Trophic Cascades

In a Time of Change: Trophic Cascades is an installation of visual and literary art that explores the intricate web of predator-prey-ecosytsem relationships and what occurs when the web of consumption is disturbed or altered by the removal or introduction of key animal or vegetative species.

Trophic Cascades are indirect effects that occur among the various levels of an ecological web once a “keystone” species has been removed or introduced. An Alaska example of Trophic Cascades is the sequence of
events that followed the collapse of sea otter populations in the Aleutian Islands in the early 20th
century due to over-harvesting. In the absence of otters, sea urchin numbers rose dramatically, leading to an over-consumption of kelp. Once the otter population recovered, sea urchin numbers fell back to historic levels and kelp forests also recovered.

The artists in this exhibit were encouraged to create original work on the theme of predator-prey-ecosystem interactions, to find new ways of expressing or representing the essential ideas behind the complex webs of interdependence among animals (including humans), plants, trees and habitats. The goal was to link scientific concepts to human ideas, actions,and emotions in the hope of fostering a new social-ecological dialogue.

Many of the artists discovered a welcome source of material in the science that underlies Trophic Cascades. In some cases, the ecological concepts and processes confirmed what an artist had previously known but only
vaguely understood. Some of the artists found new ways to approach the natural world as topic and inspiration for their art.

The project included two field workshops. For the first, the 10 artists selected for the project spent three days in
Denali National Park and Preserve, in July 2012. In the company of park scientists and officials, the artists learned about the natural forces, including climate change, that are causing modifications to Denali’s landscape and thereby affecting the plants that grow there and the animals that inhabit or use it.
A second field trip, in September 2012, brought half the group to the
Bonanza Creek Long Term Ecological Research Station outside Fairbanks for discussions about the role of lynx, snowshoe hare and moose dynamics on the boreal forest, as well as melting permafrost, wildfire, and other climate-related disturbances.

 In a Time of Change: Trophic Cascades encourages artists to integrate artistic and scientific insights in a language and a style that are creative, attractive, dramatic and accessible. The premise of the project is that art and science bring different, yet synergistic, perspectives and approaches to the natural world. Collaborations of art and science can engage people at the intellectual, intuitive and emotional levels, and more effectively strengthen society’s sense of place in the environment.

The project is sponsored by the Bonanza Creek Long Term Ecological Research Station, the National Science Foundation, Denali National Park and Preserve, the Murie Science and Learning Center, Alaska Geographic, the Fairbanks Arts Association, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and UAF’s Institute of Arctic Biology.

Detail from Hare and Gone Again
Ree Nancarrow and Charlotte Bird

Karin Franzen’s The Dance Floor contains many hidden surprises

layered on and between three pieces of sheer, hand-painted, fabric.

Wolf Walks and Moose Calf,  painted wood cut-out by Todd Sherman
Installation view