Friday, January 10, 2020

‘Last to Sea’

Elora Sculpture Project - 2020  

(modified from my submission)

A group of ocean creatures are confined within the circle of a plastic fishing net, ‘drowned’ by clear plastic water bottles. Can they be more than glimpsed through that mass of human waste? These are species with ancient lineages, all have have survived through previous mass extinctions. But look! All these are now pushed to the brink of destruction, directly through human activities.


This piece owes its genesis from my ongoing (and increasing) concern about human impact on world climate, and what is most certainly the sixth great mass extinction, this time caused directly by our actions. (1) There is a clear connection to ‘Legacy’ (2018), and the ongoing local concern in Wellington County over water bottling. The title is a riff on ‘Last Chance to See’ - a BBC produced radio and later television series profiling endangered species.

The overall form of the piece came from a section of nylon net from the commercial fishery I picked up beach combing on my last trip to Newfoundland (in 2017).
I have several long standing sculptural series, inspired by undersea and ancient life (‘Songs of Distant Oceans’ ). A first time trip to Cuba in 2019 (2), and recent trip to the Ripley’s Aquarium also started me thinking about aquatic life - and especially the impact of human generated plastics.

As I started researching individual creatures, I was actually shocked to find the number of truly ancient species that were on the ‘Endangered’ list, some close to Extinction :

a) ’Tiny Fishes’ (3) - represented by a school grouping, cut from stainless steel sheet and without much detailing. Intended as a reflection of the collapse of the Fishery, how larger species have be hunted beyond viability, so only smaller and smaller fish remain (and are in turn harvested out).
b) Sharks - represented by a larger sculpture ( about 3 feet), made of a series of formed and welded pieces. I was surprised to find so many shark species Endangered (including amazingly the Great White!). Modern types unchanged 200 million years, through 2 Extinction Events.
c) Horseshoe Crabs - formed from several pieces, with a long forged tail (about 2 feet total). Unchanged 450 million years, through 5 Extinction Events (!!).
d) Abalone - forged from a single plate, (about 10 inches). Several types off North American almost extinct through overfishing. Unchanged for 70 million years, through 1 Extinction Event (the ‘youngest’ type portrayed).
e) Sea Turtles - represented by an empty shell, composed of a set of formed and welded together plates.  Of 7 modern types, fully 5 are on the Endangered list. 110 million years (modern species), through 1 Extinction Event.
f & g) Corals - forged from a combination of pipe and solid bar. Shown as Staghorn and Elkhorn, both Endangered. 240 million years for these types, through 2 Extinction Events.
I may also add a couple of more ‘fantastic’ creatures (thinking coral like animals), as a suggestion of life now unknown in the depths - destroyed before ever being known.

I wanted to step back from the more conceptual work of past contributions, which turned out to present mechanical problems in the construction that I was unhappy with. Instead of one large complex (moving) structure, the idea here was to combine a number of smaller objects, using proven techniques on each. In this way, each individual sculpture would prove less important than the setting impact of the entire grouping. (Any one object, if ‘failed’, could be replaced or eliminated without effecting the whole.) Interested public would be able to purchase any of the individual small sculptures - or the entire installation.

Construction :
- Total Height = 3 feet above base / Total width = 4 feet.
- A support frame of heavy angle iron (1 1/2 x 3/16) is overlaid with a base grid of wire grid.
- This holds a layer of thin (2 - 3”) irregular limestone slabs.
- The individual sculptures are either pinned to the slabs or secured to the grid through the gaps between stones.
- The section plastic fishing net is secured through an upper ring of steel rod (3/8 round) - which in turn is held in place by a series of vertical rods (spaced every two feet).
- The main fabrication technique used for the individual sculptures is torch cut heavy plate (1/8 thick), which is then hot forged to 3D curves. Fine details of additional methods will depend on the specific creature forms.  All are left in the ‘fire scale’ finish, which will be intended to rust with time.
- The water bottles will have labels removed, and caps retained (to stop water gathering / mosquitoes!) Ideally these will be a simple loose pile, filling the enclosure. It may prove, however, that this large number will obscure the sculptural forms. If this proves the case, a single layer of bottles will be attached to the sides of the netting, with a number fixed together to form a top plate and suspended from the upper metal ring.
- It is expected the nature of the work, already featuring ‘trash’, may end up collecting additional publicly added refuse. I do not consider this a problem, if anything, this enforces the spirit of the message.

Note: I fully realise that most of the links cited here are hardly the most rigorous, mainly being popular culture vs scientific research types. 
Honestly, I don't consider this fundamentally important to understanding the point.

1) My second submission in 2019 (and although not chosen, the one I personally liked better) was 'Last to See' - a series of concrete slabs with enclosed forged pieces representing 'fossils'. One slab representing the sequence of the five earlier known mass extinction events. Today's Holocene / Anthropocene Extinction makes the sixth.

2) Beach combing has always been real enjoyment for me.
On my January 2019 trip to Boca de Camarioca (east of Havana), one of my real 'finds' was the long sun bleached skull of a sea turtle. This measures 7 1/2 long by 4 inches wide - obviously from a fairly large (and long dead) animal (likely a Logerhead?). My best guess, given how close I found the skull to where local fishermen tied up their boats, is that this was likely killed for the meat. As this was a beach find, not in any way apparently linked to the tourist trade, I did not feel evil keeping it. (Admittedly, I was a lot cautious packing it back home to Canada.)

3) A direct reference to Stan Rogers : 'Tiny Fish for Japan'
My first trip out to Northern Newfoundland was in 1995. Two years after the closing of the Cod Fishery, people were still in a state of shock. Over the years I have returned a number of times to L'Anse aux Meadows. And watch those once fishing cod turn to crab, then turn to shrimp, then to previously undesirable species. (This including 're-branding' types with new, more pleasant names.)
Morning coffee conversations with two marine biologists, billeted at the same B & B in 1996, suggested the following : The total mass of fish in the local oceans was not changing that much. But the larger, top end types were being eliminated, with smaller and smaller fish coming to dominate the total.

An added personal note :

Remember 'Sea Hunt' ?? I sure do! As a kid in the early 60's, I was glued to the TV for every episode. I remember making my own 'tanks' out of paper towel centres, crawling over the living room couch and floor. Almost as soon as I learned to swim, I had a face mask. One of the enduring gifts from my soon to depart father was being taught how to skin dive - I still own my first 'real' snorkel (a US Divers model from the late 1960's).
Although the rivers and lakes around Peterborough, Ontario where I grew up were hardly the warm and crystal clear Florida ocean of my imagination, I have spent far more time under the water, than on it...

If you needed a sobering, science based view : watch 'Ocean Blue' with Silvia Earle

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February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

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