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Urban Animals Summer 2022

Week 1:

Senses Exercise


Location: Sasaki Park (7/11/22 @ 1:30pm)


See:

  • fallen, dried leaves rolling around in the wind

  • pigeons roosting in dirt near the fountain

  • a mouse scurrying from garden plot to garden plot

  • leaves of trees blowing in the wind

  • people walking their dogs, jogging and listening to music

Hear:

  • water feature, sounds like a tiny waterfall

  • air conditioning from nearby residential and commercial buildings

  • birds chirping

  • leaves crunching underneath people's shoes

Touch:

  • my butt doesn't like the feeling of the gravel benches, some minor discomfort

  • feet also hurt from sitting on the bench and from contact with the concrete

  • an ant crawling on my arm

Smell:

  • gasoline from delivery trucks parked behind our office

  • hot air from the wind, humidity

Tase:

  • peanut butter and bananas


Location: Bedroom (7/14/2022 @ 7:30am)


See:

  • dust particles floating in the sun coming from my bedside window

  • light filtered from blowing leaves of a tall tree neat my window - shifts the light/shadows cast on the walls inside the room

  • an overhead fan is rustling loose paper objects around my desk

  • bathroom light is on

  • reflection of self in a mirror across from the bed

Hear:

  • mots of birds loudly chirping outside (mourning doves and sparrows mostly)

  • weed whacker

  • overhead fan whooshing noise and creaking from vibration of the motor

  • children playing outside in a nearby park, dogs barking

Touch:

  • feel the cool air from the fan moving the sheets

  • body heat coming from mattress

  • dryness of my eye

Smell:

  • coffee being made

  • outside air, which is cooler than the inside air

Taste:

  • Staleness, bitterness

Location: Neighborhood Dog Park (7/15/2022 @ 2:10pm)


See:

  • two huskies sitting in paw shaped dog pools

  • corgi sitting under a bench where there's shade

  • children riding electric scooters up and down the asphalt

  • two people tossing a baseball

  • a group of people playing volleyball

Hear:

  • gate clinking open and shut

  • rattling of chains from dog harnesses/collars

  • water spraying into a tub from a hose

  • clinking of a bat being dropped on asphalt

Smell:

  • wet dog

  • burning rubber

Taste:

  • spearmint from chewing gum

AI generated images of city dog parks:


Soundscape:














Altogether:



Site Visit: The High Line




This week we visited the High Line, a place I haven't visited since 2015 when the new Whitney museum opened nearby the southern entrance to the High Line. When I visited it back then, it actually wasn't very crowded. Most of the people in the area were eating at cafes and restaurants conveniently located just outside the entrances and exits of the High Line. We were able to freely walk around at our own pace.

A Brown-belted Bumble Bee on the High Line

On my visit to the High Line last week, it seems things have changed quite a bit since I last visited. For one, there is much denser foliage than I remember, even whole sections of the High Line are under the cover of trees planted on the walkways. I was actually pretty impressed with the park and how dense and varied the plant growth felt. It's not like most parks and gardens that are usually lined with soil and grass. What I liked about my experience was that they were able to inject some wilderness into such a narrow and confined space. I was impressed by the sheer number of bees and other pollinators I saw there and overall it felt like a very well maintained area - I noticed a lot of employees and volunteers maintaining the grounds and engaging with the community.


I didn't see too many birds on the High Line but I did see some seagulls heading towards the water. Watching the seagull's flight path, it was easy to see how nearby skyscrapers in the area can create a trap for birds who use the High Line as a hotel. The trees and bushes reflect almost perfectly on the glass. While learning about the history of the High Line, it was mentioned that the nearby buildings were made of glass so that enough light can pass through them to supplement the plant growth, however it seems like less consideration was taken for the birds ability to navigate the area.


The talk we attended was very interesting and I appreciated the fact that it was designed to accommodate a more diverse, multi-generational audience by having it be seated instead of walking. I can also tell that the folks who work and volunteer for the High Line are quite passionate about what they do and value the space and the community they're trying to build. The talk was very much focussed on the High Line being a celebration of the industry and commerce that shaped Manhattan during the time it was built as a railway and didn't talk as much about the designer's intent for keeping the space "wild". Or their reasoning for selecting the types of plants and trees that were planted there and what types of animal life they hoped to support in this project. I'm also curious to know how energy efficient or expensive maintaining this particular park is, or what benefits it may provide in abating city pollution.


I did notice as I was walking around that they have help booths conveniently located at the entrances and exits of the High Line with a laminated binder you can flip through of the various plants and animals that inhabit the High Line, along with a few books for sale on similar topics. I didn't have time to chat with the employee there about it but I did make a mental note that it is something I think all public parks should provide.


