Love Letters: Notes and Research
Tricolored Blackbird, Agelaius tricolor, EN*
Steve Hampton, Yolo County, CA, 2003 , Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0
Bushy Lake Restoration Project, Sacramento, California
photograph: Valerie Constantino
The beauty of the Endangered Species Act is that it is a federal act of empathy, put into
writing and upheld by law. It is an elegant act of mind and heart that is both visionary and inclusive.
It proceeds our Declaration of Independence and portends a Declaration of Interdependence.
...The great consequence of the ESA is that it ensures that we, as a species, will not be alone.
We will remain part of a living, breathing, thriving community of vibrant beings with feathers, fins
and fur; roots, petals and spines; and trunks, branches and leaves….Wild beauty will be maintained.
- Terry Tempest Williams
The tragedy of a saturated, violated planet pitted against an impervious political landscape fuels our urgency. Still, we know that the trauma of loss and other unavoidable as well as preventable experiences are alchemized through acts of creativity, observation, recognition and love. Conservation groups and dedicated individuals continue their labors of love, nudging the inevitable towards the recoverable.
The Love Letters project evolved with similar intent, synthesizing image, material and research. Data on the fourteen species was gathered primarily through the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List. This comprehensive source along with additional readings on individual species, environmental studies, relevant websites and materials related to artists and artworks referenced here, are noted in this Source List.
During the last several decades, artworks in response to worsening environmental conditions have surged. From Agnes Denes’ sown and harvested two-acre Wheat Field - A Confrontation in Battery Park City, New York of 1982 to the more recent pastel drawings of melting glaciers by Zaria Forman, art transmutes our deepest concerns into affecting, interdisciplinary works.
Correspondingly, artwork emphasizing the transient nature of life is a recurring theme. James Lee Byars The Perfect Love Letter of 1974 is indisputably inspirational here. Eva Hesse used materials such as fiberglass and rubber that degrade over time and Richard Long marks his walks in remote landscapes with raw materials found on site. Tibetan and Diné sand paintings, by their intentional material dispersals and 16-17th century Northern European vanitas still-life paintings depicting decay, underscore the facts of our own transitory state.
Seminal studies of textile art sparked my interest in the subject of materiality particularly as it implies the ephemeral, unpredictable qualities of life. I continue consequentially, to experiment with substantive, mutable materials and their literal representations of time and change. The linen squares of the Love Letters references as well, textile as text, exemplified by banners, quilts, and more precisely, commemorative handkerchiefs.
The marriage of artistic rendering with poetic writing can also be traced historically, in the works of China’s ancient poet-painters. The associated term, the Three Perfections, signifies their adept merging of painting, writing and calligraphy. My cursive expressions relative to the stitched imagery of this series, reflect my wish to generate a comparable sensibility.
Handwoven handkerchief commemorating the Prince of Wales’
visit to Jais, India with poetic text in homage to his patronage, 1875
Collection, Victoria and Albert Museum , London
Shen Zhou (1427-1509), Turtledove Calling for Rain
Ink on paper hanging scroll, National Palace Museum, Taipei
Love Letters follows the conceptual thread of my last several years’ work; an alchemy of material and the written word. Allowing and actually encouraging these stitched images and writings to disintegrate as a trope for extinction made sense to me in theory. In practice, I was far less eager.
And I also found myself wondering uneasily: might my hand in the destruction of these objects reflect my participation in the very collapse I mean to illustrate? Undoubtedly, my everyday life contributes to the earth’s decline. I take remedial measures, and learn from those who do more and work harder. Like Penelope here, I have undone that which I have woven, hoping to buy time. And with our current administration set to reverse the undermining of the Endangered Species Act imposed by the former, I am moved once again by its promise of grace.
Love Letters, Staghorn Coral (after)
vanishing thread on linen, rice paper, chlorophyll ink, mourning pins
The least I can do is speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves.
- Jane Goodall