In Medias Res

Mixed-media installation: acrylic paint, clay, flocking, wood, ground snow (super absorbent polymer) and a snow blowing machine.

In Medias Res (In the Midst of Things), 2010

In the midst of the awe-inspiring Canadian wilderness lies a threat with catastrophic implications, instigated by global warming. Since 1995, a transcontinental migration from Mexico northward has exposed Canada to the incremental attack of an insect smaller than a grain of rice. Once held back by the freezing winter temperatures, the Mountain Pine Beetle now survives and proliferates in a symbiotic and destructive relationship with the blue stain fungi. According to the British Columbia Forestry Department, the pine beetle epidemic has already affected 16.3 million hectares of forest, a landmass equivalent to more than double the size of Tasmania.

In Medias Res invites the viewer into the silent and complex world of the pine beetle and its insidious effect on the Canadian terrain. In the same way that a deep layer of snow provides insulation for pine beetles during the winter, a manufactured blanket of snow covers an area in
Melbourne City Square. Flocked tree trunks simulate the protection that nature provides to the pine beetle. These sculptural elements represent the pristine and enigmatic landscape of the Canadian wilderness. Historically, the frigid Canadian winter would have acted as nature’s defense, however, the rise in temperature in the past decade not only guarantees the survival of the pine beetle, but also helps it to thrive.

As spring arrives, conditions are perfect for the female pine beetle to strike. She tunnels into the tree bark’s succulent tissue, releasing a pheromone that entices the male beetles. The invisible colonisation begins.  The tree fights back, mounting a rear guard action by secreting a toxic resin that temporarily delays the advance of the beetles. Relentless in their assault, the beetles find an ally. Within their mouths they carry the spores of the blue stained fungi, which are released as the beetles continue to bore into the tree. The spores germinate rapidly, and the fungi flourishes, negating the effect of the resin. The beetles establish a foothold, and without any defences, the tree surrenders.  Within one month, the tree will die. Over several years, entire forests will perish.

Long after the pine beetles have plundered the forest and moved on, a post-apocalyptic beauty lingers. The viewer is confronted with only the paradoxical aftermath.  The blanket of snow that would have once symbolised freezing temperatures now incubates an unseen threat. The porcelain features of the blue stain fungi suggest a fragility and innocence, belying the role that they have played in the destruction. And the tree stumps that appear willing to support and nurture new life, are in reality grave markers.

Jen Rae, 2010