Overall it was interesting coming back to the High Line after all these years. It's notably way more crowded with tourists than I remember it the last time I was here and my initial experience coming back was very positive. This park is sort of an ecoduct for humans: there were no motorized vehicles allowed, providing a safe and scenic walk across this small stretch of manhattan.



Week 2:


This week we chatted with Dr. Dustin Partridge from NYC Audubon and learned some interesting facts about the animals and organisms that inhabit NYC, along with current projects that the organization is working on.


One thing that struck me as interesting, is that not all Audubon societies in the US have full-time paid staff and very few (2-3) in the county conducts conservation research. It was also interesting to learn their methods behind tracking migratory birds in order to determine their nesting patterns, where they like to congregate and population changes.


I was pretty shocked to learn that we've lost 30 percent of the world's insect population in the past 20-30 years, especially when you consider how many animals rely on insects for food, birds and bats included. This is largely a result of urbanization, which makes it even more important that they Audubon society is focusing on helping people create Green Roofs in NYC. That will become huge in helping keep the city inhabitable to all migratory and native plants and animals.


It was exciting to learn about various classifications of birds that exist in NYC:

  • Urban avoiders - birds that cannot live/use urban areas

  • Ex: American Goldfinch

  • Particularly sensitive

  • Urban Utilizers - need green space to survive but can use urban areas

  • Ex: Herring gull

  • Urban Dwellers - do best in urban areas

  • Ex: European starling

And the various species of bats in NYC:

  • Eastern Red

  • Most common bat in NYC

  • Migrate and spend winters here

  • Silver-haired

  • Hoary

  • Big Brown

  • Tri-Colored

  • Little Brown

This weekend I visited a friend in Callicoon, NY and tried to observe as many plants and animals as I could. Here are some pictures I took:



Week 3:


Independent Field Trip


I attended an event called Hidden Ecology of Central Park After Dark, led by Gabriel Willow, a naturalist and bird enthusiast. It was an extremely fun and informative night, that also got a little spooky as we were able to find areas of central park in the rambles where there is absolutely no light, aside from some nearby building peeking up above the canopy.


We started on the West side of Central Park at 72nd street and ended at 84th street on the East side after 2 hours of exploration inside the park itself. We walked through busy areas filled with walkers, bikers, dogs and joggers and we also walked through quiet areas with relatively few other humans, aside from the occasional casual birder who also happened to be out looking for bats.


Before our tour even started we spotted several bats hunting, along with many huge shadow darners - probably almost half the size of some of the bats. Gabriel proceeded to tell us that they both compete for the same food source which is why we saw them out together, but interestingly didn't see any bats going for the dragonflies themselves. I imagine they don't taste very good.


This isn't my first time seeing bats, but it has been over 20 years since I last saw any in-person. And they are absolutely incredible fliers. They seem to be more nimble and agile than some of the Nighthawks that were also flying around at dusk, which I was told are easily mistaken for bats. The flight movement of bats reminds me of butterflies then birds, one of the signs to look out for if you think you've spotted a bat. One of the most incredible moments of the evening was watching a bat colliding with its prey - stopping in mid-air on a dime, flipping upside-down 180 degrees and flying in the complete opposite direction. I presume it was a successful moment for this bat, hopefully one of many that night.


The bats we saw were hard to identify because of how far away in the sky they were. However Gabriel said they were likely Eastern Red Bats, since they seem to be the most common in the park, post White Nose Syndrome - more on that later.


I was unable to capture video or photographs of the bats, because in my excitement I completely forgot to pull my phone out. However I did capture some audio of us listening to bats through a device that takes ultrasonic calls and converts them to an audible range for humans to hear.




Some facts/observations about bats that struck me while we were on our walk:


- Gabriel said he used to see Little Brown Bats (the focus of my final project) more frequently than any other bat in NYC, however after White Nose Syndrome started killing millions of bats, he hasn't seen one in over 10 years.


- A common belief is that bats attack humans without provocation and there's this idea that they swoop down and get caught up in your hair, which is a popular trope in horror films. Bats may have gotten that reputation because they feed on insects that like to feed on humans, which is why they sometimes get closer than we would like. However bats like to stay away from humans in general, so it's not really a common occurrence anyway.


- Bats prefer to hunt in open spaces without lots of tree cover to dart around, which avoids collisions with branches. It's also just easier to see/locate their prey in open spaces.


- Bat social calls sound very different from bat hunting calls. They are constant communicators and when they are not resting, they are constantly chatting.


- Each bat has its own identifying call which is how mothers can identify their babies when huddled in a colony of hundreds of other bats.


