Symbiogenetic Mask Weave, Beacon Hill Park (Fall), Victoria BC, 9″ x 11″ x 2.5″, peafowl feathers, squirrel hair, Garry oak tree branches, human hair, salt and Borax crystals, string, yarn, tulle, wool, 2019.

In September, I wanted to mimic the seasonal behaviour of the Eastern Grey Squirrel by collecting and burying Garry oak acorns. On my weekend walk, I went foraging through Beacon Hill Park, Victoria BC, where there is a Garry oak meadow that pre-dates colonial times.

It was while collecting acorns, that I started picking up peafowl feathers too. And then a peacock walked past me, and I followed it. I watched in amazement as a tree squirrel hurled nuts to the ground from high above in the trees, while the peacock pecked at the ground below and enjoyed all the nutmeat from the crushed and squashed acorns. The acorns had mostly been crushed under the feet of humans. Here we were – the squirrel, the peafowl and the human all connected, woven together through the genetic material of the Garry oak tree. This made me wonder, how does weaving create intimacy, or create a bridge?

My research into the structures of power and division between humans and non-humans begins with an investigation into the colonial history of Beacon Hill Park in Victoria BC. The Indian (blue) peafowl, similar to the Eastern Grey Squirrel (who had been brought from the east coast of the United States to Victoria in 1966), had been brought to the park by colonial settlers from the Indian subcontinent in 1891.

By handling the materials I’d collected, I became interested in how the trace elements (found and discarded material from trees, urban animals and humans) could describe a shared space.

While interlocking and intertwining the DNA material of each species, I was curious what a “symbiogenetic join” might look like between the species (Haraway 146). Salt is used to extract DNA during genome testing or to extract the phenotypes, and the salt and Borax crystals are a simulation of that idea. While immersing the feathers and hair in the salt bath I wondered, what could the shape of crystals tell me about the joined human and non-human materials? How do they represent an ‘atmosphere’ of the place?

Works Cited

Haraway, Donna J., Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Duke University Press, 2016, Durham.