To record the noise of bats in the Everglades, sound artist Gustavo Matamoros ventured out to the palmettos and pine trees of Long Pine Key at 3 a.m., an ultrasonic microphone in hand, and captured the sound of something he couldn't hear. The bats, who dwelt high up in the pine tree canopies, screeched their echolocation in a frequency beyond the range of human hearing. When he returned to his Bay Harbor Island studio a month later, he lowered the octave range with sound-mixing software and caught the bats' distinctive call.
"They sounded like a little bird chirping, like, 'Pew! Pew!' " recalls Matamoros, whose bat sounds are part of a sound installation at Florida Atlantic University's Schmidt Center Gallery. "It was surprising to hear it sounded so innocent."
Seventeen acoustic tiles are suspended from the narrow, high-ceilinged lobby corridor outside the Schmidt, strung together by braided yellow wires. Matamoros says his sound piece, "Bats and Insects," will transmit the bats, mosquitoes and other insect noises captured during his monthlong art residency in September 2013 in the Everglades to simulate "creatures flying around the hallway."
It's featured in "Common Ground: Artists in the Everglades," a collection of two dozen works produced from the Artists in Residence in the Everglades program. The nonprofit, started in 2001 after Congress passed the $8 billion Everglades Restoration Plan, loans a furnished cabin in Everglades National Park for artists to create pieces inspired by Florida's backyard ecosystem.
"Most of the pieces capture what it's like to immerse yourself and create something in a fragile ecosystem that nobody really gets," says Sybille Welter, who co-curates the show with Jill Lavetsky. "They weren't totally isolated for a month. Park rangers took them on nature walks."
One of the show's more whimsical works belongs to Tel Aviv's Dana Levy, whose "Animal Skull Masks" series incorporates the park's staff. In five black-and-white photos, park rangers obscure their faces behind a snake skin, an alligator skull and bones from other animals. In Levy’s “Emerging From the Swamp,” she stages photos of antique furniture half-submerged in the swamp, a piece inspired by a July Sun-Sentinel article about a 19th century U.S. Army fort found in the Everglades.
Other works veer toward the experimental. Karen Glaser's half dozen photos appear to re-create an alligator's point of view from the swamp, gazing from below the water at a series of distorted trees, moss and other dark-green flora. Two other shots juxtapose a smoldering clearing of trees after a controlled burn with another image of a smoky fire caused by drought.
Susan Silas spent her August 2013 residency rifling through specimen drawers filled with taxidermy birds at the park's South Florida Collections Management Center. In eight digital prints, roseate spoonbills and other birds lay in repose against a stark white background, their eyes missing, with tags listing the cause of death strung to their stalklike legs.
"I've been photographing dead, rotting things for many years. I think there's a tension between beauty and death," Silas, of Brooklyn, says. "It can be both grotesque and beautiful for birds, because feathers don't really deteriorate. They stay preserved."
Common Ground: Artists in the Everglades
When: Friday through Nov. 5 (opening reception: 6:30 p.m. Friday; Gustavo Matamoros talk noon Oct. 2)
Where: Schmidt Center Gallery at Florida Atlantic University, 777 Glades Road, Boca Raton
Contact: 561-297-2661 or Fau.edu/Galleries