Symphony for Absent Wildlife

Date: 2014
Materials: Performance for 19 musicians, felt army blankets, animal masks, bird whistles, tree trunks, music stands, audio sound-scape
Dimensions: Various dimensions. Duration 14mins
Exhibition history: 2016 Attenborough Arts Centre Leicester, UK; 2015 Banff National Park, Canada; 2015, ZegnArt, Ermenegildo Zegna global headquarters, Milan; Italy 2014 Nuit Blanche Calgary, Canada
Courtesy: Lucy + Jorge Orta

In Symphony for Absent Wildlife, a woodland clearing composed of weathered tree trunks sourced from local forests is filled with the sound of birdsong. Here we encounter a orchestra of woodland spirits, each wearing a sculpted mask and an iconic tailcoat tailored from reclaimed felt blankets that bare the inscriptions of past warriors and homeless wanderers. Historically, the felt 'point-blanket' was an exchange commodity between First Nation peoples and the early European traders and became a 'democratic' item of clothing worn by both nations. Orta's foreboding masked figures recall the spirits of the once abundant wildlife across the Albertan plains: bison, moose, wapiti, wolves, grizzly bears, mountain goats, beavers and eagles. At the same time, they make reference to the spirit belief system of the First Nation peoples.  

In the live performance, the music stands illuminate a graphic score, the conductor guides the masked-animal musicians into a dawn chorus. An amplified symphony of birdsong resonates across the city. Man or beast?  Just simple hand-crafted bird whistles that replicate the remarkable sounds of nature. Symphony for Absent Wildlife brings a fragment of our disappearing natural environment, its sounds and the diversity of its fauna, closer to the city.  

The live performance was first presented at the 2014 Nuit Blanche in Calgary curated by Wayne Baerwaldt. Research was undertaken in at Fort Calgary and Glenbow Museum Calgary, and included discussions with first nation elders. The process was complemented by a 6-month workshop with the postgraduate community from the Alberta College of Art and Design and the University of the Arts London.

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