Ten Thoughts You Should Be Having About Non-Human Animals…

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1. Human and non-human animals live in a finite world. Whether the oceans the sky or a landmass, there is only so much space. The human animal is an effective competitor and has a continually expanding population. As the human animal population expands it collapses the volumes within which non-human animals live. This displaces non-human animals. As such, all non-human animals live in continually shrinking spaces. The art below explores the relationship between ravens and glass. What are the implications of the anthropogenic, material world and non-human animals?

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Raven and Mirror (1 of 4), acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20″ (SOLD)

 

2. All spaces occupied by non-human animals are designed (affected) by humans. The spaces occupied by non-human animals have a variety of names: zoo exhibit, conservation area, protected area, island. These spaces have “inputs” and “outputs”. Regardless of name or designation zoo exhibits and conservation areas are the same – designed and shrinking spaces, with controlled quantity and quality of inputs and outputs, and a finite number of non-human animals that can be supported. The art below creates a mini-drama to provoke questioning: Why are 3 birds approaching a nest? Why is it empty? What happens next? What do we know about the lives of these “others”? 

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3 Birds Approaching An Empty Nest, acrylic on paper, 11 x 15″ each

 

3. Animals can thus occupy displaced ecologies or in situ ecologies. In situ ecologies, for the time being, require less intervention from human animals to maintain. A green roof, a fish tank, a zoo exhibit are all displaced ecologies. The care and maintenance of displaced ecologies require more resources than in situ (connected) ecologies. The painting below uses forms taken from abandoned polar bear exhibit to mimic landscapes. What is a “real” landscape? What is a “fake” landscape? What effects do artificial landscapes and containment have on the psychology and evolution of non-human animals? Are all conservation spaces really just zoos?

 

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Mimesis 3, acrylic on wood panel, 36 x 36″

 

4. Human animals control the quantity and quality of inputs and outputs for non-human animal habitats. In a sense all animal spaces have “bars” that regulate – some things are kept out and some things are allowed through. Water is one of the resources that moves between the anthropogenic “bars” that divide landscapes. But if this resource is corrupted it means that the corruption flows along with it. What language is required to help us “read” the value of water? What symbols and signs can we perceive when we comes to understanding or approaching nature? Is perception without action of any value? Does all nature have to become “symbolic” to be “counted”?

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Dan Nuttall, “Symbolic Stream 1”

 

5. If the quality of input is less than optimal for a given non-human animal species this is a form of “competition”. Pollution is a form of competition. Waste is a form of competition. Noise is a form of competition. The photograph below is an art povera found object moment referencing the recent spate of whales dying from ingested plastic.  The “poverty” here is very real – non-human animals are impoverished by many of our human activities. The “found” aspect is really about the “discarded” – waste is a form of competition.

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Dan Nuttall “Whale Intestine” 2018

 

 

6. Ultimately, all non-human animals will be faced with extinction, captivity or domestication. Here, the organic curve and resplendent colours of a reef are juxtaposed against the rectinilear shadows of urbanity.

 

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Dan Nuttall, 2018, “Coral Reef” diptych, 18 x 24″ each

 

7. When engaged in competition human animals usually choose themselves over non-human animals. In this series I used clouds as a metaphor for the “self”. Our heritage as a species allows us to float above the landscape, in dynamic tension with the hydrological cycle. We shift and change shape taking up evaporating water molecules only to have them condense to be released back to the earth. Can something like a cloud – so light and airy – be bruised?

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Dan Nuttall, “Bruised Cloud”, acrylic on canvas, 18 x 48″

8. We are all animals and subject to the laws of ecology. The world can survive without economy but it cannot survive without ecology. Ecology trumps economy. Below, the inverted sky, and sea with melting ice, are intersected by a meat bridge where only three of the four legs of a polar bear can be seen. What is this bear “worth”? What is its “value”?

 

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Dan Nuttall, “Habitat Is The Cage”, acrylic on wood panel, 30 x 40″

 

9. Given the above the issues relevant to zoos and “captivity” are the same for “the wild” and conservation areas. Human animals need to think more holistically and along longer time frames. Icebergs, taken from the iconic Canadian “Group of Seven” painter Lawren Harris’s work, exist against a hazy sky while a loon sinks into the depths – escaping but connected.  

