Endangered Art

From Whatcom to Western



WHAT: “Endangered Species: Artists on the Front Line of Biodiversity” and “The Elephant in the Room”
WHEN: Through Jan. 6
WHERE: Whatcom Museum’s Lightcatcher Building and Old City Hall

WHAT: “Modest Forms of Biocultural Hope”
WHEN: Sept. 26-Dec. 8
WHERE: Western Gallery, WWU

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

While admiring the gothic, multi-layered beauty of Isabella Kirkland’s oil painting “Gone,” I came to a horrible realization concerning every one of the 63 species of animals and plants depicted in the masterwork on display as part of the “Endangered Species: Artists on the Front Line of Biodiversity” exhibit currently showing at Whatcom Museum’s Lightcatcher Building.

In a list found to the right of the painting, visitors are informed that all of these species are now extinct. Gone is the small minnow known as the thicktail chub, the Carolina parakeet, passenger pigeons, many species of fresh water mussels, Bachman’s warbler, the double-banded Argus pheasant, the golden toad, the long-tailed hopping mouse, and the white-footed rabbit rat. And the list goes on—including a roundup of plants that can no longer be found on our increasingly fragile planet.

Through the work of 60 artists celebrating biodiversity’s beauty and probing the causes threatening it, the exhibit viewed as a whole is both chilling and fascinating.

Patrons will see the works of famed ornithologist, naturalist and painter John James Audubon and realize that although his detailed illustrations of North American birds in their natural habitat helped document them, he typically hunted, killed and posed them before painting them.

They’ll also find out that famed pop artist Andy Warhol was a harbinger of hope in the fight to keep endangered species alive, and that he rendered the orangutan, black rhinoceros, bighorn ram, Grevey’s zebra, and other animals featured in the exhibit in bold colors that resembled his celebrity portraits, giving them “movie star auras” that called attention to their vulnerable status.

Among the recycled chicken bones, coral reef re-creations, wooly mammoths, dinosaur depictions, fearsome wolf pelts, dodo displays and further evidence of how humans and nature are working in tandem to debilitate the planet, visitors will also find positive steps that are being taken to climate change and the loss of biodiversity.

By drawing attention to things like citizen-science projects that help scientists obtain data on pollution and other environmental issues, to solar power breakthroughs, and Marine Protected Areas that have been designated through the world, the exhibit curated by Barbara Matilsky offers solutions in a time of chaos and uncertainty. Plus, related events happening regularly through early December on everything from waterfronts as contested spaces, to gallery tours with Matilsky, to talks on climate change impacts in the Pacific Northwest and the recovery of the American bald eagle, are on the roster.

On the way to view “The Elephant in the Room: The Allure of Ivory and its Tragic Legacy” at Whatcom Museum’s Old City Hall, I stopped by Make.Shift Art Space on Flora Street to view a related exhibit, “Force,” which explores the relationship between humans and nature. I was especially taken with Mattie Rose Templeton’s “The Perch,” which merges the two factions in unexpected ways.

“Organic Reaction” at Allied Arts, “Boneyard and Bloom” at Lynden’s Jansen Art Center, and the upcoming “Surge” exhibit at La Conner’s Museum’s of Northwest Art have (or will have) related creative content. And when Western Washington University’s Western Gallery opens “Modest Forms of Biocultural Hope” Wed., Sept. 26, it will dovetail with the “Artists on the Front Line of Biodiversity” theme.

By asking if species can thrive together, and if humans can learn from nature to remediate environmental problems, the fall exhibition attempts to answer these questions through four art installations that explore the complex relationships between biology and culture.

“Rather than dejection at the enormity of the challenges, they offer concrete and creative efforts,” a recent press release says. “Rather than sweeping geoengineering schemes, they offer modest forms of biocultural hope. What the ecological thinker Donna Haraway has written about one of the projects—Margaret and Christine Wertheim’s ‘Crochet Coral Forest’—is true of them all: ‘[These are] not projects of melancholy and mourning. These are figures of response-ability.”

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