Barnacle – Fish or Fowl?

An image developed from medieval drawings of the myth of the Barnacle Goose.

An image developed from medieval drawings of the myth of the Barnacle Goose.

I am exploring in partnership with my husband, Carl Mitchell, the image of the Barnacle Goose in Scotland. This species has a myth connected with its origin, based on early lack of knowledge of migration. There are several fascinating medieval drawings of Barnacle Geese growing on trees, as the myth says, available to view on the internet. What sparked my own interest in the species was finding an interesting book on the subject by Sir Ray Lankester in a St Andrews bookshop, titled ‘Some Diversions of a Naturalist’. The myth grew up around the Goose Barnacle – a completely different species – a crustacean which has curious similarities with the goose I suppose, and it grows on timber that has been in the sea, hence the leap to ‘growing on trees’. We humans have always imagined what happens in the gaps where our knowledge can’t explain. I am looking at these early images and writings about what this particular goose was and how this related to the scientific knowledge of the day. Carl, who is a research scientist working for The Wildfowl and Wetland Trust, is helping to map the development of more recent knowledge of the species, and how the geese were regarded over time. Fast forward to the present day and we see that there has been a conservation success story. Numbers of birds are increasing but this brings it into conflict. Barnies, as they are commonly called, are seen by some as a beautiful winter visitor to the shores of West Coast Scotland. Others see them as a pests that eat crops and trample the land. In my project I aim to find out how the bird’s image has changed over time, how people have such different images and views of this goose and contrasting opinions about the land it visits from October to April every year. We will be making a visit to Islay in the Autumn to see the flocks of thousands and to speak to people there. I hope to engage with a wide range of people in order to learn about their views and to persuade them to contribute their image of the Barnacle Goose. With these responses I will create my own artwork to explore these diverse ideas. I will be blogging my progress and encouraging comment on:
By next April I will have an exhibition of resulting work that will include the myth, a brief timeline of scientific knowledge, community comment and my own work. I hope to build a collection of images, ideas and opinions to encourage dialogue and perhaps understanding of the diverse issues that one species can produce.

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