 

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Diving Loon, acrylic on wood panel, 16 x 16″

 

10. The number and diversity of non-human animals should be viewed as positive correlate of the probability of human animal survival. These dodos are derived from a skeleton seen at the Smithsonion Museum in Washington, D.C., about the same time I discovered I was, in part, of aboriginal ancestry. My family had erased or rendered this aspect of my life extinct. The rift between what we think versus who we really are can obfuscate meaning. Our collective distancing from ecological truths needs to be shrunk.

 

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Extinction Is A Won War (Dodos), acrylic on paper, 30 x 40″ each, SOLD

 

You can read more about my thoughts regarding non-human animals, and explore my art in relation to this topic HERE, or my ecological art HERE and HERE.

 

My web site is dandoesdesign.

 

 

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Art and Humour: “A Duck And A Hunter Walk Into A Clearing…”

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Dan Nuttall
A DUCK AND A HUNTER WALK INTO A CLEARING…
acrylic on archival paper, diptych
22 x 30″ each

I love a sense of humour. In this piece I didn’t necessarily want to tell a joke. But start one? That sounded like a good idea.

Hunting stories are often full of woodsy humour, adventure and friendship. They are also often about animals. So I decided that a hunting theme might be interesting – a very visual way to play out a well known joke format.

Shortest. Post. Ever.

The Mind Is A Zoo

Shore Lines by Dan Nuttall
Dan Nuttall, SHORE LINES, acrylic on wood panel,  4 x 8′, $5000 CAD

The landscape in this painting was created through the reconfiguration of an abandoned bear exhibit found in a zoo. Originally opened in 1962 the bear exhibit expresses the era’s design thinking – nature simplified, abstracted into modern geometries that keep the animal contained and on view while accommodating the display of some behavior patterns. If the exhibit’s role in animal containment can be set aside the bear exhibit is actually quite a beautiful assemblage of shapes and spaces, a giant concrete sculpture squatting in a bowl, a sunken hollowed-out Guggenheim. The composition has clean lines and hard edges with nature abstracted as tunnel, bridge, pond, cliff face, edge, promontory and plain. The eye can discern different paths for movement and the minimal slopes that accommodate both the need for maintenance and animal safety.

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Dan Nuttall, “Mimesis 1″, acrylic on wood panel, 36 x 36”

Mimesis is defined as imitation. Mimicry, for example is a form of mimesis in which, over evolutionary time frames, one group of organisms evolves to share the characteristics of another group – often as a form of conferred protection. The role of mimesis extends to the act of painting itself – artists try to imitate things. To what end the serialized imitations of nature found in art?

 

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Dan Nuttall, “Mimesis 2″, acrylic on wood panel, 36 x 36”

Initially, the bear occupied an in situ habitat which was re-imagined as an ex situ zoo exhibit. Using the ex situ exhibit as a starting point the painting reorganizes the exhibits design language and, this time, imagines a novel “wild space”, transforming the exhibit into another habitat, a new wild. This new wild, metaphorically speaking, “returns” both the bear and the viewer to the wild. Further iterations are possible. In the painting the repetition of lines and shapes creates repeated spaces. The repetition allows the eye to make comparisons and to begin to sense pattern and discrepancy – akin to an animal surveying its surroundings. The repetition of form, with its genesis in nature should seem familiar to us – the observer is a sensing animal after all – and introduces a kind of déjà vu – a recollected story told through the repeated use of known words or phrases. What we know, as human animals, is coming back to us, inverted and flipped, playing with our perception and yet familiar.

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Dan Nuttall, “Mimesis 3″, acrylic on wood panel, 36 x 36”

The oneiric state of the painting provides an overarching serenity linking both the familiar and the strange. One wonders what animals dream when they are born in captivity and exposed solely to a single environment. Is there still something deep and rudimentary that can arise from a genetic or shared consciousness? Some archetypical memory? As one gazes, the familiarity of lines and compositions is upended by the congruency of the synthetic whole and the desire to make sense of it. The water in the lower right hand corner of Shore Lines places the observer in the water, looking at the shore, as if in a boat, possibly adrift. There, at the edge, notions of distance, containment, barriers to movement and isolation come to the fore. Animal movement is naturally limited. Islands, mountain ranges, rivers, oceans. Is this the ultimate conundrum, coming to terms with the kinds of spaces animals will inhabit? How big should they be? Who should control inputs and outputs? Which species get to survive? Is domestication going to be the ultimate destiny for anything we allow to survive? Does it matter whether bars are visible or invisible? Does it matter that our dreams are merely stage sets designed by those who construct and narrate our realities? What thoughts should we be having about the fate of non-human animals? You can dwell on that HERE.

