September 2008


fieldwork migrascoping telescope Chris Grosset Dominic Richens migratory birds
fieldwork migrascoping microscope Chris Grosset migratory birds
fieldwork migrascoping periscope Chris Grosset Dominic Richens migratory birds

A recent article in the Nunatsiaq News (one of the newspapers of Nunavut) included an article about robins nesting in Iqaluit.  The article speculated that climate change was causing some species of migratory birds to expand their range and adapt their migratory patterns. 

migra-scoping is a “what if” project, imagining a future where migratory birds have taken up permanent residence on Southampton Island in Nunavut.  I’ve built three interactive viewing contraptions (telescope, microscope, and periscope) that look north to catch a glimpse of this future landscape.  Chris G.


fieldwork photo chris grosset migrascoping microscope migratory birds
fieldwork photo chris grosset migrascoping microscope migratory birds

I’ve just returned from a quick trip up to Iqaluit Nunavut.  The day before my trip I took these pictures of microscope on a cool but sunny morning.  When I arrived in Iqaluit the next day there was snow already on the ground.  It shouldn’t have surprised me to see snow in the arctic in September, but it did.  Perhaps I’ve been thinking about climate change too much while working on these sculptures.

microscope was the last of the three sculptures to move from concept into a sculptural form.  I sketched and re-sketched this image of an elongated "S" curve, and then one day I added legs to one of the sketches and the image of a dinosaur skeleton emerged. 

It seemed appropriate to build on this form when thinking about a future of environmental change and adaptation/extinction scenarios for species of birds.  Museums are full of the reconstructed bones of ancient creatures.  To give the sculpture a structure, I found six dead cedar trees standing at the edge of a friend’s farm field.  I cut two of these trees into equal length sections, and then I notched each log and bolted them back together to form the spine of the sculpture.  The other trees have gentle curves and were set aside for the legs.  For the head and tail of the creature, I carved two spheres from laminated cedar 4x4 using my chainsaw.  The spheres are oriented north/south in the field. 

The sphere closest to the ground is on the south end and it contains the microscope lens.  This sphere represents eastern Ontario.  The surface is a natural, lightly burnt finish.  Looking through the lens…well, I’m not going to tell you what you’ll see.  At the opening of migra-scopes several people wanted me to explain this piece, particularly what they saw through the lens.  I couldn’t answer their requests that day because the answer seemed so obvious to me.  If I explained it, would they be satisfied with my answer?

At the head of the great beast is a sphere painted in layers of blue.  This sphere, oriented to the north, represents the arctic (more specifically Southampton Island).  The surface of this globe is covered with small ceramic birds.  Each bird is unique.  I pinched each bird from white clay (I made 250 in total for use in the three sculptures).  From a distance the birds are meant to give the impression of clouds (as if seeing our Earth from space).  On Southampton Island I’ve seen huge flocks of snow geese, but I wasn’t thinking about any particular species of bird when I made these pieces.  These white birds represent all migratory birds.

This is a big sculpture.  I haven’t measured its height yet, but despite its narrow skeleton, it has a big presence in the field.  I’m looking forward to hearing what you think about this one - what did you see in the microscope lens?  What else do you think is going on in this piece?  Send me a comment - Chris G.