Gareth Bate

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Indicator Exhibition

Scotiabank Nuit Blanche

Part of Practice Practice – Built for ART at 401 Richmond St. West, Toronto.


Karen Abel, Jessica Marion Barr and Gareth Bate.

Gareth Bate Art Projects | Studio S-17, 401 Richmond Street West, Toronto ON

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Birds, bats, bees. Indicator species signal the deteriorated state of ecosystems, warning us when our environs are in trouble. Three elegiac installations investigate the concept of biological indicators and the suffering of wildlife due to habitat destruction, climate change, and environmental contamination. A rain cloud of bird bones and a chandelier inhabited by crystalline cast-sugar bats float in the gallery space, encircled by a ghostly amphitheatre-like wall mural of the ancient Roman Coliseum hand drawn with liquid honey. A sound installation layering the calls and sounds of these animals pervades the ecological arena. Visitors are embedded and implicated in the disastrous results of the global incursion of human 'empire', as manifested in our ailing 'indicator' species.

Karen Abel's Hibernaculum is a sculpture constructed from five salvaged chandeliers. Hanging cast sugar bat sculptures replace the fixtures' original decorative crystal prisms, creating an intricate biological structure that references the cluster formations of cave-hibernating bats. With each iteration, the sugar structure is expanded in size to reference the slow formation of a cave stalactite, which, like the ecology of the caves that bats rely on for their winter habitat, take centuries to develop and can be forever changed by a single disturbance. The hibernating bat sculptures reference Myotis lucifugus, an Ontario bat species listed as endangered due to the emergence of a fatal disease invading cave habitats across North America. Claiming an estimated 7 million bats, the impact has been described as the most sudden and unforeseen wildlife decline in living memory. In the absence of scientific understanding, Hibernaculum attempts to illuminate a mysterious wildlife disease obscured in the darkness of hibernation.

Augury refers to omens, from the ancient Roman tradition of interpreting birds' behaviour and bones as signs of divine judgement. Jessica Marion Barr's Augury : Elegy addresses a seemingly apocalyptic spate of bird-flock deaths that began on New Year's Eve 2011 in Arkansas, when 4,000 blackbirds fell out of the sky, dead. In the days that followed, dozens of similar incidents occurred. BirdLife International states: "Birds are crucial indicators of ecosystem health. Changes in bird populations signal changes in the ecosystems we depend on for food, clean air, and water." The warnings are everywhere, if only we would choose to see them – because those were a lot of canaries, and we're all in this coal mine together. The visceral, elegiac confrontation with the bird bones (salvaged from food preparation) in the piece reminds viewers that we are all implicated in potentially catastrophic climate change.

Gareth Bate's Colony Collapse is an image of the Roman Coliseum hand drawn on the walls of the exhibition space in liquid honey, whose drips echo the architecture of this icon, creating an analogy between the fall of the Roman Empire and the precariousness of our own civilization, as bee populations (whose roles as pollinators sustain our food supply) dwindle due to Colony Collapse Disorder. Researchers estimate that nearly one-third of all honeybee colonies in the U.S. have vanished. Bate writes: "In perilous times, this installation represents a sense of fragility and interconnectedness. We seem to operate under the strange idea that culture is separate from nature, as opposed to being a manifestation of it."

Indicator brings these three powerful pieces together with a unique sonic palimpsest to create an immersive meditation on our relationship with our environing world, and to suggest that we heed the messages these species are sending us.


Artists in Show: Karen Abel, Jessica Marion Barr, Gareth Bate
Dates: October 5-19, 2013
Exhibitions: Indicator at Gareth Bate Art Projects | Studio S-17, 401 Richmond Street West, Toronto ON
Nuit Blanche Website