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Dan Nuttall, “Mimesis 4″, acrylic on wood panel, 30 x 40”

 

These paintings will be on display at my first solo art exhibition, at Lee Contemporary Art in Orillia, Ojtario, August 10 – September 2, 2017. More about Lee Contemporary Art HERE.

You can see all the paintings in the above show HERE.

And find out more about my larger  body of work here: www.dandoesdesign.com

 

Naming, Freedom and Responsibility in Art

 

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For the most part I tend towards abstraction. To me this means that there there are no immediate and obvious visual references that come to mind. Right away I feel a kind of freedom. Abstraction doesn’t tell you what to do – however – it doesn’t mean you’re NOT being manipulated or influenced by what is on the canvas. What do you see in the un-named image above? Take a moment or two. Spoiler alert, the paintings get named below.

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Abstract in Cool Blue 1 by Dan Nuttall

The “lack” of easily understood visual references doesn’t mean that that there is “nothing” there or the work  lacks intellectual content. Every piece has some sort of genesis, some sort of impulse, some idea suspended in a moment or across millions of moments that blend together, braiding the stream that carries the artist’s work over the falls. Staying afloat/engaged/ immersed is the hard part. Picture a month at sea on a raft made of a single thought. Reaching a shore with a painting is the goal.

Naming an abstract piece as “Untitled” or with a simple descriptor (e.g., “Abstract In Cool Blue 1”) helps maintain the “openness” or sense of freedom in accessing the work. It’s still wide-open to interpretation. Naming a work is a sort of nucleus, the grain of sand in the thought-oyster. Ideas coalesce around it.

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West Coast (Killer Whale) diptych by Dan Nuttall

When I named the diptych “West Coast (Killer Whale)” it’s because the stream of consciousness wetting my pigments involved a cascade of thoughts about my life on the West Coast of Canada, my time around killer whales, my love of the woods and wood and water, the errant tangy salt and brightness that stung my eyes, the cooling reprieve of depth – deep green-blues – the smell of cedar, sleek black skin steaming at the surface, the gentle push of wet spilling over flanks.

As an artist I also like how abstract work escapes comparison to some version of perfection (“That’s a terrible painting of a sunset”). And yet, when we look at wildlife art the urge to depict accurately and realistically images of the things we see – is rote. Of course there is no perfection and the “errors” are perhaps where things begin to get interesting.

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Great Curassow 1 by Dan Nuttall

For me, I am always wondering about the animal perspective and so the eye, the face, and body language play roles in establishing how the animal is relating, in that moment, to the world. The artist, in a sense, becomes a manipulator of the animal and questions of responsibility entail. I like my birds proud, and magical, a bit mysterious, any realism directed toward capturing and holding the eye of the beholder to induce respect and appreciation, and to allow wonder in the forms of questions: How do such creatures exist?  What are their fates to be? Look these animals in the eye and tell me what you see.

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Competition for the Same Space at the Same Time

Road Kill by Dan Nuttall
Road Kill by Dan Nuttall

As many of you know I am participating in an art show this spring and will be showing my work “Shore Lines” and “Mimesis 1, 2 and 3” which deal with notions of habitat and the ultimate and twinned fate of both human and non-human animals. I must state for the record that I am not per se “anti-zoo” but rather “pro” asserting the type of work that human animals need to do to consider the long term questions about the twinned fate of human and non-human animals – who will get to survive? how much space will be allotted? is domestication the only answer? what losses of culture can be sustained? when the chains become broken how long are the strands and what are their functions?

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Domesticus by Dan Nuttall

Coincidentally, the art show I mentioned above has an art competition with the theme “Road Trip”. As an artist and someone interested in non-human animals and issues of space and competition I have decided to approach this topic in terms of seeing the road as something that might “trip” up someone or something – like a non-human animal. In essence I will painting something to do with roadkill. At least that’s the intention now – no paint has been smeared just yet.

