This proposal is for an artistic work titled “Situations for Empathic Movement.” This work addresses our understanding of place and its inhabitants through embodied experience as well as via remote understanding of tracked beings, looking at behaviours and changing habitats of animals that are both remote to the region, but also birds that pass through Devon through migration. This work will include several components: an instructional audience-participation event (for empathic movement with remote caribou), an exhibition component, and components for walks with divergent activities in the region. This work proposes to include references to physical reminders of place and its inhabitants and visitors, as well as to the passage of beings through space and place as tracked through technology.
This project references and continues some threads from my previous work. Several years ago, I had been researching and teaching about wireless histories and thinking about embodiment and place in our networked world – wondering how we can understand place and subjectivity not just through embodied experience but also through the delivery of site, beings and space as information — onsite, offsite, and online. I began to follow tracked animals online – recording their migration routes and trying to imagine what it meant when they stopped transmitting data: had they lost their tracking device, or had they come to some horrible end? I started traveling to record physical reminders of human and animal presences at distant sites – a hole ripped out of the earth by grizzly bears, a 100-year old ring where Marconi’s wireless transmission towers once stood at Poldhu, photographing a withered carcass of a polar bear while visiting the graves of Franklin’s team on Beechey Island, hearing the buzz of insects in a swamp at a Marconi site in Nova Scotia, visiting abandoned mining and Dew-line sites in the Canadian Arctic, seeing live caribou in the Arctic on Victoria Island – and part of their remains scattered on a forest floor in Ivvavik in the Yukon. These reminders of animal and human presence, gathered through my own experience and through virtual tracking of animals through online data and research have become the inspiration and material for a larger body of work that I have been pursuing for the past few years.
This work proposes to include references to physical reminders of place and its inhabitants, as well as to the passage of beings through space and place as tracked through technology.
This work will include several components: an instructional audience-participation event (for empathic movement with remote caribou), an exhibition component, and components for walks with divergent activities in the region. While all of these are proposed and related, I am willing to be flexible in what is included if not all components work for Balance-UnBalance.
Coastal and other trail walks are part of a culture of understanding place, and this is especially so in Southwest England, with many historic coastal and nature trails near Plymouth or in North Devon – attracting many people interested in environment and nature who are concerned about the effects of climate change on these environments and their ecosystems. While I have not encountered these specific trails, I have done extensive project research in a nearby area of Cornwall in Poldhu, at the site of Marconi’s first trans-Atlantic wireless transfer. While Marconi and wireless may seem unrelated to animals that visit or inhabit the UK or the Arctic, wireless technologies and culture have changed our understanding of embodiment, identity and place, and what is ‘remote.’ We can follow and potentially have empathy for animals that are remote to our own immediate environment (and understanding), because so many animals are not only tracked for scientific purposes (using GPS and satellites), but also made ‘near’ to a general public through websites (e.g., the WWF website) that share information on where they are or have been. This information is usually translated from data into an easily understood online graphic format that reveals animal movements and habitats, so one does not need to be a scientist or specialist to decipher it, bringing it one step closer to (an embodied) empathic understanding.
The work I am proposing will refer to animals (tracked through satellite tracking or traditional- or citizen- science) whose habitats are changing as a result of climate change and human development. These will include birds that migrate through the UK who can be seen and documented by the audience, as well as two animals I have focused on in the past that are very remote to the UK, but may be known by some people there already via the aforementioned kind of websites (caribou and polar bears, both distant from the UK). Additionally, a third ‘being’ will be referred to – a disembodied signal that was sent from Poldhu across the ocean by Marconi, precipitating our present-day understandings and experiences of place, space and being.
Leslie Sharpe has exhibited and presented work internationally in Canada, Columbia, Finland, France, Germany, Spain, Turkey, the UK and USA, and has been an artist-in-residence at P.S. 1 (New York), Banff Centre (Canada), and lvvavik National Park (Canadian Arctic). Sharpe holds an MFA in Computing for the Arts from University of California, San Diego, and taught art at Pratt Institute (New York), University of California, San Diego (La Jolla), and Indiana University School of Fine Arts (Bloomington). She is currently Chair of Art and Design and Associate Professor in Fine Art at MacEwan University (Canada). Sharpe has published her writing in the Leonardo Online special issue on Locative Media, the books Far Field: Digital Culture, Climate Change, and the Poles (Intellect Press), Textile Messages: Dispatches from the World of E-textiles and Education (Peter Lang Publishing), and in the forthcoming Exhibiting Sound. Sharpe’s artwork and research for the past several years has addressed animal-human relationships, climate change, environment, colonialism, and the North, as well as narrative works related to sites of early wireless history, including Marconi sites stretching from Newfoundland Canada and Massachusetts to Poldhu, UK.