t it, Anton, this word extinction? When all we really need to call it is killing. Then perhaps we can see a little more clearly the connection between the two: industrial slaughter and the wiping out of non-economic nonhuman animals and ecosystems. Because to quibble over directness or indirectness is to simply betray an anthropocentric comfort with the question.

Oh, humans are saying, you mean the connection is us?

Oh, too miserable, Anton! Where have I gone with this?

I’ll get you out of there. Ninety four days gone; I have eight six days left. You are over half-way through your industrial lifespan (not 1/40th of your natural life expectancy) but I will use these days well. I just need to persuade 6,500,000,000 (6.5 billion) more humans that they’re already entangled with you too…

 

Alex Lockwood is a writer living in Newcastle and senior lecturer in the Centre for Research in Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Sunderland. He completed a PhD in Creative Writing at Newcastle University, exploring self-identity, psychoanalysis and affect. His book The Pig in Thin Air explores the place of the body in animal advocacy, and chronicles Alex’s journey around Canada and the United States in 2014, exploring animal advocacy and the animal rights movement there. 

 

Painting a Glimpse of Extinction – by Sophie Gainsley

I’ve been on a journey, accompanied by poet Harry Man (1), to memorialise Britain’s vanishing wildlife.  These creatures, along with countless others, are disregarded as we rush about our busy, hectic lives each day in concrete metropolises.  But outside in the natural, rural worlds which we so heavily depend on for our food, clothing and pretty much everything else, each individual creature is entwined in an ecosystem more complex than we know.  Many are disappearing before we can catalogue and study them – a process critical to learning how to protect them.  Every single one, from microscopic bugs, fungi and the green slime that clings to rocks, to bigger creatures like birds and mammals, are part of a global issue – a mass extinction, the extent of which is hard to grasp.

‘Finders Keepers’

Image: ‘Starry Sky’ from ‘Finders Keepers’ illustration by Sophie Gainsley

Our capitalist, greed-fuelled, unconscious actions of the past centuries have set in motion what scientists are calling ‘The Sixth Extinction’. Put concisely by New York writer Elizabeth Kolbert: ‘Over the last half-billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us.’

It is hard to believe this fact, living in a man-made world in our built-up, closed-in cities and towns. But it has been revealed by scientists, that we “…have only identified about 10-15 percent, at most, of existing species. Most types of life are unknown, rendering the great dying crisscrossing the globe eerily invisible to human eyes and silent to human ears,” as Tikkun Magazine states. (2)

The main things which are driving species over the edge ( -some estimates calculate that we are losing up to 200 species a day -) are mass habitat destruction such as deforestation and pollution (3). Trees are being burned and logged at a scary rate. 80% of the world’s forests have already been destroyed and every 2 seconds, an area the size of a football field is destroyed. (4)

Return of the Humpback

But it’s not all doom and gloom!  There are countless amazing conservation projects all around the word and a myriad of dazzling success stories.

Image: ‘Hello World’ illustration by Sophie Gainsley

When first observed by mariners, the Humpback whale was named ‘The Merry Whale’.   Not so merry is the fact that their curiosity and fearlessness made them easy targets for Whale Hunters.  Add to this, their predictable migration routes and what you were left with was a marine massacre.  Humpback populations were ravaged across the globe, so much so, that when the International Whaling Commission (IWC) banned commercial whaling of Humpbacks in 1966, there were only 5,000 left.  This number may sound like a lot,  but it was estimated in an study published by Global Conservation (5) that Humpback populations were reduced by up to 90% of their original size. There were only a few hundred Humpbacks left in North Atlantic waters, where many traditionally feed on the rich marine ecology during the Spring and Summer.

advice-whale

Advice Whale: poem by Harry Mann, image by Sophie Gainsley

Since then, the Humpback has made an impressive comeback.  They are now 80,000 strong worldwide and went from being labelled ‘endangered’ in 1988 to being considered of ‘least concern’ as recently as 2008.  This is just one of thousands of conservation success stories well worth celebrating!

Our project, Finders Keepers (6), created by Harry Man, aims to also raise awareness of conservation taking place all over the UK.  This includes the protection of habits such as our ancient woodlands and hedgerows which are threatened by the increase of agriculture and which creatures rely on.

