Interlopings: Experiencing the warp and weft of ecological entanglements
We are dyeing Santa Cruz Island Sheep wool with dyestuff from invasive and non-native plants growing on the Santa Cruz island in the Channel Islands archipelago in California. The public are invited to participate in the process through workshops in museums, our studios, and cafes. The wool is spun into yarn, the yarn is knitted and woven into shawls.
The Santa Cruz Island sheep breed stems from sheep brought to Santa Cruz Island in the mid 19th century for wool and meet production. Over the years, the sheep increased in numbers and became feral. In concordance with restoration efforts on the island, the sheep, then in the tens of thousands, were eradicated in the nineties. The wool from these sheep speaks about the landscape where the individual sheep lead their lives and the breed emerged. Its staple length and crimp, the soil and vegetable matter trapped in it, reveals something about the sheep, the breed and their environment (craftspeople now speak of the 'terroir' of wool.)
We are dyeing the wool using dyestuff extracted from plants that are invasive (or non-native) on Santa Cruz island. Humans' influence on our ecosystems is complex and intertwined. The project gives its audience a direct visual, olfactory and tactile experience with animals and plants that have been introduced to the island. Some of these, such as the sheep, caused severe harm to the islands' ecosystems. Due to the method of eradication (very few sheep were brought to the mainland, most were shot on the island) the Santa Cruz Island breed has ironically become one of the five most critically endangered breeds on the Livestock Conservancy's conservation priority list.
Some of the questions this project evoke are: What animals 'deserve' our protection? What is the goal with conservation? What does it mean to conserve a breed created by humans? Does it make sense to conserve a breed just so that we can continue to exploit it (by eating it, shearing it and so on)? How do we define what a 'wild' species is? How do we decide where species belong? Recent DNA research indicates that the Chumash people might have brought the Channel Island foxes to the islands 7000-9000 years ago , should the foxes be eradicated from the islands (just after the species has been successfully revived)? When was 'wild'? How do we eradicate human influence from an island when humans are responsible for changes to the environment at large, such as the introduction of pollutants into the ecosystems and climate change? And how about the native humans, the island Chumash, who were forcefully removed from the islands, what responsibility does various conservation efforts have towards them?
By smelling and touching the wool, inspecting the insects and vegetable matter stuck to it, getting dazzled by rich and subtle colors given to us by the plants and sensing the warmth from the finished shawls, the audience-participants inadvertently explores a wide array of topics. They might gain insights into issues ranging from aspects of the natural and cultural history of the Channel Islands and conservation to the Anthropocene and chemistry. While these issues will be discussed in the workshops and exhibitions, this is an art project relying on visual, tactile, and olfactory modes of generating meaning. As such the most important questions will be asked, and maybe answered, in the direct experiences of hands, noses, and eyes and in the relationships created between people and between people, processes and materials. We hope to create ways for the public to participate in dialogues about the effects of human activities on our environment. The project is also a starting point for a wide array of tangential discussions such as women's labor, the history of the California wool textile industry, and the chemical properties, and the historical use, of the dyestuff we explore .
The project will be premiering at the new Chrisman California Islands Center opening in Carpinteria fall of 2022.
Lisa Jevbratt and Helén Svensson
Collaborators: Jennifer Deslippe, Julia Ford, Soren Johnson, Lynn Moody, Barbara Rosén, Sydney Wylde