Sonia Boyce, decolonial artist, and her connection to lost species  – by Cloe Ofori

Streaked Bombardier beetle photo c/o Craig Slawson, Buglife

Sonia Boyce, MBE is a British artist, activist, curator and academic whose work features decolonial, participatory and ecological themes. She began working in the 1980s and quickly became a central figure in the black British art scene at the time – in 1987 she was the first black female artist to be exhibited at the Tate.

Her work began as an exploration of self and her position and visibility as a black British woman in contemporary British society. From observations of her race and gender, Boyce’s work has opened up to become more collaborative, encouraging discussions of similar themes.

One piece of work that chimes with Remembrance Day for Lost Species is Boyce’s recent commission to work on the Crossrail Elizabeth line near the docks in the east London borough of Newham, the area where the artist grew up. It will be the longest artwork in the UK, a mural that stretches 1.8km through Custom House, Silvertown and Woolwich. The theme of the mural is a kind of local ecology. Earlier this year, she worked with local residents as part of the research process, through oral histories and knowledge evolving from pub quizzes. This cooperative process is a defining feature of Boyce’s work and feeds into a decolonial theme of art being created by the people it is for; grassroots rather than top-down.

Boyce has said that she is interested in place and “site specific” work. In her proposal video for the Crossrail mural which Boyce of course won, she cites the London docklands as “the gateway to Britain’s relationship with the rest of the world” in terms of empire and trade. She is particularly interested in the people that live in and have passed through the docks and their relationship with British culture.

Boyce has woven local species into the mural. In her conversation with Frieze Magazine, she talks about a species of bombadier beetle which is found exclusively in the docks and its connection with the history of the place. In 2006 a colony of 61 Streaked bombadier beetles was rediscovered in the docklands after having been presumed extinct since 1928. This has led to concerns about protecting the areas of brownfield land in East London – prime land for developers and the “upscaling” and inevitable extinction of local communities, human or otherwise.

Since the 1990s, Boyce’s work has evolved with participation as a defining feature. Boyce herself considers this important and central to her method; visible in the way that she worked with Newham residents and community groups to create the Crossrail mural. Looking through a geopolitical lens, the timing of the Elizabeth line is problematic. Boroughs like Newham, previously a working-class, disenfranchised area, are now witnessing an unprecedented period of gentrification. Crossrail, which prides itself on connecting London and the South East, seems opportune and provokes questions about why it is only now that South East London is being connected to central London with a “state-of-the-art” railway.

With this in mind, Boyce’s process, working with local people and communities, relates directly to one of the issues that Remembrance Day for Lost Species seeks to consider: exploring stories of cultures driven to extinction by unjust power structures. The mural not only remembers but celebrates the history of the area in all its forms, of people, of local flora and fauna, and of the diverse cultures which have created what it has been and will be.

Another example of Boyce’s work as starting a dialogue is her “takeover” of Manchester Art Gallery in January of this year. It involved collaboration to discuss two controversial paintings, one of which, Hylas and the Nymphs (by John William Waterhouse, 1896), features unsettling portrayals of women. Boyce started a dialogue about this piece and gender binary representations with a local drag group and museum staff, which culminated in on-site performances, an art piece in itself. During Boyce’s takeover, the painting was temporarily removed, which caused a furore about censorship, criticisms which Boyce has addressed in her conversation with the Guardian’s Charlotte Higgins. 

Boyce’s work promotes conversation and thoughts about local communities’ role in creating art and questioning structures of power. Remembrance Day for Lost Species goes far beyond the animals and plants themselves, and seeks to bring the themes that Boyce discusses in her work – of race, class, gender and how the identities within these classifications are being threatened – to the fore.

Cloe Ofori is a writer and researcher based in Brighton, England.

Hallowed Ground – by Mother Eagle

For the last 5 years I have been in the habit of producing a collection of work each year according to my own brief. Usually this is an idea that forms within the completion of the previous year and then I have to fight with myself to abandon that one and get on with the new.

