JOSEPH ROSSANO'S MIRRORED MURRELETS

The Installation

Joseph Rossano’s work focuses on the natural world and the animals that live in ecosystems threatened by human impact. Mirrored Murrelets highlights the effect of the culture of consumerism on the Marbled Murrelet, a small sea bird that nests primarily in the old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest. The mirrored glass birds in this installation reflect the viewer’s image, symbolically suggesting the impact of humans on the environment. The benches that surround the pool represent the charred stumps that were once majestic trees in abundant old-growth forests.

Rossano was particularly moved by the experience of witnessing a large flock of small seabirds like the murrelet turning in unison, their white undersides catching the day’s waning light and transforming them into a fluid chrome mass. His observation and interest in the plight of the species became the catalyst for this installation. Above all else, Mirrored Murrelets pays homage to this elusive bird, while embodying Rossano’s profound understanding of and reverence for nature.

The Bird

The Marbled Murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus) is a small seabird that is considered globally threatened. Unlike most seabirds that breed in colonies, the Marbled Murrelet lays a single egg in a nest of lichen or moss in old-growth forests along the North American Pacific Coast,
extending from California to the Aleutian Islands. Washington is home to an estimated 1,800 Marbled Murrelets. The bird feeds in the ocean, traveling as much as 60 miles inland to its nest. Because the birds nest high in the branches of old-growth trees, nest sightings are rare. To date, of the 160 nests found in North America, nine were in Washington.

Throughout the last century, the murrelets’ existence has been challenged by numerous factors. The decline in its population is attributed to climate change, loss of habitat and human disturbance, including forestry, gill-net fishing and oil spills. Figures from the last quarter of the 20th century indicate annual declines ranging from 4 to 50 percent.

The Barcode

Rainbow-like color bars project over the wall and glass Mirrored Murrelets.

Museum of Glass

The bars are a colorimetric representation of the A, C, G, T DNA base-pair sequence specific to the Marbled Murrelet, and only the Marbled Murrelet.

Every species has its own unique sequence embedded in its DNA. In particular, a small portion of a single gene in an organism’s mitochondrial DNA is called a "DNA barcode."

DNA barcoding extracts and reveals the gene fragment's sequence to identify the species to which that specimen belongs, much in the way a UPC barcode distinguishes different products.

Powerful and increasingly efficient genetics and bioinformatics tools are helping scientists to catalogue the world’s biodiversity. DNA barcoding for species identification began at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, and scientists there continue to lead the International Barcode of Life Project, aiming to create a searchable, comprehensive index of the earth’s life forms.

The Artist

Joseph Rossano considers himself a naturalist. Born in Lexington, Kentucky, he was raised on Long Island and spent his summers in the fields and forests of upstate New York. As an artist, Rossano derives his greatest inspiration from the sky and water. As a photographer, he sees the world in black and white. Mirrored Murrelets incorporates sky and water and the passions of a naturalist in an installation with the connotations of a black and white photograph. 

Throughout my career, I have focused on the interdependence of the natural world to create haunting images of animals that, like us, rely on our primeval forests for their existence. I choose to use glass as a medium because, like our environment, glass is transparent, fragile and reflective—transparent in that it hides nothing, fragile in that once damaged it may never be repaired, and reflective of how we have impacted it. – Joseph Rossano

Several artists have influenced Rossano throughout his artistic career. These include glass artists Dale Chihuly, William Morris, Lino Tagliapietra and Italo Scanga, as well as sculptor Phillip McCracken and photographer Darius Kinsey, whose images of the North Cascades inspired Rossano to embrace environmental art.

Artists and Nature

From prehistoric times to the present, artists have consistently looked to the natural world as a source of inspiration. Several notable 20th century artists, such as Robert Smithson, Christo, and Andy Goldsworthy, are recognized for physically transforming the environment, essentially using nature as their medium. Joseph Rossano takes a different approach, making the environment the subject of his work, and using the medium of glass to convey both the beauty and vulnerability of nature.

 

Video credit: Joseph Rossano’s Mirrored Murrelets. Duration: 1:40. Courtesy of Bill Ruth.

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