Spirit Boats – by Alexi Francis

At home I am making an origami boat out of paper. It is covered in scrim, dried teabag papers and used coffee filter papers and adorned with natural materials – moss, lichen, bark, sheep’s wool. It ‘s to be a “spirit boat” for a ritual to mourn the many species which have been lost or are at risk of going extinct.

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In the shamanistic tradition of Arctic Europe, spirit boats were made to journey to other realms of reality or to carry the souls of the departed on to the next world. I am making several spirit boats each with a different theme. I have sewn the found bones of a rabbit on to the sides of one boat and used a rabbit skull as a figurehead. This boat is to commemorate extinct mammals and will carry the names of those that have recently disappeared – the Javan Tiger, the Quagga, the Pyrenean Ibex…

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On another boat I’ve attached feathers, twigs and eggshells; this one is for the extinct birds and it too carries names of recently extinct species – the Passenger Pigeon, the Great Auk, the Kangaroo Island Emu, the Laughing Owl, the Crested Shelduck, Mariana Mallard…

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A third boat carries the names of recently extinct insects and other invertebrates – the Levuana Moth, the Cascade Funnel-Web Spider, the Polynesian Tree Snail, the Pearly Mussel. It shall have paper wings.

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Yet another will be for plants and forests.

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As habitat destruction continues with climate change, urbanisation, changes in agricultural practice and other wanton human practices, habitats and species of all kinds around the world are dwindling and disappearing faster than ever.

On 30th November, Remembrance Day for Lost Species, I shall take my spirit boats to a favourite stretch of the River Adur in Sussex where lines of pollarded willows stand on the dishevelled floodplain. There the water is still like glass, rippled only by passing swans. A dead tree stands sentry-like, its contorted limbs reflected in the mirror waters below. As the sun sets I shall lower my boats into the water, each lit up by a tea light and as dusk settles they shall drift off with the gentle current as a last farewell.

Alexi Francis is an illustrator living in Brighton, England.

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