Animals review – a carnival of curious fish and fantastic beasts
In 1255, the King of France gave Henry III of England an elephant; a sensation for medieval eyes that drew crowds to the royal menagerie at the Tower of London, including the artist, chronicler and Benedictine monk Matthew Paris. The picture Paris drew from life shows with clarity how the elephant has its leg tied to a post, how it stands imprisoned and wearily spurts water from its trunk. He shades the ridges and rumples on its vast body, as he tries to accurately depict this creature that’s stepped out of fable.
This 13th-century portrait of an elephant encapsulates the paradoxical delights of the British Library’s cornucopia of animal art. To medieval folk, an elephant was a monstrous legendary beast from their myths of faraway lands – yet Paris pins this fantastic being to reality, tying it down with his objective gaze. From this early attempt at scientific natural history, to a tiny drawing of a bird in flight from Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Arundel, to Ludwig Koch’s pioneering 1953 gramophone record of British bird songs, Animals explores how human beings have sought to observe and understand our fellow species. Yet it also revels in the fabulous, impossible dreams we have made of them.
Roll up to meet the Monkfish, a fish that looks just like a monk! This is how an illustration from Pierre Belon’s 1551 book The Natural History of Strange Sea Fishes depicts the creature: its human head is tonsured and its scales are shaped into monastic robes. The contrast with Paris’s careful study of an elephant, centuries earlier, shows the invention of the printing press didn’t instantly lead to modern science but instead proliferated fakes and fictions, like Renaissance social media. As late as 1718, supposedly in the Enlightenment, the Dutch artist Samuel Fallours was illustrating a book on tropical fishes with unreliable images of brightly coloured creatures, including a mermaid baring her breasts as she flicks her long blue tail.
Yet when it comes to the sea, fact is often as weird as fiction. A Renaissance map by Abraham Ortelius shows the sea populated by hybrids that blend mammal, fish, reptile and even human features: you can almost hear the sailors in dockside inns telling Ortelius about the monsters they have seen. But above it hangs a scientifically correct 18th-century study of a deep sea viperfish by Mark Catesby that’s just as mystifying.
We may think we have outgrown medieval marvels, but we still can’t see straight when it comes to sharks. The pulp cover art of Peter Benchley’s 1974 novel Jaws is shown next to Nicolas Steno’s 1669 engraving of a Great White Shark’s head, in which the visibly shrivelled flesh of the preserved specimen does not diminish the scale and terror of that mouth.
This exhibition is a cabinet of curiosities, tolerantly enjoying error and accuracy, happy to set the impossible beside the real. If it has a thesis it’s a defence of human curiosity. That is not to accuse it of shallow humanism. There is no attempt to disguise our abuse of the planet or the vanishing of species. An illustration from The Zoology of the Voyage of HMS Beagle, edited by Charles Darwin, portrays a Falklands wolf: Darwin predicted this native of the Falkland Islands, which had no fear of humans, would soon be extinct. He was right. A 1983 recording preserves the song of the Kauaʻi ʻōʻō, a Hawaiian bird that became extinct soon after it was made.
As a Natural History Museum scientist on film argues, the archive of natural history that’s been built up over centuries may help us better understand and so better defend nature. This exhibition is pro-knowledge, pro-science. Its true heroes are the often unsung pioneers who helped build up a complex picture of nature. In the early 19th century, Sarah Bowdich Lee travelled around Britain painting fishes from life, only portraying them freshly caught so she could record their real colours: the rendering of a Brown Trout from her book The Fresh-water Fishes of Great Britain glistens with brilliant scales despite its brownness, a fish so real it seems to swim before your eyes. Who needs monsters when reality is as beautiful as this?
The trouble is, we don’t look with Bowdich Lee’s fresh eyes often enough. Animals go from wonder to bore to victim so quickly, in a modern world that so often seems to lack the respectful curiosity shown by Matthew Paris back in the 13th century. A photograph from 1852 shows a hippo asleep in its enclosure at London Zoo, its floppy slumbrous bulk dwarfing the Victorians behind it as they peer through the bars. Are their faces illuminated or jaded, enlightened or dead-eyed? It’s so hard to tell with humans.
