When a bundle of willow hoops came untied one day, the scattered pile reminded me of a shoal of fish.

Shoal by Donna Kallner.

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.

Shoal by Donna Kallner.
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.

Bill Kallner positioning artwork by Donna Kallner for photography.

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.

Shoal by Donna Kallner.

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.

Rural artist Donna Kallner positioning looping installation in water.
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.

4 thoughts on “Shoal”

  1. I am so glad that I read your explanation and that you posted several photos of the different photo “shoots” that you did. Most choices are OK, by that I mean not “wrong”, but the different effects you got with the shoal pieces really made them look different. I reread and realized you said the first shot was taken “on the ice” and the second “in the water”. Really cool, Donna, no pun intended.

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