Animism: cetacean mri

June 17, 2010 § 1 Comment

Cetacean mri (song for Humphrey)

These three paintings are thematically linked to the songbird series. mri scans and fibre stained cross sections from dolphin brains were used as source material for preliminary drawings. These have been reworked and then extrapolated in size to the scale of humpback whale brains which are similar in form but considerably larger. The humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) is renowned for its long and complex songs – for which there are still no clear scientific explanation. The mica in the paintings is placed in the same areas that are observed to light up in the human cerebral cortex when we are listening to music. The three names in the titles of the paintings refer to famous Humpbacks:

Colin was the name given to an abandoned humpback calf that was discovered in August 2008 at Pittwater North of Sydney, Australia. He attempted to suckle from moored boats in an attempt to obtain food. Despite attempts to reunite the calf with whale pods by luring him out to sea, he returned to Pittwater. Opinion was divided on the best treatment for the orphan whale, some advocating feeding the calf with artificial milk formula, others advocating euthanasia. Colin was finally given a fatal dose of anaesthetic on 22 August 2008 owing to his deteriorating condition.

A humpback whale mother and calf, Delta and Dawn, lost on their northern migration, swam into San Francisco Bay in May 2007. Both were injured, most probably from boat propellers. Despite worries from whale watchers, a prolonged sojourn in brackish waters and repeated attempts to encourage their return to the sea, the two whales finally found the right stage of the tide, passing back through the Golden Gate Bridge on their way to the open ocean.

Humphrey is one of the most notable humpbacks, twice rescued by the marine mammal Centre and other concerned groups in California. In 1985 he swam into San Francisco bay and then, apparently disorientated, up the Sacramento river towards Rio Vista. 5 years later Humphrey returned and became stuck on a mudflat . He was pulled off the mudflat using a large cargo net with the help of the coastguard. On both occasions Humphrey was successfully guided back to the open ocean using a ‘sound net’ – people in a flotilla of boats behind the whale  making unpleasant noises by banging on metal pipes (this is a Japanese fishing technique known as ‘oikami’). At the same time the attractive sounds of feeding humpback whales was broadcast from a boat heading out into the Pacific. Since leaving San Francisco Bay in 1990 Humphrey has been seen only once, off the Farallon Islands in 1991.


§ One Response to Animism: cetacean mri

  • Dave Wyatt says:

    Paul, I viewed your Animism exhibition, I’m not an educated appreciater of art but found it to be hugely thought provoking, the Cetacean mri paintings are particularly beautiful. I’m really interested in the idea that animals & especially mammals can be cognitively receptive to sound/music/song in ways that are at least analogous to humans. I saw Mick Grierson speak yesterday, his work seems to follow a similar conceptual path to yours. You are probably aware of him but just in case…
    Dave Wyatt

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