Wild animals exist within our urban spaces, often unseen and unnoticed. They have their own borderlands and migrate within topographical maps made of animal habitats.
On a cold, snowy day in March 1985 an artificial bat “cave” was inaugurated by the town-mayor. A photograph records a group of school children dressed like bats at the official opening. The photograph was taken by Dr. Aldo M. Voute of the State University of Utrecht, a bat researcher that instigated artificial hibernation sites. Many monuments of the military, such as forts and bunkers, are now protected micro bat roosts having evolved into nature reserves. Bats are now dependent on these synthesised urban habitats.
The micro bat fulfills its role in ecological systems by eating its own body weight in insects. Their population in Europe is declining but they have received legal protection. Since then, bat researchers have been carefully constructing and recording the use of different artificial bat housing, to identify successful bat box designs and roost sites.
The nocturnal wanderings of these animals have created misplaced fears throughout cultural history.Their ability to see in the dark, at the time when we are most vulnerable, has placed these creatures of the night, into the category of horror in myth and story telling. It is scientifically acknowledged that humans share the ability to perceive objects in darkness through the same method as the bat. The blind, using echolocation, can experience images using sound waves that bounce off surfaces to convey spatial information, effectively seeing with their ears. It is a learned skill. A developed perception of the world. Philosopher Thomas Nagel posed the question “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?”. He concluded that where consciousness occurs in animal life that the experience is fully comparable in richness of detail to our own, but in the example presents sensory apparatus so different from ours that the problem is impossible. It is a proposition not expressible in a human language. We can hardly imagine the subjective character of their experience. But perhaps we can imagine … for a moment, seeing with our ears. This is the background to my work ‘Frequencies’ where I explored nonhuman perceptions in the darkened space of Fort Gagel, in Utrecht. Built in the early 1800’s as a military post, the underground cavern held perfect darkness to install a work that visualised how a micro bat might hear an architectural space and formulate a spatial image of its environment. The sound waves are visualisations of how a bat sees with its ears.