Symphony for Absent Wildlife (Spirits of Alberta)
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; 2014 Nuit Blanche Calgary, Canada
Courtesy: Lucy + Jorge Orta
Under the title Symphony for Absent Wildlife Lucy + Jorge Orta have created an ode to wildlife, taking the form of a live performance presented at the Nuit Blanche in Calgary in 2014, and curated by Wayne Baerwaldt.
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. The felt 'point-blanket' was an exchange commodity between First Nation peoples and the early European traders, and it became a 'democratic' item of clothing. Wearing blankets, Orta's foreboding masked figures recall the spirits of the once abundant wildlife across the Albertan plains: bison, moose, wapiti, wolves, grizzly bears, and eagles.
The music stands illuminate a graphic score, the conductor guides the masked-animal musicians, and the performance commences. An amplified symphony of avian chatter - 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 the disappearing natural environment, its sounds and the diversity of its fauna, closer to the city.
Research was undertaken in at Fort Calgary and Glenbow Museum Calgary, and included discussions with local inhabitants, academics and students from Alberta College of Art and Design. The process was complemented by a 6-month workshop with the graduate community at the University of the Arts London.