Fritz Haeg's Animal Estates @ Reed's Cooley gallery
Fritz Haeg is one of those people for whom definitions like; architect, artist,
curator and activist, miss the broader picture of his efforts. For example, even
though he was part of the 2008 Whitney Biennial and will be addressing the Frieze
art fair this year, he could care less about conquering the art world.
Instead, he wants to change the way we see and engage the world and his contribution
to the Suddenly: Where
We Live Now show at Reed's Cooley Gallery
is both a resource and a prompt
for engagement. In this show about understanding our shared environment and
Animal Estates projects
draw attention to many the wild animals that also
live in Portland. The show end's tomorrow at 6:00 (with Fritz in attendance)
so get on down to see this show while you still can.
Jeff: Tell me about the Animal Estates project at the Cooley gallery's Suddenly:
where we live now?
Fritz: On the perimeter there is this Animal Estates
repository or archive
where each city adds material and it keeps growing from city to city. Each place
is represented in very different ways.
and what will be in here (inside the geodesic dome tent) is the reading
library where there will be more books. Books on wildlife native to Portland,
but because the archive has been in other cities there will be information on
New York, San Francisco and Cambridge as well.
The tent is always the headquarters for the project as well as a place to watch
a local video on the Vaux
Swifts at Chapman
(a school in NW Portland). The swifts are kinda the touchstone
for the project in Portland.
In each city I do an Animal Estates project I spend a while finding local wildlife
experts and talking to them. Just kinda grilling them on stories of urban wildlife
and getting a sense of the place and try to determine who the appropriate animal
clients would be in this region? And that's thinking about a few things like
what animals used to live here? I also look at what animals are dependent on
manmade structures or will be able to adapt and move into manmade structures.
It seems like every city has its iconic animal that everybody talks about and
say oh my god, you have those here? Like in San Francisco they have sea lions.
Sea Lion at Bonneville Dam, 2006 Photo Rick Bowmer / AP
Jeff: yeah, we have them here occasionally; they have been wreaking
havoc at the Bonneville Dam
up the Columbia River. They use the dams to
catch salmon as they run up the river to spawn. Occasionally, we have had Orcas
that come up the Willamette river too, which worries me because until the Big
project is done the Willamette is kinda scary from a pollution standpoint.
Fritz: Yeah the runoff problem is the same in LA
Jeff: Portland is just starting to engage the Willamette
LA kinda paved
over and drank the Los Angeles river dry. Here the Willamette River is visible
especially from all of the bridges but we haven't really celebrated our waterfront
an Orca swimming around kinda makes you think about a different
kind of out of town guest.
We also have lots a raccoons in the NW 21st restaurant district and Peregrine
falcons on the Freemont bridge
sometimes I'm driving along and I look
out the window and there's a falcon flying parallel to me at 55mph. It's pretty
Then we have these giant banana slugs
Fritz: Yeah I've taken some pictures of them, they are beautiful
Jeff: they get huge up in Forest Park, there are deer up there too. It is a
huge for a city park.
Fritz: They are so cool
each project manifests itself differently in
each city because it's focused mostly on what kind of structures are people
already making for animals. In San Francisco there were cover boards for the
salamander or a pile of brush for the California quail and of course the sea
lion floats at the marina. But mostly the focus at SFMOMA was a series of weekly events related to the animals, such as a workshop with Feral Childe to make these salamander hoodies for kids which you see here, a movement workshop with the dancers from Anna Halprin's Sea Ranch Collective and a writing workshop with 826 Valencia.
Haeg's Eagle Nest @ Whitney Biennial 2008
It was very different than the project in New York, which was all about making
these structures for animals that used to live there in front of the Whitney
Museum in a very sculptural way. The eagle's nest for the Whitney, which is the
only piece I've ever sold, and the beehives are really memorials. Those animals
are probably not coming back to Manhattan.
