Profiles in Carnage and Misguiding Light installation for Birdland and the Anthropocene
I participated in the exhibit "Birdland and the Anthropocene" at the Peale Center, which was formerly know as the Peale Museum. For this exhibit I created silhouettes of extinct birds, using anamorphosis to rouse an empathy for the loss of species. This series is titled Profiles in Carnage. I also installed a piece titled Misguiding Light, speaking to the museum's history of gaslight and the disorientation of city lighting at night on birds during their migration. The artwork I have made for this exhibit is a portrayal of birds that have become extinct, and to magnify the loss of those avian creatures by giving a slice of their profiles as if made when alive. Active or inactive, this is an imaginary record of their presence. Primarily, their existence is over, and by catching a glimpse of an individual bird’s shadow, will hopefully garner a sympathetic gleaning of the deprivation of life of the entire species. A traditional silhouette is a stark metaphorical, and literal trace of a human in a relatively fleeting interval of time which no longer exists. I chose to create silhouettes, imitating the tradition, while evoking instant anamorphism by using, as subjects, the heads of extinct birds instead of humans, and simultaneously including the human elements of hats, hairstyles, and clothing, with the intention to elicit a coalescence of the two. I became interested in the idea of using silhouettes when I learned of Moses Williams, a former slave of Charles Wilson Peale, who had been set free, then subsequently “hired” by the Peale patriarch to work for him making people’s silhouettes for the eponymous museum in Philadelphia. So, I desired to bridge a link to Moses Williams and the Peale Museum in Baltimore. Another connection I was seeking was the Baltimore Peale Museum’s gas lamp history, and how the Peale was involved in it’s development. Baltimore was the first city in the U.S. to use gas street lamps, thanks to Rembrandt Peale. Artificial lighting at night is one of the causes of bird disorientation when migrating, which is addressed through this piece, but also, I think of gas light and it’s projecting shadows. It harkens back to the silhouette art form, and even to Indonesian/Javanese shadow puppetry, and further in time, to the shadows on walls of caves in pre-history during the making of cave paintings. A traced shadow is similar to a photo in the freezing of time. The animal and human attributes I envisioned will resonate in a sympathetic chord. The moment of that cast shadow is gone as are the humans in the work of Moses Williams (and he, himself), but so are the species of these birds. Nothing is left, but vestige. There can be efforts made by human kind to prevent the destruction of entire species, but only through awareness of man’s impact on the environment, and the consciousness to change the direction of those actions which result in a negative loss.