When a bundle of willow hoops came untied one day, the scattered pile reminded me of a shoal of fish.
Shoaling is a social behavior. Fish tend to group with those that look very much like themselves, partly to avoid being the one that stands out to a predator. Even fish can be aware of and connected to other members of a social group without losing the ability to act independently. Like fish, when we make decisions based on self-interest and group dynamics, it’s good to remember that we always have a choice.
I live in rural northern Wisconsin by choice, and the woods and waters and landforms around me influence a lot of my work. Lately, I’ve begun to photograph my work in that environment.
It was January and very cold when I shot this piece. A small creek near my home had some open water, so my husband, bless his heart, put on his waders and went into that freezing water. I stood on a ladder on the bridge shooting pictures of the shoal on the ice.
About a week later, we went back to shoot again after it warmed up a bit, and the water had opened up a lot more. Same spot, same piece, but floating in that dark, open water it felt entirely different than when it was on the ice. On reflection, it reminded me how much a point of view influences perceptions of what choices are available, and how hard it can be to change when standing out from a group makes you feel vulnerable.
Environmental art has a rich tradition in rural areas, and I want to do more with it myself. Scouting locations for the Shoal shoot turned up some other locations for small installations that are on my to-do list now. I’ll keep you posted.