- Animals: Art, Science and Sound is at the British Library, London, from 21 April to 28 August.
Arts in the Garden brings a visual feast to the North Shore
Ask any creative what qualifies as art and they will tell you that art is multifaceted, spanning everything from music and performance to paintings, sculpture, sketch and – to some especially green-thumbed creatives – a meticulously curated garden.
This weekend gardens across the North Shore celebrated all things aesthetically pleasing for Arts in the Garden, a community event that fuses all facets of artistic creation by putting together visual artists, musicians and live performers in the same space.
The annual event, presented by North Van Arts, comprised 13 blooming gardens that traversed themes from ‘engaging’ – a garden with thought-provoking artwork and an active garden with bubbling ponds – to ‘connected’ – another filled with interconnected, meandering trails and musicians who sang on the on the healing power of trees.
“This natural environment lends itself so well to art. Galleries are very restrictive, you’re in a very sterile environment, but this inspires creativity, more authentic conversation,” said Garrett Andrew Chong, a photographer whose images had poked out from flourishing flower beds in a garden on West Vancouver’s Marine Drive.
For the artists participating, the event gave them the opportunity to get out of the stuffy confines of gallery and workspace, and allowed their wares to be viewed and appreciated by a wider audience.
“This is a really, really nice opportunity, this is a very different demographic to where I live, a much different crowd, and it means I can showcase all the different things that I work on,” said artist Emily Picard, an artist from the Sunshine Coast.
Like many of the artists participating, Picard’s creations complemented the space it inhabited. The eclectic nature of her work – Picard’s mediums span acrylic paint, spray paint, watercolour and marker pens – slotted in seamlessly to a garden that was anything but minimalistic.
Aptly categorised under “Ethereal” the North Vancouver garden, number 7 on the tour, had been like a scene from Alice’s Wonderland, complete with chandeliers hanging from the trees – 75 in total – birdcages protruding from flower beds and crystal dinnerware scattered large silvered tables.
Gardener Susan Bath, who has spent 27 years putting the outdoor scene together, said she hopes her mystical greenspace will inspire creativity within all who enter, and will encourage them to embrace whimsy in all its forms.
“I hope this shows that you don’t necessarily have to hire a professional, or be a professional, to create in this way. You don’t need a landscape artist, you don’t need money or a large garden, you just need time and a sense of playfulness,” she said, adding how most pieces had been gifted, bought from charity stores, or picked up from the side of the road.
While some gardens transported guests to Lewis Carroll lands, others set the scene for education. At Garden number 9, dubbed ‘Energized’, the LifeSpace Gardens hosted fellow green thumbs and offered tips and information on urban farming and vegetable growing.
At “Harmony”, garden number 4 on West Vancouver’s Whonoak Road, a fourteen year old food forest on Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) land invited guests to learn about Indigenous plants and healing.
“This is an educational space, where people can come and pick different things that they need from our community, anytime of the year,” said Senaqwila Wyss, the garden’s host, adding how the garden is open to all who want to learn.
Wyss said the event provided the opportunity for guests to learn the names of herbs and plants in the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Sníchim (Squamish language), to learn of Indigenous foods themselves – like the Indigenous wild potato wapato that has been making a comeback in local soil – and to immerse themselves in Squamish culture. Within the garden, musician Rennie Nahanee had delivered song and Squamish storytelling, talking of Elders and canoe experiences.
Whether hosting Indigenous storytelling or abstract art, each garden, said Tary Majidi, artist and host of Marine Drive’s offering, should provoke some sort of response from guests. It should inspire them to create or to engage, to connect with other people more or to just appreciate the smaller, more natural, everyday things in life.
“We could all do with getting off the internet, off social media, and going back to art and going back to the natural world, enjoying nature or clay or paint,” she said.
