Off-Topic | Molly Schafer and Jenny Kendler

January 21, 2010 · Print This Article

Off-Topic invites artists, curators, writers, and cultural workers to discuss a subject not directly related to the practice of making art. We would like to welcome Molly Schafer and Jenny Kendler who are tag teaming this post with , “Snakes on a Plane, Lemurs on a Plate: How Human Beings’ Actions Can Have Unexpected Consequences for the Natural World”. Both Molly and Jenny are Chicago based artists that have collaborated on numerous projects. Their most recent endeavor is The Endangered Species Print Project, which has recently been featured on numerous blogs. ESPP raises money through limited-edition art prints for critically endangered species.

Snakes on a Plane, Lemurs on a Plate: How Human Beings’ Actions Can Have Unexpected Consequences for the Natural World

Molly Schafer and Jenny Kendler

If you’ve heard much about Guam, you most likely know it as the U.S. Territory that was the site of the Battle of Guam. In 1944, the U.S. took back possession of this tropical West Pacific island from the Japanese, who had occupied it following the attack on Pearl Harbor. You may have also heard the interesting story of a Japanese soldier, Shoichi Yokoi, who was discovered by hunters in 1972, having lived in a cave for 27 years.

Although Shoichi’s story is probably one of the strangest to come out of Guam, during his 27 years living in Guam’s forests, he would have been an intimate witness to one of the island’s saddest stories.

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Image © IKONOS Quickbird

Let us imagine our unlikely protagonist on the night of the American invasion (with no accounting for exact historical accuracy): Our Shoichi hears shouts from the beach as the Americans land, and being a simple kind of nature-loving guy, and wanting no part of this fuss, he grabs a canteen and a flashlight and makes his way deep into the forest, nimbly leaping over lianas and roots down the forest paths he’s grown to know during his time on the island. He heads to a cave that he had found some months before, where he’d frequently camped out and laid in some supplies, most importantly, a pair of binoculars. You see, our make-believe version of Shoichi is an avid bird-lover. So, while our Shoichi was evading American troops in his grottoed refuge and keeping his ears open for the sound of shots or approaching footsteps — as darkness settled heavily on the steamy tropical night, he listened with a keen pleasure to the rich chorus of tropical birdsong filling the air.

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Image © DAWR

If you or I were to walk Shoichi’s favorite paths through Guam’s forests today, we’d have a very different experience. Sure, you’d see all the hallmarks of tropical forests worldwide: lush vegetation, a truly huge variety of living growing things, moisture hanging thick and low in the warm tropical air — but then as your ears tuned into the sounds of the forest and your eyes strayed upwards, you’d notice two very unusual things — two strangely interrelated changes to the forest, with a single historic origin. Yes, you might hear the sound of insects, the sound of leaf litter being crushed under your feet, but you’d hear no birds. And as you looked upwards through your binoculars, to spy out these unusually silent birds, you’d catch a sticky web across your face, and wiping it away, you’d notice that there were webs everywhere. Guam is a tropical island now devoid of the music of birdsong and filled with enormous colonies of spiders. Clearly, these are the signs of an environmental imbalance — but what could be the cause? Read more