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
Many people made a contribution to this installation in open workshops held in my studio in 2015, volunteers for the Bat Count were invited and attended. The girls from St Columbus Girls College contributed to the bat making while I was an Artist in Residence at their school in 2014. Some generous friends and family also lent their talent and creativity. Thanks, you are all awesome.
The talented Darius Kedros has gone to some strange places to create a sound work to accompany the Batmania sculptural installation. After some attempts to record at the bat camp with too much road noise, we actually had a bat brought into the recording studio by the lovely bat-lady Anthea, a wild life carer. The little rock stars with wings were forgiven for pooping on some expensive equipment by providing wing flapping good sounds. An early morning excursion to the colony (we are talking 4.00am …before anyone sane is awake) captured some great calls as the bats returned to roost after a night out. And after some experimentation with the robot behind the Fed Sq’s sound system we will have a delightful surround sound experience which apparently has never been done with Fed Square’s sound system before. What a whizz.
The sound work will play at 7, 8, 9 AM and PM each day and is the best time to experience this installation.
I began drawing and painting the Grey Headed Flying Fox to become familiar with their characteristics, but what I really needed was to see one in 3 dimensions… and this wasn’t so easy. Bev Brown a wild life carer finally came to my rescue, as she has done for hundreds of orphaned and injured bats over the years. I spent an educational and amazing day studying her backyard full of bats. This first close encounter had me hooked, I really had no idea how cute these little critters were until then. I spent the afternoon carving David the juvenile bat out of plasticine while he remained oblivious and sleepy. A cast was made from this ‘statue of David’, which begat all other bat sculptures. The wild life carers are special folks, they give over their time, resources and homes to care for sick and injured animals with very little reward. If you ever meet one give them a pat on the back and say thanks.
The sculptures are made with plaster, mild steel, garbage bags and porters paint. The adornment references the night sky, the stars, the time of the bat. Workshop participants also made contributions to the adornment, which became more decorative and tribal in their hands.
Photographs: © Kathy Holowko.
I have had a few requests for bat sculptures and decided to make them available. I have a limited number available for $250 each. They will be made to order, each one is unique and it may take up to a month or two to arrive (let me know if you need it now!). They can be hung by the feet or fly. Cost includes postage. I will donate $30 from each sale to wildlife carers that look after fruit bats.
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I hope to travel this work to other venues and will keep the Batmania installation intact.
The installation took place rather appropriately … overnight. Working bat hours, the team of riggers dropped lines from the 15 metre high ceiling to floor height where we could attach the bats, one by one. Laser pointers and two way radios were used to locate the correct position and height.
Each night a nocturnal pilgrimage occurs on the banks of the Yarra River only 6kms from Melbourne’s CBD. The colony of Grey Headed Flying Foxes that roost in the trees, begin to stir around sunset and set off in unison in enormous numbers. The Bellbird Picnic Area, is set on a grassy hill beside the Yarra and provides the perfect place to watch this nightly phenomenon. This is surely Melbourne’s most amazing wildlife experience, and yet very few people know about it. It is the kind of unique experience that you would take overseas visitors to.
Bell bird Park – Off Yarra Blvd, Kew – Sunset every night (numbers of bats are higher in summer months)
Photograph taken on the banks of the Yarra, Melbourne © Artwork Kathy Holowko