It was still dark this morning as I rummaged around for my alarm clock. Beep. Beep. Beep. 5:30am. I put on the clothes I had laid out the night before and went to the kitchen to make oatmeal. Tea always tastes best when its early. The people we are staying with asked if we would like to join them as they do a penguin survey for The Halo Project (click here to visit their website). We arrived at the beach just in time for sunrise and low tide.
Rhys (The Halo Project Manager), Niki, Jo and a few other team members and biologists preformed the survey. We split into two teams. The object was to investigate the coastline of a local peninsula, looking for burrows and evidence of little blue penguins and to count the ones we see. One team hiking in from the south and one from the north. It was more of an adventure than I expected. Climbing over jagged rocks, wading through the surf, scrambling up cliffs, walking through caves and hiking through tall grass.
Man-made penguin burrow
Two Little Blue Penguins
Little Blue Penguins in their burrow
Checking out burrows
Little blue penguins are the smallest type of penguin. They are native to New Zealand but sadly they are on the decline. The purpose of this survey was to find out where the penguins are living and gain a better understand of how to take steps to protect them. These penguins often live in small rock caves. On this beach we found quite a few burrows (see pictures above)–some occupied and some not. We also found lots of penguin tracks and a couple eggs.
Can you spot the egg?
As we continued along the cliffs we were pleasantly surprised to come across more interesting wildlife, including: sea lions, spotted shags and a pair of Hector’s dolphins. I was very excited about the dolphin sighting as it is my first cetacean sighting here in New Zealand. It is also a dolphin that I have heard about because it is quite endangered. They are easy to recognize because their dorsal fin is rounded.
The Halo Project Survey Team
Sleepy Sea Lion
We met the other survey team at the halfway point and compared notes before making the treck back. In total we saw thirteen little blue penguins–a success! I feel lucky to have the opportunity to witness the work The Halo Project is doing here and get to see little blue penguins in the wild. I learned that it takes a lot of effort to cover even a small amount of coastline when looking for creatures and have gained an even bigger respect for the men and women that do this work in all kinds of weather.
Prepping to survey from the water
We were back at the farm before 11am and spent the afternoon taking care of sheep. I am going to sleep well tonight!
We have now moved down the South Island in New Zealand to the Otago region of New Zealand (yay for having a vehicle). We have been working in the mornings (WWOOFing) and then exploring in the afternoons. It really is a great exchange. Not only are we getting to experience some interesting life styles and help out on the farms, but we have also been able to stay in some pretty spectacular places.
Hauled out sea lion
Long Beach, Otago, New Zealand
The Otago region is my favourite area of New Zealand. Largely because of the coast lines. Rolling, green hills come to dramatic ends, rocky cliff faces plunge down to the sea and the white sand beaches are so fine that your feet make squeaking sounds across its’ surface. When we went to the sea yesterday I found something that I wasn’t expecting to find. Something that I have grown quite fond of lately but hadn’t seen yet in person. Krill. I knew it instantly. These little guys had been washed up, left along the high tide line and dried by the sun. Since creating my Swarm installation at the fifty fifty arts collective I have been especially keen to see these little guys in person. Unfortunately they wen’t alive anymore, but they did make for excellent drawing subjects. Reminder to self: when at the beach always remember to look at your feet.
Krill and I
Handful of kril
Sun dried krill at high tide line
Hello from New Zealand!
We have sublet our apartment, sold our car, given up our jobs and are currently living out of backpacks. This weeks’ goal was to buy a car. We have now walked to many districts in Christchurch and added at least 80 kilometers of wear to our shoes (as well as a few blisters and sunburns). It has been exhausting and there were times when I felt like we would never get out of the city. But today was a happy day as we are now proud owners of a 1997 kiwi car. A bonus is that my very minimal knowledge of vehicles has grown significantly.
I am looking forward to what will be instore for us over the next few months. The landscape is inspiring, the nature is exciting and strange and I cannot wait to see the ocean! Along with focusing on my art practice and learning about the local whales and conservation/research that is happening here we are also excited to spend time volunteering on organic farms.
Coming from a place where whales have also played a significant roll in its history, culture, and development it will be interesting to see if the parallels and similarities between New Zealand and British Columbia.
NZ tidbit of the day: Did you know that New Zealand boasts 38 species of cetaceans?
A few days ago I found myself walking through the doors of Ocean Networks Canada (ONC) on my way to a meeting with Tom Dakin, Sensor Technology Development Officer. ONC is an initiative by the University of Victoria and monitors the west, east and north coasts of Canada. As you may well guess, a large focus in their research is our local marine environment off Vancouver Island. I met Dakin at the opening of my recent exhibition and I was honoured to be invited to ONC to hear about what he is researching. Dakin’s area of expertise revolves around underwater acoustics. ONC maintains a network of hydrophones (underwater sound recording devises). With this equipment they can study the calls of marine creatures, passing vessels and even aircrafts! These sounds are recorded both audibly and visually as a graph (see examples below). The graphs are strikingly beautiful in their colour, repetition and pulsing rhythm. Click here for examples of hydrophone recordings by ONC.
