Max Hooper Schneider is an artist who specializes in biological and mineral matters and their associated phenomena, particularly novel engagements of materials that glow—e.g., bioluminescence, phosphorescence, photoluminescence—and those of their incarnations that blur the natural and the artifactual, the living and dead.
The proposed Glowing Beluga Whale Skeleton project was initiated in the autumn of 2012. It is sourced in a worldview that is monist and animist (including a belief in the aliveness of nonhuman things—e.g., plants, animals, protists, plastics, machines, whale skeletons, etc.—and their transformative capacity and ecological aspect), and in several years of sculptural and material experimentation undertaken first at Harvard University and thereafter in multiple studio settings. This precursory work led to a desire to produce and bring to the public a powerful and primogenial experience in the animist phenomena of ‘glow’—quite literally, photoexcitation. Once the decision was made to ground this experience in the production of a glowing whale skeleton, the project’s goals were to locate a mold of a small cetacean (whale) skeleton and subsequently to cast a chemically ornate, mutant whale-form utilizing a resin that would host the most powerfully glowing phosphorescent pigments available.
The mold of a Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus leucas) was found somewhat improbably at an anatomical replica factory in the California desert—a mold that was originally taken in 1973 from a 20-year old, 13-foot female specimen acquired in Western Greenland (Arctic Ocean) by the San Diego Museum of Natural History. I arranged to rent the mold and began to invest out-of-pocket in the rare and immoderately priced materials I would use to craft the phosphorescent, glow-in-the-dark resin that would eventually fill the silicon voids and osteoplastic galleries of the 100+ individual molds comprising the whale skeleton, a volume estimated to be 1300 oz.
So why is this project appearing on Kickstarter?
The cost of the pigments and resin; of the casting, sculpting, and final articulation and mounting of the glowing Beluga skeleton will total approximately $20,000 USD. At this juncture I have invested $10,000 USD and have cast nearly 50% of the 300+ bone skeleton. I am determined to bring this coruscating complex of material and zoomorphic forms to galleries and public venues across the US and abroad but can go no further on my own. I am looking for the generous and inspired support of project backers to raise an additional $10,000 USD to complete this work. The work is unprecedented. When completed it will be the first recorded instance of a life-sized, glowing Beluga whale skeleton—or any marine mammal skeleton for that matter. Together we can escort this resplendent Beluga into the realm of communal experience.
How and why is this the first of its kind?
The reason the Beluga whale skeleton is unique—and why there is nothing of the sort in the worlds of sculpture, artifact, and museography—is due to its material technology. The naturally blue-hued, rare earth-based phosphorescent pigments loaded into the pure resin casts (no fillers or substructures) are what is known as photoluminescent, meaning they cumulatively absorb photons and emit light in dimmed conditions (photoexcitation). This process is no different than the human body harboring calories for a sprint or special feat. It is like a pet you feed with light. In this way the Beluga skeleton is dynamic, renewable, and sustainable: it will glow for as long as it is exposed to a light source—i.e. its photoperiod—even the if light source is ambient, diffuse, and indirect. The relationship between light exposure and glow is entirely proportional and in terms of photon emission, the product used is the most potent on the chemical market today. Although, as an object, the skeleton may appear frozen or static, it is not; its perceived glow is actually an infinitely complex vista of excited molecules vibrating between atomic orbits. To be terse, the pigments used in this project are those that will glow the brightest and last the longest, and thus will illuminate realms not thought possible. Because of the resin they are suspended in, the pigments have an archival property of over 300 years.
*Photographs of glowing bones courtesy of Mike Z. Morrell and the artist. "Between the Hammer & the Anvil" by Judas Priest.
Risks and challenges
The risks and challenges of this project lay in the urgency of bringing it to completion within the parameters of two deadlines: 1) the molds for the remaining half of the Beluga whale skeleton are due back at the end of September and will not be made available again for at least another two years; and 2) the artwork has been firmly scheduled with curators and galleries for exhibition at several events and venues both nationally and internationally, including, as of this date, Los Angeles, New York, and Mexico City. The installation deadline for the first venue of this sculptural tour is October 7th. The venues and galleries involved are aware that I am undertaking this period of fundraising for the completion of the Beluga whale skeleton, and although they have not been able to cover the rest of its production costs have been entirely supportive through all phases of its generation thus far.
If I do not meet my pledged amount, I will exhibit the field of disarticulated blue-glowing bones that have already been cast, and reluctantly return the skeletal molds I have on loan. While suggestive of the power of the fully completed project, this partially realized work strays far from my artistic vision and departs as well from the visions of gallerists and curators who are anticipating the complete skeleton. It also means, due to the restricted use of the molds, that the completion date for the project remains unknown.
Thus: there is a present urgency and a very specific sliver of time for the execution of this artwork. My desire to bring the project to its fullest-fruition stems not merely from the fact that that I have invested all of my pennies in its creation, but because I believe—as a phosphorescently affected body—in the value of the experience of ‘glow’: in the photomagic and materially transformative affects of the Beluga skeleton itself; in what it does to other bodies; in its capacity for engendering positive encounter and molecular vibration. I have merged with it, slept in its glow, and in detailing this project across a cyber platform such as this, hope to have whet the imaginations of friends and strangers in a way that they will see a necessity in bringing this specimen to life and someday encountering it in person. We thank you for reading and watching and bow our melons in perpetuity to your unique acts of kindness and glowing support.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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