Whether through poaching or pollution, humans are driving animals to extinction at disturbingly fast rates. Artist Jonathan Latiano reflects on that loss with his stunning and somewhat macabre installation ‘Flight of the Baiji.’ Put on view last year at the Baltimore Museum of Art, the animal-inspired installation recreates the skeletons of a school of baiji—extinct freshwater Chinese dolphins—from pieces of bleached driftwood.
In 2006, a search expedition declared the Baiji Yangtze Dolphin functionally extinct, meaning that even if a few baiji still existed in the wild, the numbers would be too small for the population to sustain itself. The baiji population’s dramatic decline is attributed to the industrialization and overuse of the Yangtze River for fishing, transit, and hydroelectricity. Inspired by the baiji’s dismal story, Latiano’s installation of suspended dolphin skeletons serves as tribute to the loss of the species.
Latiano created the ghostly reminders out of driftwood he collected by hand from local freshwater rivers and lakes. He cleaned and bleached the wood before hand carving each piece into the shape of dolphin bones. “I tried to be as true to the Baiji’s actual anatomy as the material would allow,” Latiano said in an interview with BmoreArt. “The entire process of construction was aimed at an attempt to better understand and have some kind of conversation with a creature where that dialogue was physically not an option anymore.” The skeletons are arranged in a hanging arc that appears to rise out of a stack of wood in one corner of the room and travel through the air towards a glowing white disc.
Images via Jonathan Latiano