Whereas, the project in San Francisco it was more about these events about things
that were already happening there, the sea lions have an ongoing presence on
In Portland Ive just found wonderful people to work with who have been advising
me for months now. One of these first things someone mentioned was the snag
and how important that was to the Pacific Northwest. It's a dead tree.
Jeff: Nurse logs that serve as catalysts for everything else
Fritz: and of course those are the first things that get removed so the Animal
Estates for Portland is a kind of condo tower for seven different species, a
So I did a lot of research about each animal and what they need and designed
this structure that approximates the kind of home they would have in a dead
tree. So there will be a poster inviting everyone in Portland to design their
own snag for their own properties. They can then send in their designs with
their pictures and we will post them on the wall and on the website. We already
have a few schools and people that we know will be building them but they can
be wildly different than this (points to his snag). But they will have a pdf
online with a lot of resource materials as to what these animals need.
For example, this design on display here really started with the swifts who
tend to roost on the insides of snags so they go in the top in the chimney.
And these here (louvered area on the side) are for the silver haired bats. This
down here is habitat for the snakes and it will be covered with rocks. The Orange-Rumped
Bumblebee's use this pipe and the snail eating ground beetles live under these
boards. Lastly, the Olive Sided Flycatcher uses this extended perch, they like
to sit high above and swoop down.
Jeff: The Flycatcher is a bird?
Fritz: Yes. Then this whole condo will be installed somewhere in Portland after
this show is over. The whole project is kept simple so it can be executed in
wildly different ways in different places. The garden project was the same it's
a basic idea that can be done differently anywhere. I also like how the snag
acknowledges the significance of death in the natural process.
Jeff: Then there's always this question as to whether what you are doing, is
it art or not? Usually if you have to ask the question, it is.
Jeff: But how do you see yourself? You started with architecture. Then the
Edible Estates which was rogue gardening
Fritz: It's interesting to me, on one hand I think my work is based purely on
impulses of what I think I need to do and Ill do the work then people can figure
out how they want to classify it. I purposefully do no want to sit comfortably
within one discipline. I asked myself if it was possible to create work that
could simultaneously bridge an incredibly broad audience like the national evening
news, but at the same time be right in line with forward thinking and more narrow
For example, the Edible Estates
project, where we create gardens in what was
once a typical lawn
everyone understands that, a child understands that.
Those garden projects are political projects and art projects, who cares really
how you define it. It is the ideas that matter.
I'm interested in making art that is almost Trojan (horse) in a way, and you
just roll it out and people take it into their lives. For example the garden
projects are written about the all the time in the main stream press and it
isn't even mentioned that they are commissioned by major museums and that's
great they don't need to write about that. In the art world they can be written
about and they don't need to know that it's a part of a broader movement of
gardeners. It is about turning these lawns into places where you can grow your
own food and the ways that can affect the way people treat the land around them
and the food they eat.
Jeff: for so long people have been micro marketed to and instead... in my mind your are more
of a macro "resource node", you also give people permission to break
from conforming traditions. It's like you are building ownership of the ideas
into the people who encounter these Animal or Edible Estates. It's about how
the work effects people's consciousness of animals or food in their midst,
not whether you had a show or not. You make food production and wild animals
more present but it is not like you are taking credit for sea lions, falcons,
bumblebees or squash in people's front yards. It's almost like you are an activist
without a specific agenda
just a general awareness and interaction goal.
I grew up surrounded by John Muir's legacy and it always seemed like the difference
between artist and ecologist could be pretty minor. Look at Ansel Adams or Walden
and who knows what the planet would have looked like if it weren't for the romantic
poets as the industrial revolution took hold? Each created an awareness through
their work, it isn't like Adams invented mountain photography but he stunned
people into a greater sense of awareness.
Fritz: It's interesting to me how different disciplines want to wall them selves
off. Like, "How do we solve the painting problem or the structure problem?"
Those aren't problems. If I have to make a video, I make a video. If I have to
design a building, I design a building. I don't have to define myself by
whatever media I happen to use for a project. The art world itself isn't all
that interesting; it's just a vehicle to a larger conversation.