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FROM A WHALE’S BACK

From a Whale’s Back (2020) is an installation that explores the visual and sonic underwater world inhabited by whales of different species—orcas, humpbacks, and minke whales—from Antarctica to the northeastern Pacific. It uses video taken from tags used by scientists to monitor whales. From A Whale’s Back explores the latest technology for researching behavioral characteristics of whales, using tags suction-cupped to the back of the whale. Simple advances in technology (miniaturization, power, storage) are enabling collection of data in a way that begins to provide an exponentially more detailed view/image of the underwater world from the perspective of animals in it. Video cameras, combined with hydrophones and other sensors, literally allow our human eyes to dive with these animals.

What we see through the camera lens, our surrogate eyes, is not exactly what or how the whale sees, yet it takes us to a place of understanding we have not been before. It opens a world to us. Viewing it, we absorb the speed, the floating relationality of other animals (comparable to antigravity in the ways it flips our physiological assumptions) and the need to breathe by breaking through the surface before diving again. At the point where the whale surfaces, we see and feel our air-breathing world, before diving below for many minutes. There is a strangeness in breaking the surface and trying to orient oneself in distance and sky, a distinct change from the closeness of the underwater world. Considering this, what are we doing peeking into their world? Knowing that technology both enables and inhibits understanding at the same time—that what we see is extraordinary and yet what we don’t see may be more important—how do we apprehend this material? How do we learn while understanding the privilege of our viewpoint?

From a Whale’s Back uses video and sound taken from tags used by scientists to monitor whales. Marine Biologist Dr Ari Friedlaender  collected the video data from the whale tags during his recent scientific research projects. The videos are collected under NMFS permit, using lightweight tags, skillfully placed and humanely attached with suction cups that release within twenty four hours.

(From the artist’s website)