Karen Miranda Abel

Hibernaculum





Hibernaculum

An empire gone where all empires must go
Melting away as simply as the snow

~ Richard Le Gallienne, 1913, excerpt from Spring In The Paris Catacombs

April 2012
Earth Day & UNESCO International Year of the Bat
Cast sugar, salvaged chandelier parts, brass wire

An exhibition for International Year of the Bat, featuring a lecture by renowned bat biologist, Dr. Brock Fenton.

Hibernaculum is a chandelier sculpture created to illuminate the plight of Ontario’s 3 endangered bat species and the fragile ecology of their winter cave habitat. Hanging cast sugar bat sculptures and strings of cast sugar beads replace the fixtures’ original decorative crystal prisms, creating an intricate biological structure that references the cluster formations of cave-hibernating bats.

During winter dormancy, their body temperature is lowered to match the cave climate, which causes beads of condensation to form on their bodies, resulting in a jewel-like appearance as they hang from the walls and ceilings of caves. Like crystal chandeliers suspended in a great hall, the winter-long slumber of hibernating bat colonies is a silent reminder that bats are a significant and fragile element of cave environments. With each iteration of Hibernaculum, the crystalline structure of hibernating bats is expanded in size to reference the slow formation of a cave stalactite — a natural mineral deposit that hangs from the ceiling of a cave. Much like the ecology of caves that bats rely on for their winter habitat, stalactites take centuries to develop and can be forever changed by a single disturbance.

The Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus) is an endangered bat species impacted by an emergent fatal disease caused by a non-native fungus afflicting North American bats. Claiming millions of hibernating bats in the U.S. and Canada since 2006, the impact of the mysterious disease has been described as one of the most sudden and unforeseen wildlife declines in living memory. In the absence of scientific understanding, Hibernaculum attempts to illuminate a wildlife epidemic obscured in the darkness of hibernation.

Throughout human history, bats have been threatened due to misinformation and myths. Sugar was chosen as a way of countering the fear-based imagery sometimes associated with these fascinating mammals. Now, the world’s only flying mammal (and longest-living small mammal) is facing what is possibly the greatest danger imaginable.

In response to the unprecedented impacts of the disease on North America’s bat populations, the United Nations Environment Programme declared 2011-2012 International Year of the Bat. Hibernaculum was created in observation of the two-year global species awareness initiative.

I wish to gratefully acknowledge the research support provided by the Royal Ontario Museum’s Department of Natural History.

White-nose Syndrome

White-nose Syndrome is caused by Pseudogymnoascus destructans, a non-native white fungus that thrives in cold, humid environments. Bat colonies that have overwintered in North American caves for generations have been virtually devastated by the disease.

How the non-native fungus was introduced into the delicate microflora of North American caves is currently unknown. A predominant theory is that the fungus was transported into environments occupied by bats on the shoes and clothing of cave explorers. Why WNS is fatal to bats is also not yet clearly understood. The fungus spreads throughout caves and mines afflicting hibernating bats when they are at their most vulnerable, eventually invading the muzzles, ears and wings causing the colonies to awaken and burn precious energy reserves that are vital in order to survive winter. Cold, starved and unable to fly, bats succumbing to the disease fall to the ground and perish.