October 11, 2016
This spring, I had the opportunity to listen to Marion Hourdequin, a professor at Colorado College, talk about the book she co-edited, Restoring Layered Landscapes: History, Ecology, and Culture. She focused on how ecological restoration of a landscape could happen while preserving, revitalizing, or problematizing human uses of a landscape.
A new art installation in Alberta, Canada is doing exactly this type of work. The artist, Lisa Brawn, has installed a herd of vintage, coin-operated horses “into the southern Alberta landscape.” Brawn bought and restored these horses, coating them in silver leaf so that they glisten in the sun. These horses, which reside on the prairie outside the Leighton Art Centre, are now solar powered and begin moving as visitors approach them (you can’t ride them anymore).
This type of art is perhaps especially poignant in a prairie environment, in a province where horses once played a major role in logging and mining operations. As those operations collapsed, many of the horses were simply released into the wild, where they became feral. As a means of controlling the population of these wild horses, Alberta is using a reversible birth control vaccine that helps prevent fertilization—a measure that the government only recently adopted as a more humane method of curbing the population.
Brawn’s heard of silver horses, which can run across the prairie without ever moving or posing a threat to other horse populations or economic interests, represents a small fraction of the complex history of horses in this part of North America.
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