FRIENDS + ENEMIES is a suite of projects that seeks to productively problematize the perspectives and rhetoric around native and invasive species. At a research residency in June 2009 at ISIS Arts in Newcastle, I discovered the Red vs Grey Squirrel Wars, and investigated other species named in invasion ecology, and the events and narratives that surround them. I found that one could eat many of them, one could favor or hate them, and one could use them as part of nationalist or racist rhetoric.
Equally compelling are aspects of Northumberland’s rich nature/culture history, which contribute to the visual language of the project, including:
– 400 years of Border Wars which produced bastles and castles, and architectural demarcations, assertive symbols of defense and victory for various sides.
– Northumberland, “Britain’s wildest place,” has in reality been highly mediated and managed – from Roman times to the mining schemes begun in the 1700s – in a continuous reshaping of the landscape.
– Northern England’s naturalists made significant contributions to understanding, naming, and framing the natural world, including Thomas Bewick and Albany Hancock.
– Native fauna such as the Red Squirrel and the English Crayfish have become native “poster children” and are thus subject to all sorts of territorial wars. These species’ survival depends on extensive intervention and support by humans. One unfortunate by-product is an explicit subtext of nationalism and racist/ speciesist assertions about foreign invasives, who at once pose legitimate threats to local ecosystems but also challenge notions of what is natural, what belongs.
EAT THY ENEMY’s street pushcart boasts a foreign cuisine with a local charge: American Grey Squirrel Samosas with Himalayan Balsam Chutney, Asian Knotweed Turnovers, and other street food whose main ingredients are aggressively invasive species.
EAT THY ENEMY is an edible performance in which passers-by consume exotic morsels; an embodied attempt to articulate the slippery borders around ideas of self and other, native and foreigner; and a challenge to the selective rhetoric of speciesism and racism that infuses invasion ecology issues.
In addition to the food on offer, EAT THY ENEMY offers a public forum for conversation. The pedlar will be well-versed in degustation, biodiversity, and nationalist rhetoric, all of which are problematized within the project. There will be a “souvenir” booklet that explores the relationship between cuisine, territory and globalization.
Pushcart peddling is often an immigrant’s occupation, historically worked by the poor, gypsies and wanderers. Some of the invasive species on EAT THY ENEMY’s menu are eaten elsewhere as part of a “native” culinary system; other ingredients have been brought as part of accepted global exchange. Why are we willing to ‘consume’ goods from underdeveloped countries but less willing to welcome the people who make them? Why have we accepted certain foreign food conventions, and not others? Do our highly editorialized predilections prevent us from seeing larger narrative and socio-economic frameworks?
EAT THY ENEMY raises controversial questions within a transnational context, becoming a metaphor for societal challenges surrounding xenophobia and commercial consumption.
Native Red Squirrels need our help. There’s no debate that their numbers are dwindling, while the American Grey Squirrel continues to advance north, taking over territories and contributing to the demise of the Red through competition and disease. A fever has swept Great Britain, and from Prince to pauper, great effort is exerted to save the Reds. Corridor connectors, rope bridges over roads, and log runways out of forests have been erected; a McCarthyesque network of vigilante citizens report and respond to sightings of both species; and an enthusiastic Grey Squirrel cull is in progress. Marketing schemes have abounded, from Red Squirrel holidays to ephemera.
With a mind towards opening up the conversation and exploring the ways we selectively champion and conserve species, I am proposing to make a group of squirrel feeding stations to be set out in the Northumberland woodlands. Realistic life-sized nudes entitled THE FRIEND FEEDERS, and made of suet, seeds, and nuts, the forms would be molded by casting local people. A twisted nod to Antony Gormley, the feeder/sculptures depict vulnerable humans displaced in and by the environment.
Friends + Enemies is an animated diptych. Larger-than-life, each panel depicts a person who appears to be supporting a host of animals: the man on the left supports native species in Northern England; the woman on the right, an ethnic version of Mother Nature, is fodder for invasive species. The animation cycles through four seasons in Northern England, including summer and nocturnal visitors and year-round denizens. The work makes our favoritism literal, giving our own bodies up as food to support the species in question.
The work requires two 16:9 HD (1920 x 1080) projectors and either two mac minis, mac towers, or mplayers (to be determined). It is suitable for indoor our outdoor projection, with the following recommendations:
It would be ideal to exhibit the work on identical free-standing panels emerging from a shallow dirt pile- a reference to the monolith in 2001.
MOVIE SAMPLE (in progress 11.09)