And so it was as last year’s Remembrance Day for Lost Species exhibition was being hung that I had begun my Hallowed Ground project. This idea hadn’t come to me fully formed and I’d had to do a lot of casting around for the inspiration to sort of glue together. Part of my process was to research ways that other cultures mark their grief, their death customs. This had led me to discover the practice of Sky Burial and Air Sacrifice.

Both practices are types of excarnation, whereby the corpse is placed outside to be exposed to the elements and scavenging animals. In the Mongolian practice of air sacrifice, I discovered the specific ritual of outlining the body with stones, and when the body has completely degenerated back into the natural world, the space within the stones has become a sacred space.

I found this very moving. Considering this concept and applying it to the world’s most critically endangered species made me think about how their habitats have become so rarefied and equally as threatened as to require reverence. The idea of a negative space as an artistic device representing an extremely special, precious and rare place.

I began to research animals on the IUCN Red List that are classified as Critically Endangered but that also have severely threatened habitats. My intention was to create a representation of their home that was both faithful and fantastical. A grave and an afterlife. A place that draws the viewer in to explore, hopefully to delight, and then to ask questions to discover the story of this rare and absent friend.

Rio Pescado Stubfoot Toad 

The Rio Pescado Stubfoot toad is so critically endangered that it may already be extinct. It lives in a tiny scrap of Ecuadorian lowland forest that is dwindling away, and lives nowhere else. Indeed, it’s loss of habitat due to agriculture, logging and pollution is the main threat to its existence. One third of all frogs and toads are on the verge of extinction, suffering an 80% loss in the last 3 decades.

Sawfish 

The large tooth sawfish is one of the rarest fish in the world, and a living dinosaur, existing for 60 million years at least. Degradation of their preferred habitat of shallow coastal estuaries has removed them from 95% of their historical range. The sawfish has suffered a population decline of 80% since the ‘60s.

Pygmy Three-Toed Sloth 

The Pygmy three-toed sloth is found only in a tiny area of red mangrove forest on Isla Escudo de Veraguas, Panama. Despite being an uninhabited island and designated a protected landscape, a number of domestic and international efforts have been mounted to develop tourism on the island. In addition, their mangrove habitat is also threatened, with one in six species facing extinction.

Seychelles Sheath-Tailed Bat 

One of the world’s rarest mammals, only found on the Seychelles islands of Silhouette and Mahe, there are estimated only 30-100 individuals remaining. Roosting in granite boulder caves, an introduced invasive species of vine block the cave entrances and reduce insect availability, already in decline due to pesticide use.

Geometric Tortoise 

A very small and beautiful tortoise only found in the Cape Floral Kingdom of South Africa. In fact, this is the only species in this series classed as Endangered (not Critically), however destruction of more than 90% of its habitat, an extraordinarily botanically diverse area, itself classed critically endangered as well as ‘100% irreplaceable’, earned its place.

Gooty Tarantula 

This otherworldly electric blue arachnid only exists in the dry deciduous forest of Andhra Pradesh, India. Its habitat is rapidly degrading due to logging and firewood harvesting. Population size is unknown but the combination of a tiny natural range and pressure from illegal pet trade paints a sad picture.

 

Kate Tume is an embroidery artist from Brighton, East Sussex 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. Kate’s work is influenced by folklore, mythology, burial customs and the old Gods. She is currently working on projects around our disappearing natural world, and lost species.

 

Apology to the Great Auk, 2017 – by Marcus Coates

Apology to the Great Auk, 2017 from marcus coates on Vimeo.

During the summer of 2017, British artist Marcus Coates travelled to Fogo Island, Newfoundland, to ask for an official apology to be given the Great Auk, a flightless bird once numerous around the island, but extinct since 1844 due to excessive hunting. The resulting film, Apology to the Great Auk documents a sincere attempt by the community of Fogo Island, through the specially appointed apology committee, to respond and learn from the loss of what can only now be imagined.

You can read the full text of the Apology on Marcus’ website here.

