Monday, April 21, 2014

The Last Smelt Shack

by Christopher Byron, Caroline Losneck, Jan Piribeck, Kelly Rioux

The Last Smelt Shack is both a tribute to –and acknowledgement of– the possible decline of rainbow smelt.

Smelt shacks have historically appeared on frozen rivers & estuaries in Maine as a harbinger of spring. People gather in the cozy shacks to mark the end of a long winter and to harvest a species of fish that brings both sustenance and celebration.

The Last Smelt Shack explores the intersections of nature, myth, memory, tradition within the context of the possible collapse of the rainbow smelt (Osmerus mordax). It is built from recycled materials and was installed at the 2014 Appearances Eco-Arts Festival, Dunes Edge Eco-Campground, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, USA.    
Some scientists fear an all-time decline, or collapse, of the species in Massachusetts, NH and Maine, due to the combined impacts of dams, habitat degradation, water toxicity, changing water temperatures and historic overfishing. Scientists say the species has already disappeared from Connecticut and possibly Rhode Island. 

We invite visitors into The Last Smelt Shack to reflect on species loss and our connections to nature and one another. This blog will be updated daily for the duration of the display, April 18th - May 17th. 

Please feel free to post tributes information and ideas! 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Smelt Shack Interior

Drawing: Kelly Rioux

Smelt Audio

Thanks to Elliott Barowitz for voicing script - Caroline Losneck 

On Scavenging and Making - Caroline Losneck

One my favorite things about creating a site-specific piece like The Last Smelt Shack is the process of scavenging materials 'on location'.  Inevitably –along with the scavenging– comes many opportunities to engage with people in the community. I think that this process of gathering materials in the community helps not only to inform and strengthen our art work, but that the process of meeting people in the community actually becomes an integral and meaningful part of the art itself. In other words, they are inseparable. The process of scavenging is the art as much as the final work is.

In creating our piece The Last Smelt Shack for Appearances, we had limited time (two and a half days) to build the shack and we were committed to working with the materials we were able to find in the location (Provincetown, MA). (The only exception was the sailcloth, which we brought with us from Maine.) Fortunately, we made contact with Mr. Scott Bronsdon. Scott is the Foreman at the Provincetown Transfer Station –our home base for scavenging materials like metal, wood, and other materials we'd find a way to incorporate into the smelt shack design. Scott was generous and enthusiastic (we spoke on the phone a few times before we even got to Provincetown) and he gave us permission to go scavenging for materials in his well-organized dump. His only rule was "Don't climb INTO the dumpsters!" We could live with that.

While we were at the Transfer Station, we met other people that live in Provicetown, including a women that was keeping her tomato seedlings safe and warm in her van until it was early enough to to plant them outdoors. I always enjoy the exact moments when I have to describe my art while scavenging.  Being asked to explain, for example, why the heck we're building a symbolic smelt shack in Provincetown, MA to honor rainbow smelt? I think this forces me to make the work more accessible and less academic. It makes me focus on what I feel the work is about and fine tune other things the art should include. I also think it challenges me to ditch some assumptions that I might have about who understands art, who cares about art, and about who can add good insights and ideas. I've found that in scavenging at dumps, in dumpsters and around construction sites, some of the best dialogue with people happens. It's like a free critique and a way of doing field work to learn about the place and people that live and work there. Genuine interaction outside the gallery walls excites me and drives much of my work.

This is all a way of saying thank you to Scott Bronsdon and the staff at the Provincetown Transfer  Station; the construction workers that gave us their permission to pull stuff out of their dumpster; and the other folks we met while digging around for materials in Provincetown. Thank you!

Kelly Rioux at Provincetown Dumpster