Consider the sensory knowledge and power of wild animals through thought-provoking artwork.
On exhibit March 17th - August 21, 2022.
How did I influence that specific animal’s experience of the world?
Did I cause them to change course or behave differently?
More broadly, how are humans collectively influencing animals?
Are wild animals entitled to live natural lives, free from ongoing human interference?
My visual art is a response to considering real-world situations faced by animals. Part conservation, part storytelling, and part ethics, I consider not only the experience of the wild animal, but also the role of the artist in contributing to the animal experience.
As an animal artist my hope is to pass this routine of conscious questioning along and to inspire personal stewardship in others. In a roundabout way, by sharing this work and the inspirations behind it, the animals are given an opportunity to positively influence human behaviour.
-Sarah Ronald, 2022
These drawings are inspired by the visual language of nighttime trail camera captures. The blurred forms, unnatural lighting, heightened contrast, muffled darkness, and seemingly foreign landscapes speak of an existence that is evacuated, exposed, unrestful, and highly sensory.
Is this the way wild animals have always lived?
What happens if humans seek to experience the world from the animal perspective?
Being alone in a nighttime space, you very quickly tune into your senses. You become aware of the branches swaying in the breeze, the quiet flaps of bats and owls, the grunts of raccoons, the rhythmic crunching of four-legged footsteps passing nearby, and the sensation of being sensed by other species.
This kind of nighttime sensory experience is an opportunity to step out of one’s personal identity, and to harmonize with something vastly more important, that is, to tap into the language and life force of the non-human world.
Being in nature at night allows us to access our own innate stewardship and quickly brings comprehension of just how much we disrupt the wild.
There’s a moment that comes over you when you realize someone is watching you when you thought you were alone. Imagine experiencing that unnerving sensation repeatedly all day, every day. As humans continue to infringe on wild spaces, whether through development, recreational activities, or sound and light pollution, animals are on edge all the time. They are repeatedly realizing the presence of humans.
From wolves learning to navigate the streams of tourists in Pacific Rim National Park, to black bears finding unnatural food sources in rural and suburban neighborhoods, to entire ecosystems falling out of harmony and then dwindling to nothing due to incessant noise pollution, animals and the ecosystem that we rely on are greatly impacted by human activities.
So what of trail cameras in all of this?
Some trail cameras are used because we love observing animals and we want to learn how they behave. Some trail cameras are used so that hunters have even further advantages over wildlife. Some trail cameras are used for animal conservation research that ultimately could lead to legislative changes that protect wild animals. Recognizing that trail cameras are yet another human-made thing for animals to come across, surely (in most cases) installing these plastic devices in nature results in more good than harm?
These drawings are an invitation to consider the nature of black bears and how human behaviour around food waste affects this important species.
During the warmer months, mother black bears bring their cubs away from forested areas and into human-centric areas because the cubs have a better chance of survival when they are away from the dominant male bears that typically rule the lush forest spaces. If a male were to come across the cubs he would kill them in order to mate with the female and start his own brood. (Consider then, that when encountering a black bear in the woods during late spring and summer months, it is very likely a male, and when encountering a bear in suburban spaces it is most likely a female or a teenaged cub that is trying to figure out life without its mom).
There are of course natural food sources outside of dense forests, but it requires the mother bear and her cubs to travel far to locate. Bears are omnivores, yet 80% of their diet is vegetation such as dandelions, berries, fruit, grasses, and nuts.
As humans have developed immensely in bear country, this leaves the mother and her cubs at an even greater disadvantage, not only because it is more difficult for them to locate their natural food source while navigating our neighbourhoods and traffic, but because we are constantly ‘inviting them over for dinner’ by not consistently managing attractants such as garbage, BBQ’s, bird feeders, and fruit trees.
An excellent local resource for learning about how to be responsible bear-country residents is the North Shore Black Bear Society: northshorebears.com
For years I’ve been trying to work out how to replicate an encounter with a wild animal. A static image really doesn’t capture the experience. I’ve had countless wild animal encounters and the experience is always significant. To know that this animal is watching me and that I am now part of their experience of the world is an honour. In these moments I always show soft energy towards them as I know that they live hard lives. To me, an encounter is an invitation to reconnect with the earth.
Encounter is roughly 100 separate hand-drawn coyotes, scanned and then formatted into an animation. The sound was added as a way to incorporate further sensory elements.
Encounter is best viewed in its nighttime outdoor format, when I temporarily project it on foliage and structures in public spaces. In this format I retitle the piece ‘Encounter-Encounter’ sarahronald.com/encounterencounter-pop-ups
Similar to how we encounter actual wild animals, these pop- up projections appear and disappear at random, sometimes they’re spotted and sometimes they’re not. In 2022 I am building onto the animation and adding more local animals.
After the Picnic: this ongoing series is about living in bear country, and what happens when we do not manage our food waste. Started in 2015, the collection is a visual record of the number of black bears destroyed and the number of bears sent for rehabilitation on a monthly basis in BC. This is based entirely on BC Wildlife Conservation monthly reports.
Each compostable paper plate is titled with the month, the year, the number of bears destroyed (shown in black), and the number of bears sent for rehabilitation (in red) in the given month.
Each plate is finished with powdered charcoal: you literally cannot interact with the piece without getting your hands dirty, just as you literally cannot produce waste without impacting wildlife in some way.
These animal portraits are inspired by the concept of Landspeaking, a term similar to nature literacy, but one that acknowledges intuition and hints at the world beyond human logic.
