hcma architecture + design
TILT Artist in Residence
February – May, 2021
Victoria, British Columbia
Setting up for the orca photograph in Ross Bay, Victoria
A response to the residency theme “Empty City”, Projections explores the mounting extinction crisis through four species that share our urban space.
Photographs were made at dusk recording digital light projections of endangered animals and plants, within their native habitats, in the Capital Regional District of Victoria. In an attempt to speak to great and small, the species selected reflect not only those as recognizable as the killer whale, but also the reclusive Barn Owl, the plain Propertius Duskywing moth and the little-known plant Footsteps of Spring.
The Southern Resident killer whales of the Pacific Northwest (Orcinus orca) have a high probability of becoming functionally extinct by approximately 2116, within the feasible lifespan of a human born today. Functional extinction occurs when a population falls below the number of breeding adults necessary to sustain itself. Increasingly it has become apparent that the decline in Chinook salmon, the orca’s primary diet, is the largest factor. Pollution also plays a part, typically ending up as toxins within a whale’s blubber. When a whale cannot find enough to eat, they begin to metabolize this fat to maintain energy levels and the toxins stored within are also released to the bloodstream, creating a terrible combination of starvation and poisoning.
Barn owls (Tyto alba) around the Capital Region have been in steady decline for some years. Fragmentation and loss of habitat due to land development is the primary cause. Poisoning is also an urgent issue as much of the owl’s diet consists of rodents made toxic by humans attempting their eradication.
The Propertius Duskywing Moth (Erynnis propertius) lives primarily in Garry Oak ecosystems, which are in decline across the Capital Region and all the way up to the Comox area, the northernmost reach of their habitat in North America. The majority of these ecosystems are privately owned and consequently under continued threat of development.
A small plant blooming cheerful bright yellow in the spring, and located in one small area in Victoria, the Footsteps of Spring (Sanicula arctopoides) is one of the most endangered plants in Canada. It inhabits a 300-metre strip of land (for the most part only 2 metres wide) along the western edge of Harling Point. There is currently very little awareness that this beautiful plant even exists, much less that it is projected to be extirpated in 10 to 20 years through a combination of land development, erosion and damaging effects of the unintended yet oblivious foot traffic of humans and their dogs.
During the research stage, it became apparent that the primary cause of the crisis is loss of pristine habitat, much of it through urban development, industrial resource extraction and the loss of farmland. With the population of southern Vancouver Island projected to increase by almost 90,000 people by 2038 it seems likely this decline of wild spaces will continue unabated. The province of British Columbia as a whole reflects a similar trajectory (again reflected globally) with over 1,300 species currently at risk of extinction.
Long known as “Super Natural”, the province of British Columbia has been recognized as a destination where access to wild, untamed space was always close by. With anthropogenic development of these environments, and further impacts of climate breakdown and pollution, the public is now awakening to the fact that this is no longer so.
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Footsteps of Spring (Sanicula arctopoides) aka Bear's Foot Sanicle
Like many over 2020 and 2021 this project felt the impacts of the Covid 19 pandemic and adjustments were necessary to the original direction. One of the most noticeable of these was a change in the intended public presentation of the work. Originally intended as outdoor, site-specific projections around Victoria to raise public awareness of the extinction crisis, when the time approached the province was well into the third wave of infection and the decision was made that encouragement of gatherings of any size was not appropriate. Instead I headed out alone to quieter locations within the city to make the images, eventually releasing the final photographs through social media to maintain the original public-facing element of the project.
An artist residency sponsored by an architectural firm while speaking to species extinction is no small matter. By definition transforming the rural to the urban, I must confess to respectful admiration (and a little surprise) when hcma architecture + design accepted my proposal for this artistic investigation. As mentioned earlier, urban development is one of the primary causes of loss of biodiversity and for a corporation directly involved to open themselves to scrutiny and reflection speaks courageously of their decision-makers 'walking the walk' behind the stated intent of the program.
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Testing the net screen in the backyard
hcma TILT Artist in Residence program
hcma architecture and design
British Columbia’s looming extinction crisis by Sarah Cox
Special thank you to reporter Sarah Cox. This article's publication coincided with my residency application, influencing it's direction.
Dr. Brian Starzomski
Ian McTaggart Cowan Professor of Biodiversity Conservation and Ecological Restoration
School of Environmental Studies, University of Victoria
Brian presented an informative workshop for hcma staff at Harling point in Victoria, the only place in Canada to find the endangered Footsteps of Spring.
BC Species & Ecosystems Explorer
Government of British Columbia:
Where are the architects who will put the environment first?
Center for Whale Research
The authority on the endangered Southern Resident killer whales of the Pacific Northwest.
Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’; Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’
Architecture: From Prehistory to Climate Emergency review – how energy shaped the way we built the world