Two white orbs, like headlights, glow at the top of the black-and-white photograph. They are the eyes of a fox, suddenly conscious, alert, as if it knows it is being hunted. Below its snow-covered feet, blurred horizontal bands stretch across the composition. Embedded within the bands, a ghostlike image of the fox repeats itself twice, haunting the landscape. A lone, barely discernible tree in the background bears witness to the scene.
The motion sensor camera that captured this moment belongs to multimedia artist Hailey Lowe Fennell. Born and raised in Atlanta, Fennell, 27, earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in sculpture from the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta in 2011. She was excelsus laureate, the equivalent of valedictorian.
“Hailey opened up new avenues of examination related to the natural world, urban geography and mapping that still resonate in the department to this day,” says Sculpture Department Chair Susan Krause.
Since than, Fennell has racked up a number of exhibition credits, including “Talent Loves Company” at Barbara Archer Gallery (which also featured “30 Under 30” subjects Bethany Collins and Aubrey Longley-Cook and the recently profiled Stephanie Dowda), “Groundstory” at Agnes Scott College’s Dalton Gallery and an exhibition of work by those in the 2012-13 class of WonderRoot’s Walthall Fellows at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia. Fennell’s work is on display at Kibbee Gallery through Saturday, September 28, in “Outdated,” a two-artist show with Collins. There will be a closing reception from 7 to 9 p.m.
Though she recently moved to Charleston, the artist remains connected to her home town. “Atlanta will always be a place I return to for work and projects,” Fennell says. “Not only is my family still in Atlanta, but the city is close to hiking trails, mountains and nature, which makes it a very special place [for my kind of art].”
The environment is the foundation for her compositions. Whether she’s filming in Serenbe, the North Georgia mountains or Colorado (she earned her BFA from the University of Colorado), her first task is to find the right site, one that’s in a no-hunting zone. Then she sets a salt lick as bait a few feet from a camera she has strapped to a tree. When the camera detects movement for a minimum of 10 seconds, often when the animals are inspecting the salt lick, it begins recording and will continue to record for one minute as long as the movement is continuous.
The salt lick, visible on camera, is shaped like a typewriter. Fennell credits the odd form to a utopian vision described in Richard Brautigan’s poem “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace”: “a cybernetic meadow / where mammals and computers / live together in mutually / programming harmony. …” “I hope to better understand how to find balance between nature and our human tendencies toward technology,” the artist says.
Last December, Fennell ventured off a trail in a nature preserve in Breckenridge, Colorado, where her sister lives, and eventually found a small clearing that was covered with animal prints in the snow. She set up the camera and salt lick, turned on the camera and left it there for four weeks. Her sister retrieved the camera and shipped it back to her.
In the editing room, Fennell transformed the Breckenridge video into the stills that make up “Outdated Machines of the Mountain West,” her work at Kibbee Gallery. She has overlaid some of the stills of animals with images suggesting the white noise signals one used to see on analog television sets.
Ben Goldman, Kibbee’s director, believes Fennell’s work introduces a critical conversation about the intersection between technology and nature. Because the types of animals she captures on video, often foxes and deer, tend to encroach on areas inhabited by humans, Goldman sees Fennell as a pioneer in the study of “the diminishing line between man and nature.”
Her love of nature is rooted in her childhood. “I spent summers on my grandparents’ farm in Alabama, where my sisters, cousins and I would plan archaeological digs in the fields,” she says. “We would find animal bones, rocks, feathers and, if we were lucky, an arrowhead or old horseshoe…. We loved going to the Chattahoochee, kayaking, fishing and hiking the trails, as well as skiing and mountain climbing out West.”
From the age of five, until her grandparents sold their farm when she was 14, Fennell watched deer with her mother. They “would sit in the hunting stands at dusk and wait for the deer to come out into the cornfield to feed,” she remembers.
It was there that she first encountered hunting cameras with motion sensors, the crucial piece of equipment for her present artistic endeavors. In late 2010, when Fennell had lost interest in her more traditional forms of sculpture, those memories of watching animals, Richard Brautigan’s poetry and her adoption of video gave her a way forward.
Her ambition is global. “I would love to do more work around the world,” says the artist, who has already spent time shooting in Italy. “Each place has its own essence and balance between technology and nature.… I have a dream of being able to track certain animals, like coyotes, and capture them on my camera as they move in and out of the cities we have built around them.”