It is a well known fact that sound travels easily through water, but I never realized just how far it travels. In our meeting I learned that some large vessels traveling through the Strait of Georgia may produce sound that reaches almost the entire way from Vancouver Island to the mainland–even if you can’t hear the ship above the water. The hydrophones off Southern Vancouver Island can even detect earthquakes from Alaska and across the Pacific. Apparently our Salish Sea is quite an epicenter of sound. The rumbling and creaking of vessels as they pass through our waterways mix with calls, clicks and whistles of whales, making it difficult to distinguish who is who.
A thought crossed my mind as I was sitting with Dakin in his office space at ONC. That this type of meeting has been going on for hundreds (if not thousands) of years–science and art being brought together. Explorers, biologists, navigators, astrologers, artists. I feel privileged to be part of this conversation and I am excited to see what direction it will take my work. There is nothing quite like the thrill of learning something new about something you enjoy. This was my experience of meeting Dakin and Ocean Networks Canada. If you are interested in Dakin’s work and underwater acoustics, you should check out this article by Live Science.
This time of year always makes me feel thoughtful, reflective and thankful. It has been a full year for me–filled with new challenges and experiences. This time last year I was in the middle of a stack of paperwork and phone calls trying to figure out how to apply for a Russian visa and how to bring an art exhibition in my carry on bag. When I reflect on this year one of the things that stands out to me the most are the people that I met along the way: from the exhibition in Russia, to the Sooke Fine Art Show, to the Moss Street Market and my current exhibition at the fifty fifty arts collective. This is one of the most surprising things I have learned from having an art practice. I have made more friends and met more people through art than any other way. But really, isn’t this the whole point of art? To be seen. And in being seen–bringing people together.
Opening reception at Leviathanic Allusion
Artist talk at Leviathanic Allusion
It has been a blessing to spend time back on the island again, enjoying favourite places, visiting friends and staying with family. Especially now, as we are preparing to spend a few months in New Zealand working and creating art, it makes me so glad to reconnect with the Victoria arts community and loved ones.
Photo by Jill Ehlert of her studio
Photo by Jill Ehlert of her studio (detail)
These images are of a grey wire whale I made for Jill Ehlert. I met Jill when she gave an artist talk at the Vancouver Island School of Art a few years ago. I immediately connected with her work and we quickly became friends. Jill and I share a common awe of the ocean and creatures that live there. She has been focusing on the intertidal zone in her work for many years. Her knowledge and familiarity of the subject matter is very apparent. I enjoy visiting her in her studio and I almost always see something unexpected! Her bright studio is adorned with beautiful, twisted pieces of seaweeds, artworks, stacks of interesting books, open sketchbooks, works in progress and tiny treasures. Research is a large part of her practice and yet her forms aren’t stiff or restricted, but full of life–straddling the line between representation and abstraction. If you like the ocean, you will love Jill’s work! I highly recommend checking out her lovely website here.
Leviathanic Allusion exhibition
Speaking of art bringing people together… if you are in the Victoria area, please stop by the Leviathanic Allusion exhibition before it comes down at the end of the week. I will be there on the last day from 12-4pm on Friday, January 25 and would be happy to visit and give a tour of the work. Everyone welcome!
As I left the gallery after the opening reception on Thursday night I noticed a strange, orange light radiating from my installation onto the street. It has been a full week of late nights in the gallery hanging krill. “Krilling” is now a common verb in my family’s household. It was a little touch and go for a while, but we managed to install just under 20,000 crunchy, orange “krill”.
Creating an installation is always a learning experience. Learning about a new space and how to use it well, learning about my work and how it can feel different depending on how it is organized on the wall, learning about what my own limitations are and how far I can push myself. I was also reminded how lucky I am to have a family that supports me and that gathers around me to help make “krill” when I need it.
The opening reception was a wonderful evening. It was a pleasure to meet more of the lovely volunteers from the fifty fifty arts collective. This group of people keep the gallery running. It is such a unique and creative space and a real asset to the communities in Victoria. I have been away for the past few months and so the opening felt like a family gathering with the added bonus of being able to meet new people and talk about whales and art. I feel incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to exhibit my work.
I just found out that there is another reason to be feeling thankful. Just announced late yesterday afternoon by the Center for Whale Research, it has been confirmed that there is a new calf born into the southern resident killer whale population (L124)! This is just 11 days after the official population count was released at 74. Today I am heading to the gallery for the afternoon and I will be bringing with me a small, paper drawing of a southern resident killer whale to add to my installation of 74. This is a great start to 2019!
Southern Resident Killer Whales 3.0, ink on paper and metal pins
I am honoured to announce that I will be showing at the fifty fifty arts collective in January 2019! The exhibition is called Leviathanic Allusion. The show will consist of recent work as well as a immersive installation created specifically for this exhibition (I’ll give you a little hint… it is about krill!). I am excited to be showing at the fifty fifty arts collective and have been busily preparing for it while backpacking in Eastern Europe. The opening reception will be Thursday January 10 at 7pm and I would be thrilled to see you there!
Please refer to the poster before for more info.
I have found my happy place here in Lviv, Ukraine. I don’t think that I ever want to leave.