Of course bats weren't the only animals we saw and talked at length about during our walk. We also saw:


  • Dragonflies

  • Fireflies

  • Aphids

  • Eastern Cottontails

  • Norway Rats

  • Common Nighthawk

  • Raccoons

  • Squirrels

  • Moths

  • Flies

  • Gnats

  • Spiders

I was actually quite shocked at how many different animals we saw on our night walk, specifically raccoons and rabbits. The rabbits were very timid, but I was surprised to see how little the raccoons cared about our presence. They were incredibly cute, and Gabriel seemed to know each individual raccoon, including their sex and where they lived underneath this particular bridge we walked across near the Loeb Boathouse.


Another observation we made was the distinct smell of the park after dark. Gabriel told us that at a certain time just after dusk the trees in the park release a large amount of oxygen (like an exhale), which you can actually smell in the air. It reminded me of the same crisp morning air you might smell when in a forest. He also suggested we wet our noses to get a better sense of smell because the moisture helps trap odor molecules better. This explains why dogs have such wet noses!


Here are some images I took of the evening adventure:




video of a raccoon hanging out in a tree


What stood out most to me during this tour was the diversity in age and ethnicity of people participating in the event. There were older folks who had done various walks and tours like this before, young teenagers who joined because they saw a bat in another park a few weeks prior, and there were even a few experts working on various research projects. It was also a sold-out tour with 25 people, which made me quite happy that these kinds of tours are so popular. It just proves that there are many people who are just as interested about bats and other urban animals as I am. I'm definitely going to be doing another bat walk soon, I'm quite interested in finding bats in smaller local parks as well like Madison Square Park or Gantry Park in Long Island City.


Final Project Initial Thoughts:


For my final project, I want to focus on bats. Not only as an effort to learn more about them but also to continue my artistic exploration as a way to communicate with others about the importance of conserving these keystone species.


A few ideas I'm playing with:


- A 3D portrait series of unique NYC bats

- Blind box art toy series of NYC bats species

- AI video / 3D visualization project about public perception of bats during Covid-19 pandemic using Google search data

- AI generated video about white-nose syndrome and bats (styleGAN2 transfer video)

- Interactive visualization of bat population changes over the years with increased urbanization / WNS population changes


I hope to continue my research into next week to solidify my project into a more concrete idea.


Week 4:


This week I listened to Alie Ward's 2-part interview with Chiropterologist and photographer Dr. Merlin Tuttle as a part of her Ologies podcast. It was an incredibly interesting interview about Merlin's experience working with bats and how he tried to tackle common myths and misconceptions about them in order to fight for their preservation.


One part of the interview I found particularly profound was his approach to getting people interested in not only bats, but animals in general. He believes that it's better to "win friends, not battles", and believed in a soft approach to working with people who treat bats as pests. He found that the most important allies for bats to win over are people in agricultural industries. Those very people are oftentimes the ones trying to eradicate bats from their fields and homes, and are also perpetuating misconceptions about how dangerous they are to have around.


This made me think for my project that I should be trying to do the same thing. In my immediate reactions to the issues of extinction, habitat loss, and climate change, my natural instinct is to be angry and to -for lack of a better work- sensationalize my work to get people to pay attention. But I understand that's not the right way to go about changing people's perception and minds. It's something I'm still trying to work on finding a balance, but I also want to make work that is engaging and thoughtful.


Final Project Proposal: "Bat's Aren't Blind, But this Box Is"


Thinking about how much time we have for this project, I decided for my final project to expand upon a previous project and create a "blind box" art toy series of the various common cave dwelling bats that exist in NYS - eventually expanding upon it to include all 9 (cave and tree) species of bats found in NYS. The idea behind making a blind box is two-fold. A common misconception is that bats are blind, the tagline for this series is "bats aren't blind, but this box is" as a pun. In order to highlight the pervasiveness of WNS in bats, the percentage chance that you'll receive a bat infected with WNS is going to correspond with statistical rates of infection.


As a part of this project, I wanted to experiment with alternative materials to creating these toys, as well as do add some individuality to the process of additive manufacturing. For the infected bats, I plan using mycelium (a kind of yeast) to attempt to mold the infected bat toys out of it using a 3d printed mold. I've never worked with this material before so much of this project might be learning how to work with it as a sculptural medium.


A recent ITP alumnus, Alan Winslow used mycelium to create an arcade cabinet and managed to get the mycelium to flower before baking it. It would be interested if I could achieve a similar result to create varieties in each toy as an expression of the uniqueness of bats themselves. I plan on reaching out to him for advice on working with the material.


About Art Toys:


Are toys and collectibles created by artists and designers that are either self-produced or made by small, independent toy companies, typically in very limited editions. Artists use a variety of materials, such as ABS plastic, vinyl, wood, metal, latex, plush, and resin.


About Blind Boxes:


A sealed box with an art toy inside where you don't know what you're going to get. Usually on the back of the box you can see how many different toys there are to collect as well as the percentage you are likely to receive each variety. Most blind box series have rare and ultra rare varieties you can get, which is what entices collectors to buy them.


