Preview :: The Bat Human Project

April 27th 2011


Watching the bats trail out of the Botanical Gardens at twilight has always been something quintessentially Sydney for me. They’re like the whistle at the end of the shift that tells you to drop tools and get to the pub, ‘cause shit’s about to get batty (sorry, couldn’t resist). What’s not so great is seeing them after their night on the town, hanging dead from the telephone wires, which I guess is one reason there’s been talk of moving them.

The Bat Human Project has been running over the last two years, involving scientists, urban planners, artists, and citizens in thinking about the prospect of relocating the bats. I caught up with Artlab Project Director Keith Armstrong about the project’s first public event this Friday night.

FBi: To start, could you tell me a bit about the inception of this project and how it got started?

Keith Armstrong: The project was originally inspired by the attempted relocation of the flying fox colony from the Botanical Gardens, and this raised one of those big questions that really excited and attracted us as artists. We wanted to really think about the kind of relationships we should be fostering between ourselves and the other amazing animal dwellers of our urban ecology, like our gorgeous batty friends in the gardens. So we tried to open up a new space for creative conversation and discussion about the future we want, and need!

So what can we expect at the event this Friday?

Lots of great bat related stuff! On the main screen we have great films about bat care and rescue from Deidre Cobbin – and also the work of our Remnant Emergency Artlab team who set up the event – and for the adults a 'batty ideas' discussion session where leading experts discuss how we must plan our future cities to accommodate bats. There will also be performances from Tess de Quincey who does amazing things with subtle body movements and light with live music with accompaniment from Jim Denley and also Peter Nobel, a young rapper who has made a rap to celebrate flying foxes and to remind us what we'll lose if we chose to move them out of our cities.

Sounds great. Exactly what role have artists played in the project?

We have worked both in the traditional sense by making things, but also as provocateurs and ideas people, cross pollinating creative practice with urban planners, architects, bat scientists and the people at the botanical gardens in charge of the relocation of the 22,000 bats there in May. The gardens staff are very interested what the public think and so one of the roles for this event is to share that information with them. By involving people from opposite camps we hope to engender understanding that will give us all pause to think about this touchstone issue.

The issue of relocating the flying foxes from the gardens is emotive – its easy to oppose or agree with it depending on your way of understanding the world and our place as humans within it – but we all know something is wrong here. We want to try to promote a place for discussion that is non-threatening, that is non-confrontational, to say 'hey, these flying foxes are in steep decline right now and we can't afford to risk losing any more species' as the citizens of this place. So how can we think as a network of positive minds about how to accommodate both humans and bats (and other creatures of the air and land) who have found a home in Sydney. No one group


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