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Crying My Eyes Out by Dan Nuttall

Some of you have written to me asking for more background and greater depth about my blog piece and my animal-centric art pieces so:

1. You can read my blog article concerning ways of thinking about space/habitat as a dwindling resource and how the same questions we apply to zoo exhibits may be applied to conservation spaces. More may be found HERE.

2. Coincidentally, I have just been contacted by an organization that I would recommend you check out – called “Wildsight” and more about their work may be found HERE. You can also read about Wildsight on FB HERE.

While my Masters and Doctoral work dealt with the “design of optimal environments for displaced species” and the “sustainable integration of human and non-human animal communities”, Wildsight’s Denise Boehler gets right to the heart of the matter – Ecopsychology and notions of coexistence – completely aligned with my previous academic work AND the art I am doing. As I have often said: “Good design solves multiple challenges simultaneously”. How we design our world can reduce roadkill, conserve habitat, and see art as a vehicle that carries all of us safely down that road.

Please share, like, comment or invite friends to explore both Wildsight and dandoesdesign.

 

Meet Art… Your New Roommate

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Man Choking Weasel by Dan Nuttall
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Woman Stealing Egg by Dan Nuttall

ʻMany contemporary exhibitions focus with grim earnestness on the difficulties of social justice, environmental degradation or economic inequity. Adding humor to the equation dismantles the sense of insistent authority and reminds us that we are all complicit in these inequities. Humour can offer an astute as well as cathartic and even magical way to deal with big issuesʼ (Coblentz, 2009, sourced here).

I have no idea how some pieces come about. After drawing the weasel I realized it was floating in mid air. So, I added some hands for support. Somehow or other the hands seemed to suggest that the weasel might be getting choked. So, I called it “Man Choking Weasel”. Like many relationships between human and non-human animals it seems very enigmatic: Why would anyone be holding let alone choking a weasel? Of course, weasels have an unfortunate name to start with. I decided I needed a companion piece and I wanted this one to be enigmatic too. My subsequent thoughts were rural, farm based and gendered. So, we have a woman stealing an egg. A fairly big egg.

These two images, like still frames from an as-yet-to-be imagined film, allow the viewer to make up the story. Does this allow for a level of participation that may not be found in other forms of art? While we might from time to time situate ourselves in a painting, we rarely take the time to build a larger story. The typical amount of time in front of a piece of art is a mere 15-30 seconds. It’s hard to build a narrative from such a short exposure, but on the other hand, maybe the capacity to build a narrative is based on the psychic impact or the “relatability” of the piece rather than the temporal commitment.

Unlike public galleries the pieces we choose to place in our homes receive a different temporal and psychic complement. Like the people we choose to have in our lives pieces of art interact with us in both incidental and strategic ways. At a recent art event in Toronto I happened upon a beautifully executed work that captured some of the horror of war. I loved it, but couldn’t live with it. It belonged somewhere – just not too close to me. I could feel its weight, its importance – but it would be like living with a continuously looping war movie splayed on a wall in your home.

So perhaps when we think of inviting Art over we should consider whether he is staying for a short visit, is a potential roommate or a life partner. Art can be a light-hearted guest, and this bodes well for long term relationships.

Man Choking Weasel / Woman Stealing Egg, 9 x 12″, oil pastel on archival paper, framed. These works will be shown at Black Cat Artspace, 2186 Dundas Street West, from November 26th to December 31st in the Salon of Inclusiveness II, Holiday Show + Sale. Say hello to Art for me!  Or, for additional works or queries, visit me at my website or on Facebook.

Shore Lines

Shore Lines acrylic on wood panel 4 x 8'
Shore Lines
acrylic on wood panel
4 x 8′

The shore lines in this painting are derived from a line drawing I made of an abandoned polar bear exhibit located at Stanley Park, Vancouver, British Columbia.

For me this painting is a part of the cycle of imagining nature. Here, the polar bear’s in situ habitat, imagined as ex situ zoo exhibit, is re-imagined as a wild space, symbolically returning the polar bear to the wild.

The painting is informed by the work of Canada’s Group of Seven.