These double-layered portraits were made in response to watching my own backyard security cameras at night. With each animal that enters into my yard, I watch them sniff to understand who else has come through before they arrived. In using their senses they are taking the pulse of the space that they are in, they are harmonizing with the ecosystem of my yard. In the moment that a bear is sniffing the ground, it knows that a coyote (or human) was present and roughly how long ago it was there.
This got me thinking about the passage of time and wondering if the animal experience of reading the land could be visually captured. How does one depict unseen layers of time and sensory awareness? Could time be visually compressed, resulting in all of the animals being visually present in a space all at once?
The simplest way to depict the experience of an individual animal reading the land, is to draw the animal twice: there is one version of the animal before they read the space, and another version of the animal after they read the space, and then there is the sensory experience that is captured in the synthesis of these two versions of the animal.
In going through this process of considering animals’ deep connection to space, it struck me that every real-world encounter with a wild animal is indeed a powerful reminder to Landspeak, a calling to harmonize with life beyond the human world.
This drawing and the words beside Daylight Son were inspired by a very close encounter I had with a bear on a trail at Minnekhada Regional Park in Coquitlam. Unlike other bear encounters that I’ve had at a distance, this one was very close and very surprising.
It was mid-summer, mid-day, and there was a large group of people loudly chatting on the trail less than a minute ahead of my sister and me. We were heading back to the parking lot after a long trail hike.
I suppose that our guard was down given how close we were to other people and the bustling parking area when suddenly a bear ran across the trail in front of us. The bear must not have expected us after that other group of hikers, we were quieter than them but still speaking loudly when it dashed across and into thick blackberry brambles beside us. My instinct was to move close to my sister to appear larger as we stood there frozen, trying to get a sense of whether the bear would come back out of the thrashing bushes, or if it would keep running away from us. It kept going.
After the initial adrenaline shock, I realized that that bear must have felt the very same scare upon encountering us. I also realized that everywhere in that park, the bear’s natural home, the bear would be constantly living in fear of people and dogs. Even in a safe forested home, the bear would be at the mercy of outsiders.
Hieroglyphic stream, messages:
leaves, sticks, pine cones, fish, frog, turtle, pebbles, hair, redwood bark, light reflections on still and moving water.
Read and ruminate.
Abruptly AWAKE in landscape fear;
Gript in groundlessness
of swaying thrashing walls of thickets and blackberry brambles.
A giant heft of massive movement, low grunts snapping branches quickened breathing.
Those trees saw who panicked, who halted steady, and who ran.
Human, black bear, discord shared: our misread messages
our shared encounter
our hearts return to quiet
as we move on.
These drawings are in response to a conservation issue in our province: the wolf cull. Across BC and in many parts of North America, caribou herds are dwindling and many herds in recent years have become functionally extinct. The reason is due to loss of habitat.
In the winter, caribou rely on lichen that grow on trees (‘reindeer lichen’) and they also depend on the safety of deep snow high up in the mountains. However due to logging, caribou face habitat loss, threatened food supply, and they become highly susceptible to predation.
Wolves initially benefit from logging, in that the roads give them greater access to ungulates (caribou, deer, and elk) that normally would be less accessible due to deep snow. The forestry roads, as well as tracks created by back country snowmobiles, enable the wolves to better track and catch caribou—even the very healthy caribou that would otherwise regenerate the herd.
For decades science-based recommendations prioritizing the needs of the ecosystem have been presented, but the chosen course of action has been to track and cull entire wolf packs so that logging can continue largely unimpeded. Read more about the BC Government’s wolf cull at PacificWild.org
As an artist I’ve revisited this issue many times over the years. With this latest return I was intent on considering the physical bodies of the caribou and wolf; it is after all the physical bodies (including that of the land) at the heart of the matter.
In spending time sitting with wolf skulls and caribou antlers, one cannot help but recognize the powerful presence of these relics and what they represent.
Caribou grow and shed their antlers every year. Every antler is physical proof of an individual caribou tracking across the land. The caribou’s consumption of food is converted into energy that is used to grow their annual antlers, which, after serving their biological purpose are shed and returned to the land. In this way, a caribou antler is physical proof of a single caribou’s journey within the ecosystem; a caribou antler is ultimately the movement of energy and nutrients across a vast landscape.
A wolf skull is the culmination of a playful wolf pup, a loving life mate, a skilled hunter, and perhaps even the leader of a healthy pack—all adding to an ancient lineage that began long before human and wolf first lived in tandem (resulting in today’s domestic dog). Every single wolf holds an ancient history in its bones.
While these drawings are inspired by meditations on embodiment, they also offer hints of human interference. Caribou antlers are rarely (maybe never) shed instantaneously in pairs, so the fact that these antler drawings reference a pair of caribou antlers from the museum’s collection indicates that the caribou was likely deceased when these antlers were collected. Additionally, as the antlers rest in storage here at the museum, it means that they were not returned to the land.
The wolf skulls have written markings of the location and date when they were harvested, which means most likely that these wolves did not die of natural causes, they were likely killed in relation to humans. Whether the death was for the purpose of collecting a specimen (an outdated scientific practice), shot unceremoniously because of a wolf cull, or perhaps through a collision with a vehicle, these skull specimens speak loudly if we pause and listen to them.
In the end, these specimen-inspired drawings only exist here for you now because humans have disrupted the natural echoes of the ecosystem.
The written information on each skull highlights the location and date the wolf was harvested. This hand-written human information is the only certainty we have about each individual wolf in this collection. This permanent post-mortem reference signifies the end of this wolf’s contribution to the ecosystem from which it came.