Marcus’ work uses a wide range of means to delve into the more-than-human world. It’s often participatory and often uses ritual. Well-known projects include The Trip and Arrivals/Departures, Rituals.  Ask The Wild is an ongoing series of panel events that ask what can be learned from other species to inform the problems and questions about human society. This year, Marcus made Extinct Animals, a collection of cast hands depicting different animal species whose extinctions were caused by humans.

 

Hope interrupted – by Harriet & Rob Fraser

hope interrupted

Hope interrupted

South Cumbria, June 6, 2018

this is hope
    challenged
this is hope
    fading

lying in my hand
perfect body
eyes tight shut
wings the tiniest of things
not ready to fly
limp blue legs
dinosaur ancestry

this is the heavy weight of hope
     discarded

here in the meadow
among sorrel and buttercups
and the heat of a cloudless sky
hope, feathered and filched
flung to the ground
and left
alone

hope  less

I do not know
if it was a crow
that took this curlew chick
or a fox

I do not know if the calls of the parent birds
that have been circling and calling
     circling and calling
     circling and calling
are calls of anger
or of sorrow
or warning

but in those haunting high-pitched cews
I hear no hope

hope lies here
at my feet
while the adults cry

 

Harriet Fraser


Rob and Harriet Fraser are www.somewhere-nowhere.com   

@butnorain

somewhere_now.here

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Lake Merritt Regenerative Memorial & Pollinator Procession

This is a 2.5 minute brief on 2017 Remembrance Day for Lost Species, November 30th events at Lake Merritt Wildlife Refuge in Oakland, California.

Thanks to Kristin Tieche and Susan Bradley for recording and finishing this film. As well, to event partners Toni Tone of Giant Puppets Save the World and Tora Rocha of Pollinator Posse, participating artists and musicians, including Cello Joe and Heather Normandale and Biketopia Music Collective, the anonymous event sponsor, and ALL who participated.

Extinction Witness and Giant Puppets Save the World connected at Bioneers in 2016 and again this year. Our gratitude goes to Bioneers for the annual conference and year-round communications, which serve as a hub for inspired networking and creative, healing collaborations.

To learn more about Lucille’s Regenerative Memorials, please visit regenerativememorials.com.

Megan Hollingsworth, writer & creative director, Extinction Witness

Lament

Two new works especially made for Remembrance Day for Lost Species 2017, in honour of lost and disappearing pollinators.

Xerces blue – Sherrell Cuneo Biggerstaff (Embroidery)

The Xerces blue (Glaucopsyche xerces) is an extinct species of butterfly in the gossamer-winged butterfly family. The species lived in coastal sand dunes of the Sunset District of San Francisco peninsula. The Xerces blue is believed to be the first American butterfly species to become extinct as a result of loss of habitat caused by urban development. The last Xerces blue was seen in 1941 or 1943.

Silent Spring – Jilliene Sellner (Audio)
Silent Spring is the title of Rachel Carson’s book published in 1962 warning of the impending environmental disaster of unbridled industrial pesticide manufacture and use. This sound piece refers both directly and indirectly to Carson, related or inspired work such as Massive Attack’s track Silent Spring, Steven Stucky’s symphonic poem of the same title, as well as crop spraying and extracts from David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks and Maggie Gee’s The Ice People. The work is a lament and dreaming of reversal knowing what otherwise lies ahead.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST – by Megan Hollingsworth

The last of the mighty big and free were prisoners guarded with guns,

the named among popular relics saved for trophies

like swaths of impressive land and sea

or captive specimens locked in laboratory cages

within rooms without windows.

