SUSAN SILAS
     

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© 2011 by Susan Silas
           

recent work


flight (proposal for a billboard), 2013-2015

(see images)

In August of 2013, I spent a month as the artist in residence in Everglades National Park in South Florida. I applied hoping I would find a large dead bird, a pelican or a vulture, to photograph in the studio; a continutation of my project found birds. After eight months of wrangling with the National Wild Life Commission, I was denied the right to collect any dead specimens I might come across in the park. Despite a decade long art practice photographing dead and decaying birds, an exhibition history and a bibliography of critical writing about the work, the Wild Life Commission could not accept art, as opposed to science, as a legitimate reason to grant a permit. The permit was finally denied just before the residency began.

As a consequence, I arrived in Everglades National Park with no idea how I would spend the coming month. I had requested February, the height of migratory season, but was assigned August, the hottest, most humid and most mosquito infested month. In August, the most visible bird populations on land, as opposed to the wading birds, are black vultures, turkey vultures and crows. The vultures tend to alight on trees and on the grass in fairly large groups, choosing different locations in the park over the course of the day. Often the group is a mix of black vultures and turkey vultures. The crows travel in small groups but are usually encountered in pairs. After a few days, I resolved to photograph the vultures and crows, attempting to catch them in flight. The vultures in particular, are majestic in the air, whereas on the ground their gait is inelegant and awkward. I photographed a few other species but most often, the crows and vultures.

When I returned to New York I wasn't sure what to do with these images. I did feel an odd bond with these birds after a month in their company and occasionally imagined running into a group of them on a Brooklyn street corner. And that is when I began photoshopping these images into existing billboards in the city. It seemed to me that introducing wildlife that one doesn't encounter daily, into the urban environment, created a consciouness of a world greater than the one immediately present to the senses. And I felt this integration was both startling and useful. Useful because it engaged our thoughts about creatures that are not in the urban space but are indirectly impacted all the time by our behavior in urban spaces.

I started in Soho. Later I photographed billboards along Sunset Strip in Los Angeles and in Coconut Grove and along I95 in Miami. The group of images became flight (proposal for a billboard), 2013-2015.

Two images from this series were exhibited in Flight (from which the exhibition got its title) at ArtCenter in Miami in 2014 and in Flight, Aloft in the Everglades at the Museum of Art and Culture in Avon Park, Florida in 2015. This body of work, flight (proposal for a billboard), 2013-2015, and its concept, introducing Everglades wildlife into the urban context through the use of existing urban billboards, is the inspiration and driving force behind a grant proposal by AIRIE (Artists in Residence in the Everglades) to the Knight Arts Challenge for the realization of a group of artist billboards "rewilding Miami" to be produced by AIRIE fellows that will appear in South Florida at the end of 2015 and in 2016, the centennial year for the National Park Service. My billboard is expected to go up somewhere in the Wynwood district in late November, 2015.