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2016 Fall Culture Guide

A Eulogy for Elephants

Photo: Erika Dufour

Artist Jenny Kendler makes a plea to end poaching.

By Jason Foumberg

Published Sept. 12, 2016

Jenny Kendler arrives for our interview fresh from an excursion foraging wild mushrooms, hundreds of them, on a hill just over the Wisconsin border. “I try to heal from modern industrial society on a daily basis,” says Kendler, an artist and ecological activist who leads foraging trips around the Midwest and in her Ukrainian Village neighborhood. Kendler’s connection to the natural world isn’t just a pastime, though. Over the last few years, the 36-year-old has installed pieces everywhere, from a Costa Rican rainforest to the Lincoln Park Conservatory.

In November, Kendler builds on her particular blend of eco-­activism and art with an ambitious new sound sculpture. Titled Music for Elephants, the conceptual work features a vintage player piano that tinkles a six-minute, 300-note tune, with each note representing the 1,266 trunked pachyderms lost every month to poaching. The piece begins with a chaotic mosaic of sounds and gradually dims to silence, a moment meant to symbolize the eventual elephant extinction. Kendler based the work on data collected with biodiversity specialists at the Natural Resources Defense Council, where she is an artist-in-residence.

“I believe elephants have a complex language, like humans,” says Kendler. “How stupid would we feel if they all died before we could figure it out?”

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