Rootless by Marina and the Diamonds (2010)
The Birds directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1963)
A wealthy San Francisco socialite follows a potential boyfriend to a small Northern California town that slowly takes a turn for the bizarre when birds of all kinds suddenly begin to attack people there in increasing numbers and with increasing viciousness.
Starry sky during a new moon
An installation created by visual artist Karrie Hovey, poet Elise Ficarra, and composer/sound artist Evelyn Ficarra.
In September 2010, Elise invited Karrie to work together on a piece exploring the fate of the Marin white deer as a kind of vanquished terrain. They talked about the impact of the non-native deer on the natural environment, the valuing of native vs. non native species, the methods employed to control populations (deer carcasses had been found with wounds indicating slow painful deaths), and the sometimes devastating consequences of human intervention in natural environments. Karrie and Elise agreed to work together on a project addressing human impact on nature and wildlife either through the original idea of the white deer or a related native endangered population.
Karrie created a playlist that allowed for openness of interpretation, (night sky at new moon) while evoking the friction of natural vs. unnatural systems via Hitchcock’s film The Birds. She introduced an additional theme of Rootless via the song from Mariana and the Diamonds. Playlist in hand, Elise’s thoughts took a turn toward a local endangered species, the Mission Blue butterfly. As metaphor, the butterfly offered a vehicle of transformation—the ability to shape shift from one form to another, and an erratic flight pattern to avoid capture by predators. Elise traveled to different locations to write, (San Bruno Mountain, the Pacifica pier, stairways and roof tops of San Francisco) allowing words, images, and rhythms to constellate around the themes she and Karrie had touched on. She wrote “Endangered” as a meditation on the possibilities of cohabitation, recognizability, and otherness. Employing diverse formal strategies, her poem registers and transmutes the states and environments it passes through.
The creation of the traditional broadside was an exercise in working within formal constraints. Accustomed to making large, muti-dimensional pieces, Karrie was confronted with a 6” x 9” flat space to fill using only black and white ink. Likewise, Elise’s rangy 750-word poem had to be cropped to fit a small nearly square plane. When time came to conceptualize the contemporary broadside, they were excited about engaging the material and physical presence of the piece and invited composer and sound artist Evelyn Ficarra to join them. The idea of the white deer re-emerged in conversations between the three collaborators when Karrie expressed the desire to make the deer. Elise was thrilled with the idea of bringing the deer into form, feeling that they had ghosted her work from her beginning desire to create an artwork that activated the meanings of their presence and disappearance in public conscience, memory and imagination.
Taking the Broadside off the page
In the space of the installation, vanquished figures reappear. Three deer correspond with three states of time—past, present, future—three states of matter—animal, plant, mineral—and three cycles—life, birth, death.
Marin White Deer
Fallow deer (Dama dama) and axis deer (Axis axis) evolved over thousands of years in Asia Minor and India respectively. In 1948, a rancher introduced both species into the area now known as the Point Reyes National Seashore after acquiring them from the San Francisco Zoo. The deer (collectively referred to as the Marin white deer) adapted to their new environment and thrived. Over time, the National Park Service at Point Reyes became concerned that the non-native deer were damaging riparian and woodland habitats and posing a threat to native black-tailed deer and tule elk through competition for food and potential transmission of disease. In August of 2007, the Park Service began to exterminate the deer. By February 2008, approximately 150 axis deer and 520 fallow deer had been killed. Eighty fallow deer were sterilized with an experimental contraceptive. Today all breeding males are gone, and the remaining sterile does are expected to die out within the next 10 years.
Why wool — Wool is a natural fiber used for protection and warmth. It regenerates without harming the sheep. It is a resource that naturally continues to replenish unlike an animal’s hide that can only be utilized once that animal is dead. Before synthetic materials, wool was the primary source of insulating warmth and water repellency humans used that did not involve killing an animal (for its hide or feathers).
Why felt – True felt has no formal structure—that is, unlike all other natural fibers, it has no weave or knit. Felt fibers hold together as a result of their evolved physical properties that are in place as a form of protection for the animal. A sheep’s fleece is its blanket but also its armor. However, the only way for a human to take advantage of these protective principles is to “abuse” and “stress” the fibers. True wool felt is made in two ways—the first is with hot water, detergent, agitation/friction, cold water—repeat. Karrie used this method on the legs but was dissatisfied with the results—it was too unpredictable. The second method, which Karrie used for the vast majority of the project, is a process called Needle Felting. Needle felting involves using barbed needles that catch the fibers and push them into one another. When the needle is pulled out, the barbs facing the opposite direction catch other fibers on the way out. Eventually, the fibers knot themselves into a dense mass or sheet.
Legs provide mobility, independence, allowing one to stand or run. Roots secure one to earth, grounding while supplying nutrients necessary for growth.
Written words highlight the use of language as an activity of “advanced” life forms. Karrie transposed words in Elise’s handwriting into strands of thread—the hand of the artist, the thought of the poet. The words are knotted into the roots/legs of the deer suggesting a mutant variation. Thread keeps the words visually light, yet they cast a shadow. It is always there, always following, showing something is cast into darkness when something else absorbs the light.
Coming to the project for the installation stage, Evelyn responded to the materials that both artists produced in words and forms. Elise’s poems were rich with sounds, both in naming sound-making beings (birds, wasps) and in the sounds of the words themselves. This abundance was balanced by Karrie’s materials (wool, felt) which are silent, and which, in fact, absorb sound, and the beings her shapes depict – (deer) which (we imagine) make noise at their peril.
In this tension between sound and silence, sits the gallery space itself, with its urban hums and human murmurs. Wishing to feed sound into the space and yet keep it separate, focused, Karrie constructed the legs of her deer with long tubes through which sound will travel, causing listeners to lean into the sound to discern its textures.
In working with her recordings of Elise’s voice reading her poems (which echoes Karrie’s use of Elise’s handwriting as threads/shadows) Evelyn explored the materiality of the words as sounds, using a human voice to create and echo the sounds of the mute deer in their rustling environment, where the situation can shift from safety to threat in an instant, and the melodious singing of birds can morph to Hitchcock-like caws without warning.