August 31, 2012
Highlighting the animals found “in our own backyard,” The National Zoo’s American Trail opens tomorrow with an eye towards animal conservation, green initiatives and an interactive learning experience. The trail features 10 different animal species common to North America, spread along a winding path rife with shady trees and glimmering pools.
The land of the American Trail has been a part of the Zoo since the 1880s, when it was called “Beaver Valley” after a family of wild beavers who lived there. It was last updated in 1976 to accommodate new animals, and tomorrow it will re-open in a new-and-improved version of the space with a clear, comprehensive goal: to create an exhibit that demonstrates the very best practices in animal care and to serve as a leader in sustainable energy practices.
The trail and its buildings, tanks, and pens are LEED certified and feature complex filtration systems that rely on Washington, DC’s tap water. Animal Keeper Christina Castiglione says that green initiatives are “very important because if we employ them here, we can encourage the general public to employ them, too. We can lead by example.”
The trail’s LEED certification fits in well with its larger message of conservation. While many flock to see the Giant Pandas and other animals that come from far-off lands, zoo-goers tend to forget that North America is home to many majestic and awe-inspiring creatures. “We spend so much money saving pandas and other foreign animals,” says Animal Keeper Rachel Metz, “but we forget that people from other countries visit this part of the world and say, wow, these animals are so special. Americans will feel the same way if they can see them up close.”
While some of the animals on view were rescued from the wild, many came from other zoos, and several were even bred in breeding centers around the country. This makes the animals more receptive to their keepers, so that visitors can watch as they are fed and worked with right on the trail. “It’s a more interactive experience,” says Castiglione.
The animals in the exhibit were chosen based on their regional relevance and for the strong conservational messages they represent. The Marine Mammal Protection Act, for example, enacted in 1972, has been responsible for the successful repopulation of many marine animals, and with the American Trail’s seals and sea lions, zoo-goers can witness the effects of this kind of national conservation effort firsthand. One particularly endearing example is Selkie the gray seal, who was, quite literally, a Navy seal, trained to perform missions during the Cold War. She learned how to use a screwdriver and turn large wheels, and she assisted divers and located lost gear. Selkie represents how far we have come in conservation efforts to preserve species like the gray seal, who for centuries were hunted commercially across the Eastern Seaboard.
The exhibit’s bald eagle, otters and Mexican gray wolves tell similar conservation success stories. “The bald eagle,” says Castiglione, “is such a huge part of American history, and we were able to rescue Tioga, who was injured in the wild.”
Also joining the list of animals are ravens, beavers, hooded merganser ducks and brown pelicans. The impressive list of animals reflects an important sentiment: If we can continue to conserve our natural resources, we will be able to look at these native animals and more for centuries to come.
August 23, 2012
Friday August 24 Forensic Friday: Skeletal Remains
What stories can bones tell? Where did your classroom skeleton come from? Smithsonian’s physical anthropologists discuss the history, importance and many uses of the Institution’s skeletal collections. Learn about how bones are used to understand everything from health and disease to cultural differences and mortuary practices. Drink a glass of calcium-rich milk and come on down. 10:30 a.m.-noon. Free. Natural History Museum, Second Floor (Inside the “Written in Bone” exhibition).
Saturday August 25 In conversation with Jananne Al-Ani
Contemporary visual artist Jananne Al-Ani joins the Freer and Sackler Gallery’s curator Carol Huh to discuss the evolution of her work. The conversation will examine the award-winning artist’s approach to photographic media and its relationship to representations of the Middle East. According to The Contemporary Art Society, the Iraqi-born artist “offers an array of sensory and intellectual pleasures.” 2 p.m. Free. Sackler Gallery, Sublevel One.
Sunday August 26 The Illustrated Story of the Pan
The steel pan, the device behind that cool, hollow drum sound, is the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago, which celebrates its 50th anniversary of independence from Great Britain this year. Leading researcher of steel band history Kim Johnson discusses this unique musical heritage and explores links between the African drum and the older Carnival tradition of beating bits of metal for percussion. She will also demonstrate pan music. Book signing of The Illustrated Story of Pan follows. 2 p.m. Free. Anacostia Community Museum.
August 6, 2012
Barbara Kruger’s iconic red, white and black words are finding their way back into a familiar place—one that is not a gallery. “Belief + Doubt,” the latest exhibition by the artist famous for slogans like “I shop therefore I am,” opens August 20 in the bookstore at the Hirshhorn Museum. Until then, visitors can preview a site-specific installation in the lower lobby that plasters the escalators, floors, walls and ceilings with words that portray themes from absolutism to consumerism.
The space is one of the Hirshhorn’s most highly trafficked locations, but it has long remained a subdued passageway that simply connected visitors to more contemplative, artistic galleries. Exhibition curator Melissa Ho says that the decision was “based on a larger effort by the museum to activate new parts of our campus to show art. The lobby is a place of total movement. It is not a sheltered place but one with lots of bodies, all going places.”
Kruger’s work was deemed a perfect fit for both the museum’s iconic architecture and for the bustling hum of the lobby. “[Her] art operates outside of galleries, in the middle of everyday life. It really has the power to grab your eye and stick in your head. This space was previously ignored, but now people are riveted. They spend a long time reading down there.”
“Belief + Doubt” invites its audience to participate in a lobby of language. The power of words can be found not only in meaning but also in size, with some words taking up entire walls, and open-ended questions covering the floors and ceilings. Kruger makes use of architecture so that reading, an act generally considered still and personal, becomes a much more physical experience.
Many of the themes represented in the exhibition will be familiar to Kruger fans, including consumerism and questions of the circulation of power. Different, though, is how these themes echo given their new context: the nation’s capital during the onset of an election year. The largest display and the inspiration for the exhibition’s title, reads: “Belief + Doubt = Sanity.” This language contrasts starkly with the absolutism that abounds in many political campaigns. “It’s telling us that ideological absolutism isn’t always a good thing,” says Ho.
The exhibition continues into the museum’s newly renovated gift shop, forcing shoppers to consider the act of purchasing while browsing. The words, “You want it, you buy it, you forget it” loom over museum-goers as they shop, a detail that Ho says makes the experience more valuable. “When those words are actually executed,” she says, “you understand them all the more.”