Den#1 and FLIR 180smDen#1+Imgsm Den#3smMatrix: Series # 1 (The View From Up Here, Anchorage Museum 2016


Barrow and the North Slope Borough is a place where human interests of many kinds intersect. With the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska to the West and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the east, and Prudhoe Bay between them, without obvious correspondence, such interests coalesce with those of other species within a crucible of environmental contention.

For many years, as artists we have been fascinated by the individuality and ergonomics of polar bear maternity dens – their allure as places of beginning and of continuity and how, as such, they embody both a biological specificity of purpose and (to us) a cultural/environmental register of touching significance.

Having over the last six years, researched the unique iterations of denning, first in ‘wilderness’ areas in Svalbard and Greenland, far from human presence, we find that in the Alaskan arctic the National Geographic narrative of pristine isolation and environmental perfection is misleading… out there polar bears share the terrain with a complex human matrix comprising the Inupiaq people*, the oil industry, the tourist industry and a legion of environmental scientists. As a consequence bears will often den in close proximity to human sites.

Nevertheless, the oil industry is obliged to use its technology and resources including FLIR (Forward Looking Infra Red) thermal imaging in order to assist in locating the sites of denning bears during the preparation  of ice roads each winter. The discovery of dens by these means can determine routes or prompt diversions.

Just south of Point Barrow within a mile of the most northerly place on US soil, there exists a last scattering of makeshift shelters and houses – seasonal human dwellings in various states of disrepair, to which townsfolk too migrate in the summer.

*Inupiaq people have an ancient relationship with the polar bear, its habits and behaviours and despite now sharing the location with incomers from over 30 nations, maintain hunting traditions, using the animal as a source of food and clothing.

the glass maquettes were made with the assistance of Max Robertson (University of Cumbria, 3D modelling) and Brian Jones (Wearside Glass, National Glass Centre, Sunderland UK – with financial assistance from the University of Sunderland)

During the last decade the image of the polar bear has moved in the public imagination from being an icon of strength, independence and survival in one of the most climatically extreme of world environments, to that of fragility, vulnerability and more generally of a global environmental crisis.

Matrix is an ambitious project, begun inthe Spring/Summer of 2010 with a residency in Longyearbyen, Svalbard where we focused on polar bear dens as the perfectly adapted model for habitat in the arctic environment.

The Polar Bear species is under threat from global warming, largely through the depletion of ice and shortened winters. Through discussion with experts in the field, empirical enquiry and ultimately, art-driven initiatives we looked for examples of adaptation to changing environmental circumstance as a basis for contemplation and the re-appraisal of accepted knowledge.  We are particularly interested in the architecture of specific  dens, and their functionality and capacity for modification during use, in response to changes in local weather and temperature.

On our recent visit to Alaska, we visited with biologists working with  oil companies to minimise disturbance of denning sites on the North Slope.

Feral Attraction


talkni peninsula

Tálkni peninsula (from north)

A project exploring what happens when domestic animals transgress the invisible and unspoken boundaries that separate landscapes of domestication and wildness? In October 2009, a small flock of feral sheep that had persisted for some decades in an inaccessible part of the Westfjords of Iceland was rounded up by a team of men and dogs from the neighbouring communities. Some nineteen sheep were caught, but five more perished as they ran off steep cliffs attempting to evade their captors. Despite (or perhaps because) the incident had caused so much public interest, all those caught were sent to the abattoir the following day. Prior to the round-up, observations were reported suggesting that some physiological adaptations in the sheep were evident. The opportunity to investigate a supposed increase in leg length was lost with the summary disposal of the carcasses.

 The incident serves to highlight several issues of contention regarding the ‘nature’ of landscapes; animal presences in these landscapes; and the preoccupations of humans with maintaining the boundaries between the wild and the domestic.

There is a tension between what we hold culturally as being right and proper and what we observe as a bid by another agent to disrupt that order. At the heart of this case is something that may be dismissed by many to be of no great consequence. For us, in ways resonant with  ideas proposed by Jane Bennett (2010) in her seminal book Vibrant Matter, it serves as a vital pointer to expose how human systems suppress the inclinations and capabilities of ‘things’, acknowledging instead only those qualities and capacities we have assigned them.