 

And they were all whats

And they were all its

Some to be tagged, released, and watched

 

Why? Because the body’s pleasure had been denied

Sanctity? Because, after being treated as an object

forgetting all souls housed,

someone claimed the body an object

nothing more than material to be used, maybe,

and more, a curiosity to be observed

in a photograph pinned to the wall

now pornographed on screen

 

Child sex trophies along with wives

for the successful

not so different at root

than skulls placed in plastic bags

on shelves

labels noting where they were found,

an estimate of when they were killed

 

All too common to count,

the fortunately unfortunate heartsease got away

 

 

Author’s Note: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is a 2017 revision of a poem written in 2014 during a month’s witness with rhinoceros and thoughts on the militarization of species conservation. As well, why some humans protect who they do. And they were ‘whats’ is in reference to Maya Lin’s last memorial, What Is Missing? And they were ‘its’ is in reference to the description of Ilin Bushy-tailed Cloud Rat at IUCN Red List. Heartsease, Viola tricolor, also known as Johnny Jump up heart’s ease, heart’s delight, tickle-my-fancy, Jack-jump-up-and-kiss-me, come-and-cuddle-me, three faces in a hood, and love-in-idleness, is a common European wildflower, growing as an annual or short-lived perennial introduced to and spread in North America.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is offered for Indigenous People’s Day as the ‘why and how’ of who gets protected and what communities ‘reserved’ is fresh in my mind following a visit to Yellowstone National Park with my son September 30th, 2017 – National Public Lands day and one of the annual free-entrance days for National Parks. With intent to show my son the Lower Falls and perhaps share the experience I had seeing the view for the first time in 1994, the day visit was bittersweet.

When I first visited Yellowstone with my mother while on summer vacation from college, I was uninformed of how U.S. National Parks, spurred by the cutting of giant sequoia during the California Gold Rush, came into existence through continued forced removal of native peoples. I had also not yet experienced living in forest homestead or extended periods wandering Wilderness. The time in the Park on September 30th was very much what visiting the Park has felt like since being informed of genocide and these personal experiences of immersion in community. To me, the Park feels like a zoo or museum with charismatic community members like relics on display. Captives, like famous actors and musicians, mobbed when they appear.

Along with the urgent need for preservation of all remaining intact ecological communities, the ‘us and them’ practice of species conservation and community preservation needs to end. And the ‘half-Earth’ meme clearly emphasise the reintegration of human lifeways to established reserves where peoples have been removed in the course of establishment. Just as the whole of ecological community needs to be integrated in urban centers in the vein of ‘win-win ecology’.

I imagine the time when all humans again experience themselves indigenous – as participants in biologically diverse community rather than as guests and observers of ‘wildlife’ and ‘nature’. Because we humans are participants in biologically diverse community. Biodiversity is social diversity. And there is no escaping that reality. This is painfully obvious as everyone suffers and whole communities fail when humans neglect responsibility to care for those vulnerable in our midst.

On our way into the Park, my son and I happened to stop for a lunch break along Gardiner River just before bighorn sheep arrived for a drink and the crowd arrived to photograph them. As we were headed home, we chanced to see two black at separate points, though near one another, both surrounded and traffic stalled. I did not stop and did my best to explain why to my son, who is seven years old.

Looking out into the canyon from Lower Falls, Yellowstone National Park

Lower Falls, Yellowstone National Park

My son was less impressed by the grandness of the Lower Falls than with the spaces he could fit inside, and tiny rocks and sticks and clay he found on trail.

Bestiary – by Joanna Macy

Bronx Zoo, Alexis Rockman, 2012-13

Short-tailed albatross

Whooping crane

Gray wolf

Woodland caribou

Hawksbill sea turtle

Rhinoceros

 

The list of endangered species keeps growing longer every year.  With too many names to hold in our mind, how do we honor the passing of life?  What funerals or farewells are appropriate?

 

Reed warbler

Swallowtail butterfly

Bighorn sheep

Indian python

Howler monkey

Sperm whale

Blue whale

 

Dive me deep, brother whale, in this time we have left. Deep in our mother ocean where I once swam, gilled and finned. The salt from those early seas still runs in my tears. Tears aren’t enough anymore. Give me a song, a song for a sadness too vast for my heart, for a rage too wild for my throat.

 

Giant sable antelope

Wyoming toad

Grizzly bear

Brown bear

Bactrian camel

Nile crocodile

Chinese alligator

 

Ooze me, alligator, in the mud whence I came. Belly me slow in the rich primordial soup, cradle of our molecules. Let me wallow again, before we drain your swamp and pave it over.

