A group of amazing artist friends put together a show called Zoo as part of the July Art Crawl this past Friday here in Hamilton. I was psyched when they asked me to produce work to respond to the show, particularly as it was based on the old-timey notion of zoos—the kinds of places where animals lived in pathetically small cages, but audiences were welcomed to put their fingers through the bars, feed the animals and gaze in wonderment at specimens from places they had only just learned existed at all.
I didn’t have time or inspiration enough to produce a piece for each artwork, but I did manage to do three that I’m pretty happy with in the end. You’ll notice I’ve been calling them “pieces,” but, really, they are poems. I don’t think of myself as a poet. I do write, and sometimes I even write in verse-form, but, way back when I was the Arts Editor for the McMaster Silhouette, I wrote an embarrassing column declaring the end of poetry, so to say now that I’ve written these poems feels a bit like eating salad for a day and claiming oneself a vegetarian. That said, I do like animals, probably too much. (I waste a fair bit of time on the internet clicking links to videos and images of strange or cute animals.) I’m fascinated by their odd closeness to yet apartness from humans. We can’t ever really know what a cat thinks, what a dog sees, and yet they’re some of our nearest companions, even sharing our beds. Weird. So, I jumped at the chance to try and capture some of my own wonderment in these, well, poems.
In this and the next two posts, I want to share my pieces alongside the artworks they responded to from the show. The opening itself was a huge success. Massive, even. I’ll tell you what, you miss a few Art Crawls in this town and suddenly the attendance has blossomed exponentially—I hear more than 1000 people turned out this month. I’m sure my mind will be further blown with this September’s SuperCrawl, seeing that it will be headlined by Broken Social Scene, J. Mascis and Frank Black… but, first, Rhinoceros.
Dushan Milic did an amazing large-scale pen and ink drawing of a rhinoceros for the Zoo show, as well as a smaller study of a rhino skull. The first image is a close-up of the head from the larger piece. I’ve also included one of his studies in preparation for the final drawing, just because the line and ink work is so gorgeous. The piece I wrote in response draws on my memories of the rhino at the Toronto Zoo, who always looks so still and sad, tucked out of the way in a tiny enclosure that seems far too small for such a huge animal. Let’s see if you can figure out some of my other influences. I hope you like it.