* k e n d a l l a r t i c l e * The Secret Life of Crows

8 June 2000

Leslie Raymond and Jason Jay Stevens have discovered the secret life of crows.

The Ann Arbor-based artists have collaborated on a study of the birds to determine the dynamics of socially gametic relationships. They will present their findings - a historical record of crow studies, the oral record of crows, direct observatin of crow communities, and an account of the relationship between researchers and our critical interpretation of philosophical and scientific methods - in A Gametic Ontology of Crows.

In fact, it is a collection of nine freestanding components, on display at Artcite, Windsor's artist-run centre for contemporary arts, from June 17. Quirky as it may seem, the mixed-media installation promises a unique interperetaion of these historically misunderstood creatures.

"We've taken nine different aspects of the crow's personality or lore and then designated each of the pieces to be one of those," says Raymond, adding that the show will explore the crow's various roles, including that of witness, harbinger, sentinel, caw, articifer and collector.

The pieces are made of wood and metal, and while Stevens hesitates to call them furniture, they do share certain common structural elements. They also contain media elements like video and sound, as well as built-in, visitor-activated components; all of the freestanding objects are closed boxes equipped with devices for listening, viewing, or interacting. The creation of a mixed-media habitat facilitates a greater appreciation and understanding of the crow than a strictly visual presentation could.

The project constantly embraces a scientific method, but without definitive conclusions. "I think that the [scientific and artistic] processes both include a research stage, a developmental stage, a fabrication or lab experiment stage, and then a presentation or findings stage. For me, it's very natural that it overlaps," Raymond explains.

"It has this kind of scientific instrument aspect to it, like looking through a microscope.... In one way, it's a research tool," Stevens adds.

The use of three peepholes - including one constructed using Artcite's storefront window and visible from the street - enhances this, while creating a sense of intrigue.

"Peepholes tend to hold a sort of mystery for people, because their contents behold many secrets and images that are not meant for the innocent eye. The peephole is one of the archetypes in the pantheon of fetishes. There's something arousing about a peephole that makes you want to look in and you become a voyuer. [We're] playing on this drive in people," says Stevens.

Through the creation of Potter-Belmar Labs, a term which essentially defines their collaboration, Raymond and Stevens seek aesthetic expressions through the practice of new disciplines.

"I'm striving to define a term - 'post-science' - as being a field or discipline that combines our modern science with pre-science or belief systems outside the modern scientific structure, including shamanism, totemism, alchemy and the sciences or belief systems that have taken a back seat because of [modern Western] science."

A gametic Ontology of Crowsis the pair's second installation, and they intend to continue producing projects and findings on a regular basis. "We want the audience to feel as though they are being invited to research also," concludes Raymond. "We're trying to appeal to their own sense of curiosity."

An opening reception forA Gametic Ontology of Crows will be held June 17 at 7:30pm. The show will run through July 16 at Artcite.

- Rebecca Kendall