Alien Invaders

Threats to biodiversity and causes for the extinction of ecosystems and species are often summarised with the acronym HIPPO: habitat destruction, invasive species, pollution, overpopulation and overexploitation. Two recent artist’s projects are concerned with the i in HIPPO: Jacob Cartwright’s and Nick Jordan’s Alien Invaders: A Guide to Non-Native Species of the Britisher Isles and 2005 Turner Prize winner Simon Starling’s Henry Moore/Zebra Mussel project commissioned by the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery in Toronto.

Alien Invaders, Pharaoh AntThe former, a small artist’s book published by BookWorks, takes the form of an illustrated natural history guide listing invasive species introduced to the British Isles, such as the American Bullfrog, the Chinese Mitten Crab, the Giant Hogweed, the Grey Squirrel, the Pharaoh Ant, the Ring-necked Parakeet, the Ruddy Duck and the Wels Catfish. In the manner of a scientific guidebook, each entry gives information on the category and origins of introduction, problems caused by the introduction and efforts of control or eradication. It is only upon closer examination that one begins to doubt the scientific objectivity and reliability of the entries, which appear to be interspersed with rather obscure references and bizarre cultural anecdotes. The artists intervene by providing us with highly selective and sometimes dubious information. Thus we read under the heading Origins of Introduction of the Grey Squirrel:

In Dixieland, Gray Squirrels have long been desirable table fare, enriching the poor rural diet (Metzger, 1953). Skinned and simmered in broth until the meat falls off the bone, this traditional dish (called limb chicken) was said to be a favourite of the young Elvis, and is typically served with jalapeno fritters and deep-fried grits.

(The reference Metzger, 1953 isn’t traceable, since the book lacks both footnotes and bibliography; and do I need to mention that, quite fittingly, Metzger translates into butcher…)

large_00musselSimon Starling’s Toronto project involves sinking a replica of Henry Moore’s bronze statue Warrior with Shield into Lake Ontario, where it will become encrusted with Zebra Mussels, one of the most aggressive invasive species introduced to North America (for a synopsis of how English sculptor Henry Moore is linked with the city of Toronto, see here).

While Cartwright’s and Jordan’s book, sort of a cross-pollination of fact and fiction, of science and art, raises questions of authenticity and the impossibility of scientific objectivity and detachment, the Zebra Mussel project is concerned with issues of transformation and cultural colonialism. Both projects, which by far exceed instances of more conservationist environmental art from the 1960s onwards, are examples of how artists use processes of nature to reflect on broader cultural issues.


3 thoughts on “Alien Invaders

  1. With regards of scentific objectivity and detachment I think science has moved on significantly since the bests bits of logical positivism and critical rationalism have been absorbed into scientific canon. Most critiques of 20th Century science are bogus becuase they’re predicated on the old observationalist-inductivist scientific method – which is misleading. The observationalist-inductivist scientific method is something of a misnomer because it really belongs to proto-science which should be (but usually isn’t) referred to as natural-philosophy. So I don’t regard scientific objectivity and detachment as impossibilities in the 21st Century.

    The emergence of things like category theory (although opposed by some, notably Roger Penrose and a few others), equivalence classes and omega numbers have repudiated the idea that science and mathematics cannot be truly objective. Omega numbers are very interesting, significantly building on Alan Turings theorems, and you may enjoy the following article (it’s quite light):

    And if you *really* want to blow your mind the following Radio 4 programnmes are excellent :-) :

  2. Sunday, September 23, 2007
    Weekend Blog Blogging

    The past week in invasive species posts, elsewhere in the blogosphere:

    * Mapping the Marvellous has an interesting review of two recent invasive species-related art projects.
    * I Can’t Remember posts a review of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s book: Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants. Sounds like two enthusiastic thumbs up to me!

    Labels: art, book, plants, weekend blog blogging

    Jennifer Forman Orth 11:59 PM

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