Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Chalmers: Session one

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From: Catherine Chalmers
Date: Tue, 06 Mar 2007 17:29:08 +0000

Greetings from the Liquid Jungle Lab on Isla Canales de Tierra, Panama.

I am here working with leaf cutter ants. Or maybe it is the reverse - they are working on me. Through observation and experiment, the animals I film and photograph slowly impart their 'knowledge.' And it is this 'knowledge' in relationship to our 'knowledge' that interests me.

This is the first time I have worked in the field with a so-called wild animal. Prior to this project, I had raised and filmed the animals in my NYC studio. Last night (during this season leaf cutter ants are mostly nocturnal, and then sometimes only part of the colony, hard to figure this all out - any entomologists out there?) the howler monkeys came to investigate. At first from a distance they were screaming. But when they came close, right above our heads, their voices became soft. They sounded more curious than challenging. It was quite a moment. Perhaps our strobe lights brought them in.

I often consult with scientists to learn the basic aspects of an animal's behavior. For example, when I photographed Periplaneta americana having sex, it was vitally important to know (well, most obviously how to distinguish a male from a female, juvenile from adult) that they are capable of parthenogenesis (if no 'attractive' males around, the females can lay clones), and that once the females do choose a mate (they're very picky) they mate once and are pregnant for life? Who would imagine the lowly roach to have discerning taste.

In response to the three questions - as a visual artist, pictures are the only means I have of 'knowledge production.' And advances in imaging technologies - every gain in photographic and video quality, clarity, editing and printing - makes my exploration of the animal world that much more rewarding.

I may loose internet connection at times, but will try to keep in contact.
Catherine Chalmers

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