Bewilderness at Fieldwork

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In 2010 I had the pleasure of installing a site specific art installation at fieldwork, located near Perth Ontario. Now, five years later, I am going back to fieldwork to remove Bewilderness. In my art practice I try to use my forms of engagement as opportunities for reflection and to mine process for the coal of wisdom. I wanted to start this blog by looking at the “there and then” of Bewilderness as a way to approach the “here and now” – the deconstruction of an idea…

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The Woods Are Dreary, Dark and Deep…

“…the woods are lovely, dark and deep…” Robert Frost, Stopping in Woods on A Snowy Evening

This is no place to wander. From the outside, looking in, for as far as my eye can see, interlocking branches preclude any kind of upright movement. Safety goggles are a must as every branch presents multiple opportunities for poking one’s eye out. My goal is to understand the site, so there’s only one choice. I drop to my knees and begin my journey. After crawling about for several minutes, I find a small clearing, and stand up. I am in the middle of a white pine plantation. Where the canopy allows, light sifts down to the still and silent floor. An ever-shifting patchwork of sunlit islands floats in the vast sea of shadow. The complexity I usually associate with a forest is absent here. I see only pine trees with thick and bare low-hanging branches that narrow as they ascend. The needles that have fallen from these branches have accumulated in a thick reddish mat on the plantation floor. The trees are all one species, all of the same age, the same form and diameter, and are planted in a grid pattern. Something about the endlessly repeating pattern disappearing into the shade induces a kind of dream state. Off I go again, on my hands and knees, to pop up in spaces where I can. Everything is looking the same. I begin to lose track of direction and my starting point. There is also something peaceful about this place and a gentle amnesia sets in as I thread my way through this house of mirrors. What lurks within this dream? And what has been forgotten in a place like this? Though I cannot see the sky above me, the weather must be shifting. Is that the creaking of branches against each other from some unfelt breeze? The islands of light suddenly disappear – a bottle of ink tipped into water. The plantation is steeped in a murky and somber darkness, the dreary woods of fairytales and fables. More creaking from a different direction. Thank goodness there is nothing alive in here. Or is there? The trees are suddenly looking different. I am without breadcrumbs. I get back on my hands and knees and crawl to the edge of the plantation.

 

More on Bewilderness HERE.

Bewilderness: The Woods Are Dreary, Dark and Deep…

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Pine Plantation at Fieldwork by Dan Nuttall

“…the woods are lovely, dark and deep…” Robert Frost, Stopping in Woods on A Snowy Evening

This is no place to wander. From the outside, looking in, for as far as my eye can see, interlocking branches preclude any kind of upright movement. Safety goggles are a must as every branch presents multiple opportunities for poking one’s eye out. My goal is to understand the site, so there’s only one choice. I drop to my knees and begin my journey. After crawling about for several minutes, I find a small clearing, and stand up. I am in the middle of a white pine plantation. Where the canopy allows, light sifts down to the still and silent floor. An ever-shifting patchwork of sunlit islands floats in the vast sea of shadow. The complexity I usually associate with a forest is absent here. I see only pine trees with thick and bare low-hanging branches that narrow as they ascend. The needles that have fallen from these branches have accumulated in a thick reddish mat on the plantation floor. The trees are all one species, all of the same age, the same form and diameter, and are planted in a grid pattern. Something about the endlessly repeating pattern disappearing into the shade induces a kind of dream state. Off I go again, on my hands and knees, to pop up in spaces where I can. Everything is looking the same. I begin to lose track of direction and my starting point. There is also something peaceful about this place and a gentle amnesia sets in as I thread my way through this house of mirrors. What lurks within this dream? And what has been forgotten in a place like this? Though I cannot see the sky above me, the weather must be shifting. Is that the creaking of branches against each other from some unfelt breeze? The islands of light suddenly disappear – a bottle of ink tipped into water. The plantation is steeped in a murky and somber darkness, the dreary woods of fairytales and fables. More creaking from a different direction. Thank goodness there is nothing alive in here. Or is there? The trees are suddenly looking different. I am without breadcrumbs. I get back on my hands and knees and crawl to the edge of the plantation.

To learn more about Bewilderness on this Blog you can start at the most recent blog and work your way back in time  HERE.

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Spine Tree by Dan Nuttall