Hannah Imlach (b.1989) is a visual artist and researcher based in Glasgow. Over the last ten years, she has developed a collaborative practice, working within communities of specialist environmental knowledge to create artworks on complex ecologies, emergent scientific research, and renewable energy transition. Imlach’s projects begin with fieldwork, are developed through an active studio practice, and result in site-specific sculpture, film and photography, alongside public events, lectures and publications. Previous projects have investigated deep-sea coral reefs, the ecology and restoration of blanket bog, and the significance of renewable energy transition to island communities. Imlach is fascinated by specialist practices of observation, the rarefied insights gained by environmental scientists and conservation practitioners. The interactive sculptures she creates seek to explore these practices of attunement, observation and care to better understand and advocate for the more-than-human world.
Imlach is a practice research Ph.D. candidate within Human Geography at the University of Edinburgh exploring the potential for site- and species-responsive artworks within the RSPB Loch Lomond nature reserve. Her project, Close Encounters, is supported by the Scottish Graduate School for Arts & Humanities.
In July 2021, Imlach installed Moth Kota, a multispecies artwork set within Loch Lomond’s Airey woodland. The shelter-sculpture was designed to engage both human visitors to the nature reserve and the site’s vibrant Lepidoptera. It is the first artwork to emerge from Imlach’s doctoral project and was created through a collaborative research process with RSPB ecologists, wardens and volunteers, moth enthusiasts, filmmakers, and material specialists.
Visitors to the woodland, found Moth Kota at the furthest point of a winding trail, its moon-like sphere translucent or gently emitting rays of ultraviolet blue. The moths that inhabit this woodland are usually difficult to detect, nestled within the undergrowth, they only become active at night. Moth Kota gathered these elusive creatures; they rested of the sculpture’s surfaces, intricate wings folded, or appeared on-the-wing, dashes of colour, a momentary reflection of light on compound eyes. The sculpture was designed around the behavioral cycles and sensory worlds of Lepidopteraas a space for delicate and ethical forms of multispecies encounter.
Imlach developed Moth Kota during the UK’s first coronavirus lockdown, while unable to complete fieldwork in Loch Lomond. During this time, she began an online conversation with RSPB Assistant warden Luke Wake, experiencing Spring wildlife through his detailed descriptions. Moth recording became a focus of their conversations, as one of the few conservation practices uninterrupted by the pandemic. Wake and Imlach immersed themselves in moth recording and research, as they learnt the intricacies of identification. When restrictions allowed, Imlach travelled to Loch Lomond to share in the careful practice of moth recording. These experiences, and her initial moth encounters, inspired Moth Kota.
Gathered inside Moth Kota were a collection of botanical materials: aromatic night-flowering plants that both feed and are pollinated by moths (and other creatures). The side panels of the structure were stretched with a hexagonal mesh reminiscent of the cells of a compound eye. Above, sat a light source, irresistible to certain Lepidoptera, and a reference to moth orientation by lunar and astral phenomena. These elements of a moth’s lifeworld were the starting point for the artwork. It is just a start, since to imagine the world of moths, as geographer Matthew Gandy reflects,
is to step outside the realm of human perception… and encounter colours beyond our visible spectrum along with other kinds of sensory stimuli we can only guess at. The sensory world of moths is most probably a synesthetic space in which the acoustic, haptic and olfactory realms are interwoven beyond the parameters of the merely visual.
Increasingly, these ancient lifeways are being disrupted by habitat destruction, rising global temperatures, and light pollution.
Moth Kota is part of an ongoing dialogue between art and nature conservation. A working group initiated by Imlach, and RSPB Loch Lomond site manager Paula Baker came together to discuss the challenges and opportunities of creating an artwork for both human and nonhuman participants. Their conversations covered ethics and ecology, the artwork’s form and materials, moth behavior and participant experience. The sculpture, built in aluminum, accoya, galvanized steel, blown acrylic and fabric mesh, is an outcome of this discourse and of Imlach’s wider project. The research explores the role of creative practice in conservation contexts, seeking to develop new forms of ecologically focused, transdisciplinary collaboration.
A kota (Finnish) or Goahti (Northern Sámi), is a space designed for sheltering and gathering, somewhere to meet and share. Moth Kota borrows this form to create a space for encounters between species. As we collectively face a crisis of biodiversity, there is much to be gained from considering other-than-human perspectives. We will never know how it feels to inhabit the world of the moth, however getting close to these creatures and imagining life through their eyes, is likely to bring us fruitful new perspectives.
Moth Kota was temporarily installed for the month of July 2021, an artist film documenting its presence within the woodland will be released in early 2022.
View Hannah Imlach’s previous artworks here: www.hannahimlach.com
And watch an introduction to the Close Encounters research project here: www.hannahimlach.com/Research