Why bats?

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The animal is an inspiration in my work and my current fascinated lies with a unique wild urban animal that has (evolutionary speaking) recently made Melbourne a permanent home. A colony of megabats add a touch of gothic beauty to our skies as they make their nocturnal pilgrimage each night. As successful colonisers in urban areas the bats are a rare example of the coexistence of human and wild nature. The urban setting often evicts the presence of the animal or eliminates our exposure to nature, in what is a human centric environment. The grey headed flying fox is experienced by people up to 50 kilometres in every direction from it’s roost in Melbourne’s CBD as it travels vast distances each night in search of food, and yet they remain somewhat of a mystery and unacknowledged presence. I decided to research and get to know these often maligned critters and was surprised to find beauty and purpose beyond the cliché silhouette. With associations to folklore, myth and popular culture, the bat has historically suffered a negative image. I hope to create a sense of intrigue and demystify these animal of the night. I want to celebrate them as a unique and iconic addition to our city. Melbourne was almost named Batmania after all!

I have spent time with the grey headed flying fox population on the banks of the Yarra, and watched as they collectively decide when it is time to launch, as a group, and make their way across the skies. I have visited wildlife carers, who volunteer their time to nurse injured or orphaned bats to health and return them to the colony. It was there, that I had my first close encounter with bats. I have since sculpted, photographed and recorded these fruit bats and found them to be surprisingly endearing creatures.

This project has given me access to generous researchers, scientists and enthusiasts who have informed this work. I hope to share the knowledge I have gained that beyond the fearsome ideas of the Grey Headed Flying Fox as merely potentially hosting disease, they also share an anatomy that resembles the human quite closely, they eat blossoms over other food sources and are important cross pollinators and seed dispersers for native forests. Temperature change has allowed them to become permanent residents in Melbourne rather than seasonal visitors. It is through an intimate portrayal of these characteristics that the image of our local mega bat can move beyond the fears of it’s blood sucking distant relatives and cliché portraits in gothic tales and dark myths. I enjoy the challenge of creating an appreciation for unpopular animals that we are naturally adverse to, and instead, attempt a rationalisation of their importance to a healthy eco system. The relationship between human and animal is complex and fascinating, the fruit bat particularly so. We share a habitat and very real and complicated interconnections.

Image: © Artwork by Kathy Holowko

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