The Toothed Threadwort, the Bastard Balm and the Wormwood Moonshiner

As I scrolled down the long list of endangered UK species, some of the more imaginative and entertaining names jumped out.  Among them, I found the quaint ‘Grizzled Skipper’, the ‘Grayling’ and ‘Bastard Balm’, all imaginative names for different butterfly species.  Meanwhile an unsuspecting algae goes by the name of the ‘Toothed Threadwort’ and a ribbed black beetle, the ‘Wormwood Moonshiner’.  Even in the most unlikely of places, the British sense of humour prevails and reminds us of our abundant imagination and creativity.  It is these traits and our ability for forethought and planning which have enabled us to survive against the odds and thrive in most environments across Earth until today.  There is much hope that these same traits will enable us to undo some of the damage we have caused and turn back the clock, to conserve threatened species. Or in the words of David Attenborough, as he beautifully concluded the BBC ‘Planet Earth’ series; “Our planet is still full of wonders and as we explore we gain not only understanding but power. It’s not just the future of the whale that today lies in our hands, it’s the survival of the natural world on all parts of the living planet. We can now destroy or we can cherish. The choice is ours.”

the-woods-from-finders-keepers-illustration-by-sophie-gainsley

Image: ‘The Woods’ from ‘Finders Keepers’ Illustration by Sophie Gainsley

Links

1 http://www.manmadebooks.co.uk/Harry_Man/Home.html

2 http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/why-extinction-matters-at-least-as-much-as-climate-change

3 http://www.theecologist.org/essays/2986610/extinction_is_forever.html

4 http://onetreeplanted.org/pages/tree-facts

5 http://global.wcs.org/Wildlife/GlobalPrioritySpecies/HumpbackWhale.aspx)

6 http://www.finderskeepers.org.uk/

 

 

Departure Lounge – by Peter Forward

Australian artist Peter Forward talks about his work:

My project: “Departure Lounge” in some ways extends the tradition of natural science art. The medium I use is discarded cardboard packaging, sourced from living trees, the home of many species as well as the lungs of the planet. Within the constraints of this medium, I try to represent Australian threatened small mammals as accurately as possible. My work also references the inherent threats that human needs pose to the existence of many species and ecosystems. I work with wildlife conservation scientists which has made me very aware of how poorly wild Australia is being treated: part of planet Earth’s current extinction crisis.

squirrelglider

Australia has an appalling extinctions record, the worst on earth.  “Squirrel Glider” [above] is one of 6 flying marsupials most of which are also declining. There is probably another in North Australia which has not yet been described formally – we are still losing species before we even have learned of their existence! As a developed and wealthy country I see no excuse, hence my arts activity.

burrowing-bettong

  Above: Boodie

Burrowing Bettong or Boodie (Bettongia lesueur): Once common in most of southern Australia, is now only found on tiny islands off the WA coast which have no cats or foxes. Now extinct on the mainland, the Boodie served a very important function in the Australian grassland ecosystem. As it foraged, it mixed organic matter into the soil, spreading fungi and seeds. This mixing also increased water absorption into the soil and reduced the combustible material under trees, decreasing the likelihood of fire. These actions helped maintain the balance of trees, shrubs, and grasses. The loss of small, ground-foraging animals after European settlement together with hard hoofed stock animals almost certainly contributed to widespread soil deterioration. Boodies live communally, several hundred can inhabit one site and warrens can be enormous. On introduction to Australia rabbits simply pushed the bettongs aside and took over the burrows.

numbat

Above: Numbat

Below: Bilby

Bilby (Macrotis lagotis): Bilbies would have to be the cutest animal you could imagine. They are a bit awkward-looking when they run or hop, but they have the poise of little ballet dancers. They are about the size of a rabbit but are adapted to very harsh, arid and extreme places. The favourite food is mycorrhizal fungi which most plants/trees here require (underground fungi – a bit like truffles). So they are out there digging every night turning over the desert sands. There were two species of Bilby but one is extinct. From the arid interior of Australia to the temperate coastal areas, Bilbies were common, but this was a hundred years ago. Today, changes in their habitat have seen their range reduced and their status listed as ‘vulnerable’. They are now in competition with introduced animals which graze on plants used by Bilbies. Foxes and feral cats have become the main predators. Even changing fire patterns have contributed to their demise in certain areas due to impact on type and availability of food sources. This has led to isolated populations surviving in pockets in arid regions.

Below: Leadbeater’s possum

  Leadbeater’s possum (Gymnobelideus leadbeateri): This is an endangered small marsupial which is dependant on old growth eucalypt forests with established hollows for its home. As a result it is now located in small pockets of old growth Mountain Ash forest in Victoria’s Central Highlands. Its numbers are estimated to have peaked in the mid-1980s, when approximately 7500 were known in the wild. Since then, numbers have declined. Logging has impacted on its habitat and range. Devastatingly, the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009 burned around 45% of its remaining habitat. There is now estimated to be around 1500 Leadbeater’s Possums remaining and it may soon be admitted to the critically endangered list. To protect this species we must protect old growth forests.