Entangled: Ghost Whales
How can we reconcile the joy of existing within the community of life - with the grief that comes as we see the harm we humans continue to be responsible for?
The North Atlantic Right Whale has been critically endangered for years. Recently, these whales had begun to recover, but that recovery is threatened by the death of whales due to human activity, mostly entanglement in fishing gear and ship strikes. This piece aims to explore the relationship of humans to whales by crafting a fleet of ‘ghost whale’ lanterns which represent the ghostly nature of our relationship to these creatures, the precarious condition of the North Atlantic right whale population, and 'the Ghost of Extinction Yet To Come': Are we willing to allow this species to become a ghost?
The lanterns are constructed of stiffened cloth - the light within aims to evoke ethereality and mortality, with the skeleton of the whale illuminated in silhouette through the whale. This skeleton, revealed by light, brings a heavier gravity to the contemplation of the effects of human activity on whales, especially since the use of whale oil for light was one of the main reasons why these whales have become endangered in the first place. These whale lanterns are entangled in fishing gear or display ship-strike injuries to represent the current ways humans are endangering this species. The title of this work also aims to evoke reflection on the ways that human are ‘entangled’ with other species (including whales) on Earth. “The ecological ghosts of oceans past already swim in emptied seas..”
I envision a whole ceiling illuminated with these whales, with many more at around 5-8 feet high as a “forest” of whales for viewers to walk through. This is a way to publicly memorialize these whales, while also reflecting on the issues that these whales face along their recovery. I hope to avoid focusing too much on the gory mortality of the whales, but shed light on the current population of whales who need us to adjust our behavior to survive. I want viewers to leave with hope for these creatures, while acknowledging the real threats they face. These ghost whales are meant to be displayed in a large installation, illuminating a dreamscape dance swimming between life and death, with light illuminating the whales, but also highlighting the skeletons within the whales and the fishing gear wrapped around them - as Ursula K. LeGuin says, "to light a candle is to cast a shadow..."
Whales are currently on display at the New Bedford Whaling Museum - a small group for now, with a larger installation planned for early February 2019.
A large installation of whales was present for the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium Meeting, Nov 6-8. 2018, at the New Bedford Whaling Museum
Bouyed Right Whale