Debatable Lands: Dialogues from Shared Worlds (20-year retrospective exhibition) September 11 2021 – January 9 2022


photographic documentation by Vigfús Birgisson

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.








nanoq: flat out and bluesome

Between 2001 and 2006, artists Bryndís Snæbjörnsdóttir and Mark Wilson undertook a survey of taxidermic polar bears in the UK. They photographed each specimen – in storage, on display or undergoing restoration. They researched the histories of each and wherever possible identified the date, place and individuals associated with its death or capture.

The project was first shown as an installation at Spike Island, Bristol, UK in which ten polar bear specimens were shown, together with a wall drawing and a video of the preparation and transit of the polar bear specimens from their respective collections to the exhibition space.

As part of this project, the artists have an archive of photographs, each of which incorporates its provenance. The archive is available in editions of 5, at size 600 x 610 mm and of 3 (of selected images) at size 1100 x 1200 mm.  This collection of photographs has toured to over twenty zoological, polar and art museums in the UK and in Scandinavia. Two editions now belong respectively to Reykjavik Art Museum, Iceland and Nevada Museum of Art, U.S.A.

A publication entitled nanoq: flat out and bluesome, A Cultural Life of Polar Bears was published by Black Dog Publishing, London in 2006. The book  discloses the process of the survey and the subsequent installation of ten of the bears in Spike Island Gallery, a converted tea-packing factory. It includes essays by Michelle Henning, Dr Garry Marvin and Dr Steve Baker, who write about taxidermy and photography, trophy-hunting and the depiction of animals in contemporary art, alongside previously unpublished archival photographs of 19th Century bear hunting in the Arctic.

Research background

20140429115313-river_picIn our often belated attempts to steward, care for or ‘repair’ environments – when individual animals and animal populationas are transformed from beings and societies into data, what of consequence is really captured – and importantly, what is lost?

20140429115403-IMG_5099-smThe project investigates tensions and cooperation among scientific, public, and corporate stakeholders in how we have managed the wilds and the public lands. As the artists capture the complexity of human groups each vying for their ideas about the future of endangered species, the art work becomes a figure for the larger difficulty of realizing any sustainable future. Who is included in the future and at what cost?

The exhibition due to  open in Arizona State University Museum of Art in Phoenix on 3rd of October 2014 explores how we perceive and communicate ideas of sustainability and how effectively we can engender collective responsibility regarding the environment.

20140429115729-IMG_6401-smBryndís Snæbjörnsdóttir and Mark Wilson have undertaken their research for this project in and around the Grand Canyon, Flagstaff, Vermillion Cliffs, Mohave Lake, and Phoenix, tracing the ‘wild’ water system from the Glen Canyon dam on the Colorado River to the urban homes of the desert. Working with Dr. Ron Broglio at ASU, they met with, interviewed and laboured alongside research scientists running conservation programs for endangered species. The artists immersed themselves in the respective environments and landscapes of these species and the associated conservation programs.

20140429115836-IMG_6711-smSince 2001 Snæbjörnsdóttir and Wilson have been working closely on projects which hinge on  specific relationships between non-human and human animals. Their inquiries have touched on extinction, colonialism, the naming of things, pet habitats, urban pest control and hunting, amongst other phenomena. The common thread is the relationships between humans and animals, and the insights brought by an examination of the margins where culture and nature collide. Previous projects have taken them to other kinds of ‘desert’, in the Arctic in Spitzbergen and Greenland and to Australia’s red center. This is their first major exhibition in the United States


Big Mouth

This installation by artists Bryndís Snæbjörnsdóttir and Mark Wilson used the example of the thought-to-be extinct thylacine to examine human behavioural response to the unfamiliar and to fear and how acts of identification by means of comparison with what is familiar can be culturally expediential and environmentally fateful and irredeemable.

In 1936 the last officially recorded thylacine died in captivity in Hobart Zoo in Tasmania, the country where they last lived wild and where over a sustained period they were systematically hunted to extinction by British colonial settlers.

It was recorded that this last animal was known by the keepers as ‘Benjamin’. However this has been proven to be something of a myth. This was actually the name of the last person officially to photograph it. On its death she was identified as female.

It is understood that the thylacine as a species was used as a scapegoat for poor returns on sheep farms in the colony of Tasmania in the 19C and as a consequence, a bounty was offered in return for dead specimens. It was by this means that the extinction of the animal was rapidly accelerated.

Importantly, the thylacine has taken on further significance for humans since its apparent extinction. It is currently used in all manner of ways as a focus for longing, for possible redemption, for a reacquaintance with the wild and what may remain there, tantalisingly and mysteriously still beyond our reach.

In addition to the above factors, the sheep’s ‘clothing’ here exoticises this most ubiquitous of ‘domestic’ animals, establishing it firmly as a target of human expedience at the same time as making us consider again its animal-hood. The signs (badmouth) are an embodiment of the kind of naming and commodification that announces and celebrates the existence of a thing and simultaneously divorces us from its reality. The zoomorphic seating platform offers the opportunity to view the installation in a way relating to other circumstances where the human gaze falls upon the animal.

Big Mouth ultimately, is not about a particular animal or animals. With this installation, as indeed in other projects, Snæbjörnsdóttir and Wilson have spotlighted particularly charged human/animal relationships in order to help unpack some of the myriad instinctive and cultured responses and projections prompted by our experience and understanding of habitat.