“But why whales?”

It was a wonderful surprise to discover that my exhibition was to be included in Museums Night here in Petrozavodsk. Museums Night is a big event that happens across Russia. On this night organizations, museums, galleries and other institutions are free to the public and there are special events including workshops and open studios. For this event the Vyhod Media Center arranged for me to lead two public tours through the gallery to talk about my work. This evening was a big highlight for me on this residency. Many people came to the first tour. I was able to discuss the ideas and processes behind my art with the help of the lovely Irina who translated for me. It was nice to recognize some familiar faces of people that came to previous events like the opening and artist talk. The attendance of the second gallery tour shocked me! There were so many people that it was difficult for everyone to see the work while I was talking. Both groups were interested in the art and asked many questions about it. It was a pleasure to see people interacting with the work, even young children. The staff at the gallery counted the people that came during Museums Night and the grand total reached… 700! I feel humbled and honoured that so many people came to see my work over the course of just a few hours.

Museum night 1

I have been asking people here in Petrozavodsk what is their experience of whales. Have they ever seen a whale? Have they been to the ocean? It turns out that few have seen whales and even the ocean is not easily reached. I take for granted that I live on an island in a place where whales are commonly talked about over the radio, in general conversation, in newspapers and are sometimes seen when you aren’t even looking for them–from the shore or from the ferry. One of the first questions that I have been asked during my exhibition here is, “But why whales?”. It is a simple question that cuts to the heart of my practise but it is something that I don’t often question because I have been making art about whales for a long time. Thinking about whales is part of my everyday life but this is not normal for everyone. This has been a good reminder for me to go back to the beginning and remember why I make art about whales and where it all began. It is refreshing to talk to people that are hungry to know more. To be honest I have felt a little like a kid in a candy store here telling people interesting stories about whales–why they are such fascinating and complicated creatures–and watching their interest in whales visibly grow right in front of me. A reminder: whales are exotic animals (especially when you don’t live by the ocean).

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