In September, I rolled out a collaborative installation with Barbara De Pirro at the Surge Festival, Museum of Northwest Art. This exhibition brought together artists and environmental researchers in exploring the effects of climate change on coastal communities and ecology. The summer’s record-breaking heat and wildfires created a sense of immediacy, generating high interest and a packed turnout for the culminating art and science panel discussion though it fell on a Seahawks Sunday. Barbara and I spent several weeks whacking, stacking and drilling piles of wood for our project, a life-size beaver lodge called LODGE(D). It was our privilege to consult with Dr. Greg Hood and Dr. Dave Peterson of the Skagit Science Climate Consortium about estuarine wildlife and ecology – they offered in-depth information and added levity to the grim news coming from eastern Washington, day after day.
Why beavers? Once hunted to the edge of extinction, the North American beaver is nature’s best engineer, and a keystone species whose presence improves the health and complexity of entire ecosystems. Beavers build lodges for protection from predators; their dams raise the water level so they can move more safely to food sources by swimming rather than waddling on land. By channeling and slowing the flow of water with their hydraulic wizardry (which also includes canals, pools, ponds and wet meadows), beavers help to expand wetlands, recharge groundwater, stabilize habitat, and provide a temperature refuge (deep ponds) for young salmon. So important is this species to wilderness ecology, that the US Forest Service and US Fish and Wildlife Service have created a project to reintroduce it to the Methow Valley.
Dr. Hood discovered a hidden colony of beaver in the Skagit Delta – they were unknown because they had adapted to life in the salty scrub tidal zone instead of on fresh water; a phenomenon unrecorded in the scientific literature. Our installation is a tribute to the resiliency of the beaver, and its ability to adapt to environmental challenges.
After deinstalling LODGE(D) at MoNA, we transported the immense woodpile to Matkze Fine Art Gallery and Sculpture Park on Camano Island, where we reconfigured it into a soaring sculpture lodged in the crotch of a tree. Leaving this work made of reclaimed material to decompose in the woodland setting, meanwhile providing habitat for wildlife, is a way of returning to nature what belongs to her.
Is it just me, or is it getting hot in here? -By Lisa Kinoshita