Strange Animal

Most urban coyotes don’t carry tents and GPS. This one does.

Art | by Gregory Beatty

Photo by participant Chris Huggins, Coyote Walk 2014, Vancouver

Jay White: Coyote Walk
Dunlop Art Gallery
June 21–23

Releasing a coyote with a GPS in downtown Regina and seeing what it did over a weekend would be a great performance art idea. You could never do it, of course. There’d be too many safety concerns. Especially for the poor coyote.

Still, it would be interesting. And it’s not like we don’t already have coyotes in Regina. We do. But actually releasing one, and tracking its movements over a weekend… nope, just wouldn’t fly.

An artist emulating a coyote, though, that’s a different story. And as part of the current Dunlop exhibition The Experiment, curator Blair Fornwald has recruited Vancouver artist Jay White to perform Coyote Walk.

The performance runs June 21–23 and was inspired, White said in a recent phone interview, by his interest in urban wildlife.

“I think most people imagine that other animals live only in wilderness areas or in parks, and that when you’re in the city it’s human terrain,” says White. “But wild animals existed in these areas before we started [re-shaping the landscape] and making graveyards and soccer fields,” White says.

‘Coyotes are grassland animals, and the city is a place they can co-exist with other animals.

“I think it’s really interesting for people to think about, especially as the world becomes more urbanized.”

Wile E. Artist

White doesn’t literally mimic a coyote during his performance. He wears hiking clothes, and carries food, water, a tent and other provisions. But he does try to channel a coyote’s mindset.

In an urban setting, that means keeping a low profile during the day and being more active at night, when it’s easier to avoid people and traffic.

Like the imagined coyote in the introduction, White has a GPS — and people are invited to track and even photograph him. But similar to how they would respond to a flesh-and-blood coyote, they’re asked to keep their distance. If they get too close, in fact, White will end the performance.

White has Indigenous ancestry on his mother’s side (he describes her as part Mi’kmaq and part European from Newfoundland). That, in turn, evokes thoughts of the coyote’s status in many Indigenous cultures as a Trickster.

“I probably don’t look Indigenous so people might not know, but it’s definitely on my mind, seeming like one thing but feeling like another, and being hidden and invisible,” says White. “A coyote isn’t a traditional Mi’kmaq animal, but I do think there is a Trickster element to the performance.”

Guided by an online map of Regina that White traced, he will set out on Friday, June 21 in the afternoon, then end his performance with a 2 p.m. talk at Central Library on the Sunday.

White has already done Coyote Walks in Toronto, Vancouver and Saskatoon.

“The easiest way for me to avoid contact with people, I’ve found, is to follow the diurnal rhythm of animals where they rest during the day, then they get active around dusk,” he says.

“Then they sleep again in the middle of the night, then they’re active again toward morning. It’s just a natural thing that works really well. It’s easy to slip into that sleep cycle, plus it minimizes contact, too.”

White is outside for the entire time. That means weather can be a factor. Then there’s just the logistics of trying to move around a densely populated area on the q.t.

“Sometimes I wonder if people expect they’re going to see me with the tracking software covering large distances,” says White. “But it’s not about walking all over the place, it’s more about keeping going, and sometimes that means only moving small amounts.”

Even so, if the performance runs its planned course, White will be outdoors for 48 hours over two nights. So there’s a definite element of endurance to it.

“I try to be kind to myself,” he says. “I try not to make it a manly thing where it’s ‘Look what I can do!’ If my feet are sore, I need to stop, because I need to take care of myself.”

No matter how careful White is, though, the performance still packs a psychological punch.

“I don’t think I’m an animal, but I don’t feel like a normal human,” he says. “Even when I’m walking down the road, say at 1 a.m., and a car drives by, and it’s the only one, I wonder if they’re tracking me. My heart rate will go up, and I’ll jump into the woods.

“Then there are times where friends will say ‘Okay, we’re coming out at 4 p.m. and we’re going to track you.’ And you think, ‘Oh, here it comes’. So it gets really intense.”

It turns out too that when you act like a coyote in a city you can come into contact with actual urban coyotes.

“The first time I did it, I had no idea,” says White. “Because I was applying their conditions to my life I was walking in a suburb waiting for traffic to die down and I saw three coyotes doing the same thing. They were skirting the schools and forests, waiting to get out and hunt in the fields.

“Then at night I was on a golf course and there were so many coyotes I almost felt threatened,” White says. “That’s when I realized that when people go to bed the city wakes up in a totally different way. You might not notice it if you’re just walking down the sidewalk. But if you’re in a park, and being quiet, and moving from shadow to shadow, you see a lot of animals. It’s pretty incredible.”

To learn more about Coyote Walk visit draworbedrawn.com