Barnacles – Fish or Fowl?

I wish to explore, in partnership with my husband goose research scientist Carl Mitchell, the Barnacle Goose and a two of its winter habitats including Islay, and possibly Tiree, Oronsay or Orkney. We propose to investigate early historical writing and illustrations of the myth that the species grew on trees and sprouted from shellfish and the perpetuation of this strange magical theory by the scientists-of-the-day using the extent of their knowledge and observation. I aim to investigate how perceptions of these birds and their chosen landscape has changed over time through the visual arts. In more recent times Barnacle Geese often feature in romanticised landscapes beloved by ornithologists and lovers of nature today. I aim to ask: Is this view linked to the depth of knowledge and conservation efforts of scientists since the 1940s and 50s? There were dangerously low numbers of Barnacle Geese in the 1940s but conservation initiatives followed. Did this significantly change land was use and how the landscape looked and was this represented in art? Now there is goose population growth that some believe is unsustainable. Is this represented in visual art or does art differ from reality?

Through my initial research I have glimpsed a rich seam of magic and myth. I want to learn about how art kept pace with scientists’ knowledge over time and whether it reflects today how people feel about the Barnacle Goose. At this interesting moment in the scientists’ relationship with the bird and its habitat, how will conservationists feel if numbers are culled? How do farmers trying to make a living feel about the annual invasion?

Initially, this collection of scientific and historic visual art research and my resulting artwork, including tweet-length historical comments will be shared in two different communities where the geese visit, in the form of a series of events as a short audio-visual presentation together with the development of science on the species from Carl Mitchell, in the form of a timeline. We will invite discussion and offer opportunities to record visually or verbally, information, thinking and emotions on the subjects covered. It will also be shared as an on-line blog. By speaking to small groups of local people; children in schools and community organisations and through networks of conservationists we aim to gather today’s views of the visiting geese, their preferred landscape and how both are currently represented. Information and responses given during participation in these informal workshops will be gathered as written ‘tweet-sized’ or Haiku format or contributed visual art or photographic material.

I will then develop my main body of artwork for the project in response to the material collected taking several possible forms: painting, mixed media, print, surface designs on products or a combination. I will seek to express many of the views aired by all. The research, all contributions and my resulting work would be exhibited in the previously visited places with the intention of communicating the ideas collected back to the original audience.

The team: Philippa Mitchell & Carl R.Mitchell, Senior Research Officer, The Wildfowl and Wetland Trust