Just down the street from where we are staying there is a zoological museum*. It is run by the University of Lviv. We weren’t 100% sure how to get to the museum but I saw a sign on the outside of the university that read “Зоологічний музей” so I knew we were in the right place. There were a lot of students bustling around but no one seemed to mind us being there. When we went inside we waited at a desk to talk to someone about how to find the museum. A gentleman came out and I asked about the zoological museum but we did not understand each other. He took us to a man that spoke English. He happily said that he would lead us to the third floor to where the museum was located. During our conversation we discovered that this man is a Professor researching the genetics of microorganisms at the university. We were pleasantly surprized when the Professor offered to walk us through the museum and explain the highlights as most of the signs were in Ukrainian. This museum felt like walking into a collector’s curiosity cabinet on steroids! Room after room was filled with glass-doored display cases brimming and overflowing with every creature imaginable! Shells, coral, beetles, deep-sea fish and stuffed sharks, skeletons of tiny birds and even a giant sperm whale! I could go back to this museum day after day after day and always see something new.
Speaking of something new… I discovered a few extinct animals that I didn’t know about before. This museum of one of only three in the world that have a skeleton of the Stellar’s Sea Cow. This giant manatee-like creature was only scientifically discovered in 1741 and they only lived in a small area in the Bering Sea between Russia and Alaska. They could grow to a length of 30′ and could weigh up to 22,000 lbs. By 1768 the Stallar’s Sea Cow was extinct.
Another new animal that I learned about was Aepyornis Maximus, also known as the Elephant Bird of Madagascar. The zoological museum has a beautiful specimen of one of these bird’s eggs. One egg is about the equivalent of 150 chicken eggs.
I love being surrounded by scientific specimens. It is a treat to get to look closely at animals that I would otherwise never have the opportunity to see. And then I looked down at the small, inscribed label at the foot of the specimen… 1741… 1748… 1780… and realized I was looking into the eyes of creatures that lived over 250 years ago. It makes you think.
After our tour of the museum the Professor asked if we would like to see his lab? Of course we said, “Yes, please!” and he lead us through the winding, stone-walled university to his laboratory. I told him I am an artist interested in scientific whale research. He seemed intrigued at this idea. When he brought us to his laboratory he excitedly talked to us about the beautiful structures and patterns created by colonies of bacteria. He showed us samples of colonies that he had grown himself. He also told us that there are competitions where scientists submit images of their most complex and beautiful colonies and excitedly talked about the possibility of artists working with scientists to create these interesting structures.
(This image is an example of a growth pattern made by bacteria from the internet)
*The National Zoological Museum of Ivan Franko was established in 1784 as a Cabinet of Natural History. A hundred years later it was given the status of “Zoological Museum”. The museum’s collection today contains over 178 thousand items.
I have always wanted to see wild bison. I guess I assumed they are rare or shy because I have never seen them before. Well, in the last few days I have seen more bison than I can count. Welcome to the Northwest Territories!
A herd by their sign
We weren’t planning on going north of 60… but when you have the opportunity to meet someone that has shared the same specific and unique experience but you have never met before… it is hard to pass up the invite! Last winter I was put in contact with artist Alison McCreesh from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. She participated in the Karelia Artist Residency at the Media Centre Vyhod in Petrozavodsk, Russia. I was so grateful to be able to talk to her over the phone while I was working through the confusing process of applying for a visa to visit Russia.
Old Town, Yellowknife
I never imagined that I would have the pleasure of meeting Alison in person. It was a pleasure to spend time getting to know her and her beautiful family and reminisce about our Russian experiences. Alison, her partner Pat, their two children and Ninja, the family dog, gave us a wonderful whirlwind walking tour of the old town part of Yellowknife. I was captivated by the interestingly shaped shacks and shack-inspired houses, the multicolored houseboats (half the year they can walk to town, the other half they canoe) and the interesting history of this remote city.
Alison & I
Something that really struck me when I met Alison is that her art is highly–I would even venture to say entirely–influenced by her geographical location and natural surroundings: inspired by cold weather situations, artic creatures, snowsuits, skates and skis. Alison has a wonderful way of capturing the essence of life up north in her art. It made me realize the importance of location and how it can impact artistic development. It was a good reminder to remember to immerse yourself in wherever you are at that moment and allow it to influence you. This immersion can take on many shapes and forms: whether it is seaweeds and cetaceans or snow and polar bears.
If you would like to see more of Alison’s work, you can check out her website, facebook page or Instagram feed. Alison has also created two fantastic travelogues (which I now have the pleasure of adding to my library), Norths: Two Suitcases & a Stroller Around the Circumpolar World and Ramshackle, published by Conundrum Press.
I always find it hard to leave the island, so during the chaos of apartment packing I made this little guy to help bring a little ocean with us on our road trip to visit family in northern Alberta. To feels strange to no longer have a home base, but it is exciting too. Since visiting my little nieces and nephews my art practice has taken a distinctive and temporary shift away from whales and on to unicorns! Many, many, many unicorns. With rainbow hair.
Minke the wire whale
Day #1: British Columbia
Day #2: Alberta
Just keep swimming