The Dreaming Bear, Ursus oneiros

Painting by Dan Nuttall of Ursus oneiros

For some time now I have been interested in the “level” playing field created through the use of the terms “human-animal” and “non-human animal”. Here, the level playing field is the consistent use of the term animal.

Related to this is another idea, that of  hierarchy in relation to dimensions of sustainability (e.g., political, economic, social, cultural, ecological), specifically the fact that the ecological dimension or “ecology” trumps the economical dimension or “economy”. Example: you can have ecology without economy but you can’t have economy without ecology. Ecology trumps economy. Taken together the above two ideas can be combined as follows: in a finite world with ever shrinking resources all animals will ultimately be subjected to ecological constraints, however those constraints arise.

Painting by Dan Nuttall of Ursus oneiros
Ursus oneiros (Dreaming Bear) by Dan Nuttall, acrylic on wood panel, 36 x 48″ SOLD

As an artist and ecologist I see competition for space, the attributes and qualities of space, and the inputs and outputs of space as critical aspects of the global discussion about which animals and what kinds of spaces will survive. Such questions are independent of the debate about whether or not animals should be kept in captivity as, ultimately, ALL animals will face shrinking spaces, lower quality inputs (tainted food, water, air, vegetation), increased competition, and decreased access to mates (habitat fragmentation, forest destruction). The questions of “zoo” are also the questions of “planet”.

Shore Lines by Dan Nuttall
Dan Nuttall, “Shore Lines”, acrylic on wood panel, 4 x 8′

Which leads me to displaced animals in compressed life history volumes such as zoo exhibits. In a previous post on this blog, titled “The Mind Is A Zoo“, which addressed the painting shown above, I stated that 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?

In other words, can a bear dream of a forest if it has never seen one? If the dreams can only be comprised of things the bear has seen and experienced in its own lifetime does that mean the bear dreams only of the exhibit space and anything it may see from it? Does containment matter if one is born into it? Or, is it possible that the collective unconscious of the bear includes the hard wired dream of a leaping salmon and outstretched paw? And if the bears disappear who will keep this dream? Where can it be stored? And if the dream disappears can it ever be dreamed again?

Non-human animal sensing, experience and memory are components of non-human animal culture. In ecological terms this culture has four cornerstone requirements: food, water, hiding cover and mates. Even if these requirements are being met in what seems to be large unrestricted spaces or conservation areas the lack of any one of them or a reduction in the quality of any one of them can impoverish non-human animal culture and lead to population decreases and extinction. In this sense what we think of as “habitat” becomes the cage. In other words – thinking that non-human animals are “out there” in the “wild” and are “safe” is really just an illusion.

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

Links to other posts in this blog on the subject of ecological art, non-human animals, otherness, animal sensing and animals and space HERE and HERE and HERE.

The painting above “Habitat Is The Cage” will be shown at Gallery 1313 in Toronto June 21-July 1, 2018, as part of the “Eco-Art 2018” exhibition curated by Phil Anderson. Like all of the other paintings in this post the lineworks or line patterns you see have been taken from abandoned polar bear exhibits at the Stanely Park Zoo in Vancouver, British Columbia.

 

Below, from the same series, but not focussing on bears but the Family Canidae, is “Future Ghost (Canidae)” which addresses domestication as both a form of erasure and conservation.

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Future Ghost (Canidae), acrylic on wood panel, 16 x 16″

More of my art work can be seen HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

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.