Tálkni peninsula (shearing)

Human will become blind  to the wills of those outside human systems whose actions do not correspond with, or seem at odds with, their own – who are simply not compliant in the human enterprise at hand. When the animal agent is one with which we technically coexist, (a domestic animal) the oversight seems particularly acute. A lack of porosity is evident – a resistance to ideas or indicators of change – a reactionary dismissal of knowledge concerning environment and the adaptability of denizens – the shaping of existence by environment – the capacity of discrete environments to model not only new biological permutations but to spawn new behavioural possibilities as a consequence of introductions or migration – a failure on the part of humans, still to acknowledge that a condition of ‘becoming’ is actually the norm – in nature, stability and material independence are illusory.


Trout Fishing in America and Other stories

Species Wall: All the Recorded Species of the Grand Canyon excepting the (unrecorded) INSECTS – 35ft x 9ft

Species Wall (detail)

Trout Fishing in America and Other stories
Bonytail Chub: diasec-mounted digital photograph (120cms x 90 cms)

Bryndis Snæbjörnsdóttir and Mark Wilson explored the networked effects of conservation initiatives in Arizona. Over two years, they researched programs underway to reintroduce the California Condor and the Humpback Chub into the Grand Canyon. Through humour, wonder and surprise, their installation of photographs, videos and sculpture explored the complexity of human-animal interactions and their combined impact on ecologies.

You Must Carry Me Now

 3 x image-and-text works from the series of 14


248 She was hatched on 8th of May 2001 and released on 16th of February 2002. She was the last mate to 227. Condor 196 was 227’s first mate – she disappeared and the next season he paired with 248 and a year later we recovered her in late November in the Utah territory. We thought they would nest too – we had them displaying in the same remote canyon where we found 299 dead last week. 248 we recovered, dead of lead poisoning buried under snow on 15th of December 2006… she had a GPS transmitter. I remember that trip, 48 miles of snowmobiling to get to her…



232 This Condor died of lead poisoning on 3rd of January 2007. He was hatched on 30th of April 2000 and released on 25th of September in 2002. He spent over four years in the wild but did not reproduce. You know what hits me more than anything is not just the carcass – some of them you can recognize – I remember holding that bird – it had a really big head or whatever. What hits me the most is the relationship between how old the birds are when they die and the cause of death. So I look at a bird and see this is an adult – look it up on the charts and it died of lead poisoning… I find another bird – it’s only been out a year and didn’t die of lead poisoning. The longer they are out there, if they are going to die, they are going to die of lead poisoning and that gets me more than anything. But I notice things – like this one has green fecal material on its feet and that is a sign of stress on their system – sometimes related to the lead poisoning – not always – but it is related to stress. And I see a dead bird that has head coloration like that and it is obviously an adult – it just strikes me as such a loss because that bird could have been a breeder and a key to the success of this recovery is going to be adult survival. He was just beginning an adult life with the opportunity to produce. Depending on how long they live – they can live 60 years and are sexually reproducing at 8 years. That is a lot of babies – 20 plus potential so… You become hardened to it. It’s a shame but my way of dealing with the emotion of it is thinking well, what can I do on this bird and all these other birds’ behalf? This is why we are here, this is why we started – to recover the species so, are we doing due diligence on behalf of the process – the effort – the losses, to make sure we ameliorate the problem or at least identify and present it to society and see what they decide to do. Of course I will bust my ass to see that they will use less lead. Every bird in every part of the program is paying the true cost of recovery. So yeah, due diligence…



304 He was another lead death – the 304th condor tagged in the history of the condor recovery effort and yeah, he was hatched in our facility (the Peregrine Fund) in Boise Idaho on 24th of April 2003. He was released 20th of March 2004 and died two years later on March 16th 2006. Two years in the wild… and then died of lead poisoning.








rat in a can of paint

I’d like to tell you the story of when I found a rat in a can of paint. The outhouse was always dark and smelt of paraffin – there was a big old 50 gallon drum that sat on its side and always looked dangerous. I’d been asked to find a can of white emulsion out there amongst a stack of old tins, some old, some unopened, some big, some small. They were all a jumble so I was trying to find something that looked white with a bit of weight about it taking can after can from a pile on the left to a pile on the right. Suddenly I noticed a movement in an open tin (of white as it happens) and startled, I looked in and saw the curled up form of a young rat. I jumped back (rats were as dangerous as 50 gallon drums of paraffin as far as I was concerned) and at the same time saw the rat leap out and across the piles of cans and into the darkness under the big stone bench. I’d always been nervous about this outbuilding – in it spiders and earwigs were in profusion and now all of my worst fears were underlined. The speed with which the rat escaped, coupled with the memory of my alarm at finding it there henceforth made me defer, procrastinate, avoid all further invitations or directives to grope around in its unfathomable darkness…

Ian Jobson – April 8, 2010 at 4:09 am

Radio Animal

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