Herd Not Seen
Though Illinois is known as The Prairie State, less than 1% of our prairies remain. Far from being simple fields of grass, prairies are in fact diverse and complex ecosystems, reliant on the full complement of biodiversity, including ungulates, apex predators and fire, to truly exist.
American Bison (Bison bison), often called buffalo, are a keystone species, essential to healthy prairies. Though more than 50 million once roamed the U.S., only 541 survived the great slaughter of the 1800s—and today, only a handful remain in Illinois, in protected prairie fragments like Midewin and Nachusa.
Kendler resurrects the specter of this ancestral herd with tiny sculptural bison—made from soil and seeds, the components of the prairie itself—which biodegrade in the elements and become tiny prairies.
Environmental non-profits like NRDC, where Kendler is artist-in-residence, are endeavoring to allow the bison of Yellowstone—the only place where truly wild bison have lived since pre-history, to finally range free—to be bison. One day, many hope to see bison re-wilded across much of their former range.
Herd Not Seen was exhibited at the MCA Chicago in May of 2016, and museum visitors and museum guards and other staff were invited to become stewards of one of these prairie bison. The biodegradable bison were free, but in return the artist asked that they commit to growing the prairie plants and document the process of biodegradation.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love, If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles. — Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass