Symphony for Absent Wildlife

Studio Orta - 5568
Studio Orta - 5568

Date: 2016
Ref: 5568
Materials: 19 Masks and tail coats made from surplus felt army blankets, 19 pairs of ceramic-resin hands and feet, 18 bird whistles, conductor baton, 3D audio installation
Dimensions: Variable installation dimensions
Exhibition history: 2016 Attenborough Art Centre, Leicester, UK; 2015 ZegnArt, Milan, Italy; Banff National Park, Canada; 2014 Nuit Blanche Calgary, Canada
Courtesy: Lucy + Jorge Orta

A dimly-lit space is filled with immersive birdsong. The audience stumble across an orchestra of woodland creatures playing hand-crafted wooden whistles that replicate the remarkable sounds of birds. 
Although originally conceived as a site-specific performance for the city of Calgary in Alberta, Canada (2014), Symphony for Absent Wildlife  evokes universal themes, including loss of cultures, loss of lands, loss of rituals and loss of wildlife.

Each musician wears a sculpted mask and an tailcoat tailored crafted from reclaimed Red Cross felt blankets. The blankets still bear the embroidered inscriptions of their previous owners, wouded soldiers.  Taking the Canadian 'point blanket' as a reference point, Lucy Orta draws our attention to the felt blanket as an exchange commodity between First Nation peoples and the early European traders. The point blanket, manufactured in Manchester's woollen mills was exchanged with Bow River beaver skins, which were fashioned into into top hats, and because of the blanket's versatility the 'capote' blanket cape became a shared form of dress. Orta's foreboding masked figures recall the spirits of the once abundant wildlife across the Albertan plains: moose, wapiti, wolves, grizzly bears, mountain goats, beavers, eagles. The bison, virtually wiped out by the early European settlers, have only recently been reintroduced into the Banff National Park.  The animals in Symphony for Absent Wildlife play an important role in the indigenous belief system, with their spirits inhabiting the rituals of First Nation peoples.  
The immersive sound-scape created in collaboration with composer Asa Bennet is inspired by the dawn-chorus. A chatter of birdsong builds up in crescendo to abruptly end in a heart-wrenching silence, leaving the viewer with a deep sense of loss before a single bird reconvenes the collective dawn ritual. 
Research for Symphony for Absent Wildlife was undertaken in Banff National Park, the archives of Fort Calgary and Glenbow Museum, and included conversations with First Nation elders and academics and student exhanges between Alberta College of Art and Design and the University of the Arts London.