“If there is one thing that people should take away from this event, it’s that art can heal and that should not be overlooked,” she said.
Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.
Bigger Art in the Park returns this weekend
Last year’s event in Windsor’s Willistead Park broke attendance records. About 40,000 people came through the gate, and sales surpassed years in the past. Event Chair Allan Kidd said one vendor had to drive home for more inventory when they sold out.
More than 250 vendors from Ontario and Quebec registered for this year’s festival. Another 20 food vendors signed up, including local beer, wine, and spirits makers.
A complimentary bike valet is new this year. Those who go will find it at the Chilver Road entrance.
Kids Zone is back with four giant inflatables, face painting, and the chance to meet some of their favourite characters.
A free shuttle service will carry festival-goers to Willistead Park from 1591 Kildare Road and the Hiram Walker parking lot on Riverside Drive at Montreuil Avenue.
Admission is $8 at the gate, but guests can buy a ticket online for $7. There is no charge for children aged 12 and under.
Art in the Park has raised $1.3-million for the Rotary Club of Windsor 1918’s restoration efforts at Willistead Manor and $2-million for local and global projects.
“Much of our community doesn’t know that Art in the Park is a fundraising event. The people who attend help us raise the funds to build schools, drill wells, and deliver books, medicine and wheelchairs at home and around the world,” said Kidd.
Art in the Park on Saturday is from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Masha Titova’s “The Music of Art”
available to read in its entirety here, manage to do.t’s not often that the cover of The New Yorker, traditionally a storytelling image signed by the artist, reflects what goes on behind the scenes at the magazine—but that is what the black and copper shapes designed by Masha Titova for the cover of the June 5, 2023, Music Issue,
The first step was connecting with Titova, a Russian artist who relocated to Montenegro last year, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I asked Titova to use her sense of design to orchestrate a portrayal of a variety of sounds. Titova says, “I don’t play an instrument, but I love music, especially its rhythms, which often inspire me. And when I design, I try to harmonize the various visual shapes as if they were part of a musical composition.”
Once we settled upon the image, we recorded the aural elements that make up the cover’s malleable melody. Some of our more musically adept staffers—including Nick Trautwein, a senior editor who moonlights as a saxophonist, and David Remnick, the editor, on guitar—gathered to interpret Titova’s shapes, selecting the ones they wished to play. Julia Rothchild, a managing editor, who contributed piano, viola, and voice, described the process as “an exercise in synesthesia. What sound would that square make, or those triangles? A thud, or a flutter?”
Impromptu chamber groups formed: a viola-cello duo, a vocal quintet. The musical respite in the middle of the day presented the opportunity to exercise a different kind of focus from that of closing pieces, or making fact-checking calls. The associate research director Hélène Werner, who has played the cello since she was eight years old, said, “Music set me on my way. It was the organizing principle of my childhood. . . . It demands, of those who play it and listen to it, intellectual commitment and emotional honesty. It is generous in return. There is no better teacher.” Rina Kushnir, the art director, also appreciates music for its emotive qualities, for its ability to communicate what is “not possible to express otherwise.” Liz Maynes-Aminzade, the puzzles-and-games editor, says that “drumming and writing (puzzles or otherwise) light up some of the same parts of my brain.” A unifying factor in everyone’s performance was how seriously each performer took their music. One after the other, when their turn came, they paused their casual banter, took a deep breath, played their bit, and only then rejoined the playful green-room atmosphere. It was an unplanned but perfect demonstration of all our colleagues’ marvellous dedication to all they do.
The making of a weekly magazine (or of a Web site, a radio show, a festival, any of our many undertakings) is always a concerted endeavor, but that collaboration happens behind the scenes. This multimedia project, programmed by David Kofahl, the head of the interactives department, with the help of the features editor Sam Wolson, gives a glimpse of the way the efforts of many talented individuals and departments combine to insure that The New Yorker appears on your doorstep (or in your in-box), week after week, as good as we can make it.
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