“what the crow taught me…” An exhibition of Prints and Drawings 2021 -2022
UW-Green Bay Emeritus Professor of Art, Berel Lutsky will be showing drawings and prints made in 2021-2022 at Gallery 2622 located at 2622 N. Wauwatosa Ave. from December 2, 2022 -January 30 2023.
From September 2020 to September 2021 Beral was the ARTservancy resident at the OWLT Kratzsch Conservancy. Over the course of that year and during visits to the site he became interested in the crows, specifically why there weren’t more of them in what was an ideal habitat. Further research revealed that the crow had it’s own pandemic, West Nile virus, beginning in1998.
While other species can be infected with West Nile virus and survive, for crows it is 100% fatal. By 2008 40% of the world crow population had been killed by the West Nile virus. Per the Wisconsin DNR’s tracking information, the area around the Kratzsch conservancy was one of the hardest hit in the state for West Nile virus infections across all species. Currently, the 68 acres of the Kratzsch Conservancy and the surrounding farms is home to a group of only nine crows where there could/should be many more. Natural selection and the seasonal nature of a virus spread by mosquitos has enabled a documented .09% per year rise in crow populations beginning in 2011.
The crow had no access to vaccines, by nature did not socially distance, and as such provided a devastating and useful model for epidemiologists of the effects of an unmitigated pandemic. An equivalent unmitigated pandemic event for humans would result in about 3.5 billion deaths worldwide. Beyond the stark lesson of the effects of doing nothing in the face of a pandemic, as he studied more about crows, the crow became both a puzzle and a muse. They are smart birds. According to scientists who have studied them – both in laboratories, and in the wild, they can use tools, recognize faces, vocalize meaningfully (to each other), mimic human speech and other animal sounds, have a complex social hierarchy, act in consort with each other against threats, solve puzzles and mourn their dead. Less scientific interactions have documented dedicated relationships with people and other animals.
The crow is also a mythic figure for many cultures, and appears in legend, lore and imagery across the spectrum of human experience. Among the “stuff” in his studio he has a crow mask – nothing “cultural” just a very generic plastic representation of a crow head. Until he first came to be interested in crows, he had never worn it. Masks can be magical, and transforming, even plastic masks. Looking at his own masked reflection, and then drawing it opened narrative possibilities that in turn inform much of this work. When the residency finished, he thought he was finished with the crows, “it seems that they are not finished with me.”