Inspired Artists:


Twelve Dot created his art toy series inspired by the plight endangered tree frogs with the goal of raising awareness and contributing to their conservation


Arctong is another designer who creates art toys about endangered species. Their "Gargolin" series are a variety of pangolin figures wearing the mask of Flagship species with the hopes of getting people's attention about their population status.


Deliverables:


3 varieties of bat toy


Options (depend on time)

  • different species (big brown, little brown, tri-colored, northern, indiana, small footed

  • varieties inspired by different bat senses (echolocation, UV vision, lack of color vision)

  • bats infected with WNS

Packaging design for each toy

Digital Renders of variations


Timeline:


Friday August 5:

  • design for mycelium mold complete (completed)

  • printed molds for mycelium complete (completed)

  • mycelium sourced (completed)

Monday August 8:

  • all digital design complete (completed)

  • mycelium in mold (completed)

Friday August 12:

  • Digital variations 3D printed (in-progress)

  • Packaging design complete (not started)

  • second mycelium batch in mold? (not started)

Monday August 15:

  • Post-process prints

  • Digital presentation in-progress


Week 5:


Final Project Progress Report:


After some good feedback from the class, friends, and ecology enthusiast, I am making good progress on my project. However I still have the final hurdle of creating a graphic design that's going to go on the outside of the box, along with a leaflet I want to put inside the box.


Some in-progress images:



Week 6:


Final Project Post Mortem


Overall I'm happy with how my final project turned out, however I wish I had a bit more time to create a few different characters for this particular project rather than just one. I liked the different color variations but in the future I think I will make them different species of bats rather than different colored versions of them. I needed to get these ideas out and just make them, now that I've done that I can synthesize the idea a bit more and focus more on the message itself.


From the feedback I received from the class, it feels like there are two potentially divergent projects here. The mycelium bats definitely need a revision in their form as they were a bit hard to grasp what they were, which is simply going to require revising the mold form and perhaps making them a bit bigger in size to get a better result. I also need to work more with the material in general to research ways I can paint or dye them. The class echoed thoughts I had, in that it felt like there needs to be a better connection between the mycelium bats and the resin bats.


It might mean that all the bats need to be made out of mycelium or maybe rather than making the toy out of the material, I can grow them and 3D scan it to get the form - then reproduce it out of another material like resin.


In any case, it seems like this project can take many different directions. I feel like I need to explore working with mycelium more before I can make a decision on whether I want to pursue working with it for a larger project in the future. My only hang up so far has been that it takes time to grow, which makes iterating difficult. It's hard to wait when you're working on tight deadlines, especially for class projects.


As far as time management goes, I can definitely work on optimizing my time and I definitely needed to make some key decisions faster than I did, such as the bat form and species. The act of sculpting is very time consuming and it took me about 3 full days of work to make just the one bat form. I'm not necessarily able to work faster, but I know I can be a bit more efficient with my time and start working earlier in the project timeline. I already know I have a difficult time making big decisions early on, which leads me to procrastinate and eventually I get into trouble with my time. A lot of it has to do with how much I tend to second-guess my decisions and ideas, which completely stumps the creative process for me.


Both the research and experimentation parts of the project were difficult for me to complete, mostly because I also tend to have a difficult time reaching out to people in general. As an introverted person, I struggle with asking for feedback. I'm not afraid of criticism per say, I know I'm my worst critic. But sparking the initial conversion about my project with experts in the field is the most difficult and nerve-racking part. I will say, I have gotten a lot of confidence out of doing research on bats and talking to others about bats. I feel like I know a bit about what I'm talking about, and it's reassuring to hear that other people share the same concerns as I do.


I definitely need to do a better job of experimenting earlier-on in the process. That's just something to work on for my practice in general. I need to get prototypes out faster and earlier on in the process. This is something I'm actively trying to work on and it will be necessary for my thesis project next year. For this project in particular, it was a bit more difficult with the constrained timeline but I know what I need to do next time - which is prototype more and get the bats into more hands faster.


I definitely want to expand on this project, including reaching out to batcon.org (great recommendation from the class) to see if there's any interest in this project to maybe do a collaboration or apply for a grant to make it a reality. I would love to be able to contribute in some monetary way that also spreads the word about the need for bat conservation.


I also want to continue to work with mycelium as a material for making art objects. I think there's a lot of potential here and I already have an idea for a different project where I could use this material to make more toys - not dissimilar to the bats. Not sure if it could expand to my thesis project for next year, but we'll see. I'm still dealing with the same paralyzing conflict with what to do for my thesis project. I have a lot of ideas, it's just hard to pick one.


Editors Note: I need to get access to some photography equipment to properly photograph these guys. I'm also planning on getting the boxes properly printed. But in the meantime here are some stand-in photos.