There's a cougar stalking the Fredericton forest...or is it art?
'The viewer will wonder what is real, whether it's the forest or the cougar, neither — or both'
New Brunswick artist Janice Wright Cheney creates life-sized textile animal sculptures using taxidermy forms, alongside conceptual installations dealing with environmental themes. She's passionate about the outdoors and is always looking for new ways to more deeply integrate her understanding and love of wilderness with her art practice.
In her latest project Cougar in Captivity, Wright Cheney turns to the Eastern cougar as her source of inspiration. The work explores habitat loss, industrial forestry practices and species endangerment — in a very attention-grabbing way.
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Wright Cheney first came up with the idea after seeing a medieval tapestry called The Unicorn In Captivity at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. She reflects: "What that represents, in terms of mythology and legend, and beliefs and allegory, and all the lore around this unicorn — the cougar will stand in for the unicorn and be The Cougar in Captivity, in my imagining this three-dimensional diorama."
She says what initially drew her to the tapestries was the medieval artist's attention to natural details in the background, which is called millefleur. What looks like a simple pattern on first glance turns out to more than just a simple repeated motif: it's a document of actual plant specimens. As an artist who is passionate about exploring the natural world and understanding it through her art practice, she felt an immediate affinity with the piece.
In this video by filmmaker Matthew Brown and producer Zoë Boyd, we meet Wright Cheney as she further develops The Cougar in Captivity. Exploring Odell Park in Fredericton with her dog Daisy, she reflects on what it means to be an artist concerned with the natural world — an artist blessed to be able to experience and explore wilderness almost daily and have it deepen her art practice. As she says: "I feel really lucky that I've had a lot of experience just being in forested areas. I guess it's probably shaped me more than I could have known at the time."
Follow Janice Wright Cheney here.