 

Gray bat

Ocelot

Pocket mouse

Sockeye salmon

Tasmanian kangaroo

Hawaiian goose

Audouin’s seagull

 

Quick, lift off. Sweep me high over the coast and out, farther out.  Don’t land here. Oilspills coat the beach, rocks, sea. I cannot spread my wings glued with tar.  Fly me from what we have done, fly me far.

 

Golden parakeet

West African ostrich

Florida panther

Galapagos penguin

Imperial pheasant

Snow leopard

Mexican prairie dog

 

Hide me in a hedgerow, badger. Can’t you find one? Dig me a tunnel through leaf-mold and roots, under the trees that once defined our fields. My heart is bulldozed and plowed over.  Burrow me a labyrinth deeper than longing.

 

Thick-billed parrot

San Francisco garter snake

Desert bandicoot

Molokai thrush

California condor

Lotus blue butterfly

 

Crawl me out of here, caterpillar. Spin me a cocoon. Wind me to sleep in a shroud of silk, where in patience my bones will dissolve. I’ll wait as long as all creation if only it will come again — and I take wing.

 

Atlantic ridley turtle

Coho salmon

Helmeted hornbill

Marine otter

Humpback whale

Steller sea-lion

Monk seal

 

Swim me out beyond the ice floes, mama. Where are you? Boots squeeze my ribs, clubs drum my fur, the white world goes black with the taste of my blood.

 

Gibbon

Sand gazelle

Swamp deer

Musk deer

Cheetah

Chinchilla

Asian elephant

African elephant

 

Sway me slowly through the jungle. There still must be jungle somewhere, my heart drips with green secrets. Hose me down by the waterhole; there is buckshot in my hide. Tell me old stories while you can remember.

 

Desert tortoise

Crested ibis

Hook-billed kite

Mountain zebra

Mexican bobcat

Andrew’s frigatebird

 

In the time when his world, like ours, was ending, Noah had a list of the animals, too. We picture him standing by the gangplank, calling their names, checking them off on his scroll. Now we also are checking them off.

 

Ivory-billed woodpecker

Indus river dolphin

West Indian manatee

Wood stork

 

We reenact Noah’s ancient drama, but in reverse, like a film running backwards, the animals exiting.

 

Ferret

Gorilla

Jaguar

Wolf

 

Your tracks are growing fainter. Wait. Wait. This is a hard time.  Don’t leave us alone in a world we have wrecked.

Infected/ Bee-Jewelled – by Simon Park

As part of our series of blog posts on pollinators and pollinator-inspired art in the lead-up to this year’s Remembrance Day for Lost Species, we are showcasing the creative work of  scientist Simon Park.

Infected and its sister project Bee-Jewelled blend horror and beauty to explore the effects of pesticides on bee populations.

Infected

Infected, 2017. Medium: a found dead bumble bee and elemental Sulphur

This work imagines pollen contaminated with bee-killing pesticides as an infectious crystallising agent that slowly kills its host by infiltrating its biology and gradually transforming it into an inanimate and yellow crystalline form. It is “much inspired” by J.G Ballard’s The Crystal World.

Bee-Jewelled

Bee-Jewelled was inspired when Park found out that bees, like airborne swarm filter feeders,  concentrate environmental  pollutants,  like pesticides and fungicides.  This makes them hypersensitive to a natural parasite called  Nosema cerenae.

As Park explains: “With a nod to  Ackroyd and Harvey, Roger Hiorns and J.G. Ballard, this work reflects the ability of bees to concentrate environmental chemicals and highlights fears for their extinction.”

Simon Park on his practice:

“I’m not an artist, but a liberal scientist whose work explores the deep connections of the natural world… My goal is simple: to explore the inherent creativity of the natural world and to reveal its subtle, and usually hidden narratives, and above all to reveal its wonder. My hope is that my works will allow the interested observer to perceive biological phenomena that would otherwise be perpetually invisible, so that the hidden machinations of the natural world are brought to light.”