Originally published in 1964, Euell Theophilus Gibbons' 'Stalking Series' were the first field guides for seafood in North America. A lover of nature and literature, Gibbons was eventually betrayed by his own passions when he ate a poisonous mushroom while foraging and died.
Inspired by the title of one of Gibbons' field guides, Stalking the Blue Eyed Scallop runs until May 29 at Little Sister Gallery at 13 Mansfield Avenue (College and Clinton) in Toronto. This short but sweet exhibition is the result of a series of collaborations. Three curators have come together to consider, alongside the four artists involved in the show, a selection of works produced as the result of highly involved research over the last couple of months.
What the Show is About
In nature, predators encounter a prey's characteristics (phenotype) repeatedly, providing ongoing opportunities for predator learning. For the prey, effective camouflage is meant to both prevent initial detection as well as resist predator learning.
In the wild, various strategies of camouflage exist. The most effective strategy for camouflage in nature is Disruptive Colouration—adapted in Marine Warfare as "Motion Dazzle." During WW1, strategies of camouflage were experimented with in order to protect military ships from enemy attack, a difficult task against the unbroken backdrop of sea and sky. Ships were covered in mirrors, disguised as giant whales or draped in canvas to look like clouds. An attempt was even made to disguise a ship as an island by covering it with trees and brush!
Eventually British marine artist Norman Wilkinson proposed the 'obfuscation' of ships through a technique which came to be known as 'Razzle Dazzle' which required ships not to be disguised for low visibility, but instead to be painted in order to break up their forms as a means of confusing the enemy ships. The Dazzle Ship protects itself through its increased visibility: hiding in plain sight. The title of this show, Stalking the Blue Eyed Scallop, is inspired by the Scallop who, with its fan-shaped shell and radiating ribs, joins the dazzle ship in the arena of showmanship as a strategy for protection.
Much like the Dazzle Ship, the artists and art works in this exhibition explore strategies of camouflage and showmanship. Materials masquerade as other media; art as bad advertisement. As in effective camouflage, the works in this show prevent initial detection, encourage slow looking and resist predator learning.
The Curator's Challenge
Understanding how these distinctive artists' works can blend coherently into one elegant exhibition was a challenge. We used the metaphor of the field guide to help us as curators guide decisions around the show. As the artists researched and created striking art works, our job is to think about ways in which they might be presented in order to highlight the artist's work as well as to introduce new and alternative ways of considering the artworks. For example, understanding how artwork from a larger body of work might fit into this show in a different context. For instance, artist Sahar Te's work exists in two iterations, the first is being shown in Montreal, the version on display in our show at Little Sister gallery is second version. This version, we understood as a ghost structure, performing a strategy of camouflage by "playing dead". As viewers you may agree or disagree but you’ll have to see the show first before you decide.
Photo Credits: Alex Willms