The other sea lions
It is based on a collaboration of people engaged in the fields of art, biology, engineering, architecture, sound and music composition.
From the biological sciences
Logistics and creativity
Field recordings of sea lions and pups
Of sea lions, identities and contradictions
The other sea lions is an interdisciplinary project that reflects on the figure of the sea lion (Otaria flavescens) in the culture and identity of Mar del Plata. Their amazing sonorous and social faculties, as well as their territorial practices, inspire us to imagine new alternatives to rethink the uses of sound, space and interspecies relations between the community and these fabulous animals.
As a result of a strong iconography, the local identity is visually affected by the symbol of the sea lion embodied in the famous sculpture “Monumento al Lobo Marino” (1940) attributed to the Argentine artist José Fioravanti. As is the case with the traditional yellow boats of the port, which are presented as symbols that carry a sense of identity but are nevertheless on the verge of extinction, sea lions as animals are unknown, displaced and uncomfortable in real terms. The friction between the stone sea lion and the living and breathing sea lion is central to this research, which we believe can help us to detect a logic of adoration / contempt, characteristic of the local culture.
The present exhibition dialogues with the monumental context around the sea lion, petrified in a model specimen (a large, healthy male wolf, with dominant features, in a pose that connotes power and grandeur) but that masks the age and physical diversity of the species, as well as the great multiplicity of gestures and types of wolves, including the figure of the sea lion. Los otros lobos (The other sea lions) seeks to unframe this symbol by bringing us closer to the real sea lion and its fascinating evolutionary qualities.
The project is completed with a sound installation generated from the vocalizations of the sea lions of the breeding colony of Isla de Lobos (in front of Punta del Este), Uruguay, called acoustic signatures. These sounds are processed and interspersed with musical figures inspired by the sound productions of the species.
Sea lions lived here before us. Mar del Plata before being Mar del Plata was Lobería Grande, a territory inhabited by an important breeding colony of the species. Rest areas occupied many of the tourist beaches we know today. From the first human settlements in the area, a type of coexistence between the two species began to be improvised, which was not always very friendly. In 1895, a bathers’ guidebook promoted the area assuring that “here you will find splendid amusements and you can even have a good time hunting sea lions, which are very numerous in the vicinity of Punta Mogotes” (Rodriguez, 1998). The story of the sea lions’ movements can be told along with that of the immigrant fishermen. The port of Mar del Plata functioned as a space inhabited by the excluded. The face-to-face interspecies encounter between sea lions and humans arises from a common practice: fishing, and a common space: the port. The sea lion left the city and became a stone monument replicated in souvenirs, alfajores wrappers, T-shirts and all kinds of objects. From then on, the Mar del Plata community would dialogue more closely with the sea lion-symbol (Fioravanti’s monumental sea lion), which probably emerged from the tourist’s gaze, although unproductive for the practices of coexistence.
Symbols form perceptions. The animalization of behaviors (the lion and the eagle as models of strength; the dove associated with peace, the fox with cunning, etc.) induces the construction of typologies of behaviors among individuals and weaves a certain system of values in society. But communities and animals are more complex. Arbitrary straight lines linking an animal to a given behavior are generally strategies for segmenting, dividing and stratifying large sets of people. A large part of the challenges that contemporary societies face today has to do with building new practices of coexistence between humans and animals, in pursuit of a paradigm shift in the use and production of natural resources as well as the preservation of the environment. Even more: the alliance between human sensibilities with other sentient worlds is reopening ancient evolutionary ties resulting from ancestral interspecies crossbreeding. Baptiste Morizot defines this particular symbiosis as ecological intelligence, this conceptual device being a good pillar on which to sustain the wolf-human encounter:
“It is an ecological intelligence that we have forgotten somewhere, from the moment we think of the donor environment as Nature, then nature as matter, and we shut ourselves behind our human doors, losing contact with the great vital politics of the animal and plant community. It is an intelligence that probably deserves to be reinvented for today, nourished by the researches of the sciences, traditional knowledge and the evocative power of the arts, to cohabit with intelligence with the living around us and in us”. (Morizot, 2020)
Renewing the ties, especially the symbolic ones, between both species would be a simple and stimulating option to think of other possible scenarios to narrate the inhabited territories. That is why we want to show the other sea lions, that is, the real sea lion. A dynamic marine Iobo that avoids the connotations of “supremacy”, “strength”, “virility”, which have been overturned in the social imaginary through the sea wolf-symbol, possibly hindering interactions based on diversity and respect.
In this direction, the representation of the sea wolf-symbol deepened its connotative apparatus with the work of Marta Minujín. Located at the entrance of the MAR Museum, another magnified sculpture of the sea lion by Fioravanti, crowns the treatment of the sea lion begun in 1940. The monumental dialogue of the sea lion-symbol would be established in the center of the city while the real sea lion-human encounter would continue to take place in the harbor, even if it would be increasingly uncomfortable for the developed fishing industry.
The other sea lions are installed in the opposite direction to the symbolic sea lion: the scientific-artistic project focuses on the sea lion that roars, that listens, that shudders and understands. These animals, bearers of surprising sound capacities that biology describes as “acoustic signatures”, with dialects that occur between colonies, with extraordinary conditions for fishing, called upon to perform heroic actions for the continuity of their species, still have much to teach us and inspire us in our daily practices. We also believe that these interactions can inspire forms of community coexistence, increase the energy of dialogue and listening, and foster new forms of citizenship and knowledge.
For the project, 12 illustrations of 1.4 x 1.4 m intervened with graphic design were exhibited, presenting the sea lions of Mar del Plata under an iconography that emphatically distinguishes itself from the symbolic exemplary wolf embodied in the sculpture “Monumento al Lobo Marino” (1940), a perceptive model for the local identity. A diverse repertoire of sea lions: resting, small sea lions, female sea lions, pups, sea lions injured from harem fights or from spending a fishing season, and more, are exhibited under the visual rhetoric with which the stone sea lion is generally presented.
We set out to reflect on how hegemonic visualities of certain animals are constructed, which in turn mask the diversity of the species. The illustrations were accompanied by a brief caption indicating some particular characteristic of the species, useful to establish sympathetic links based on their evolutionary abilities.
Finally, a sound installation generated by processed sounds and field recordings of the vocalizations of the she-wolves —- — known as “acoustic signatures” — articulated and adjusted the proposal. In addition to approaching the material productions of the species, reproducing the sounds of the sea lions was a way of making present the other end of the species that, due to population distribution issues, no longer inhabit Mar del Plata. The ubiquitous semblance of sound serves to keep alive the presence/absence relationship with the animal.
This term refers to an extremely characteristic sound that the sea lion teaches its pup from its first days of life and that serves to identify it to the young. Although in terms of human hearing these sounds are indistinguishable, puppies learn to distinguish them with a very high precision and this sound link is fundamental for the development of the species.
Mother-puppy vocalizations intervened
Stereo version of the 6 sends used in the sound system
Brief sound sample of the project
Bibliography and relevant information
Morizot Baptiste (2020). On the animal trail. Buenos Aires: isla desierta.
Rodriguez, D., & Bastida, R. (1998). “Four hundred years in the history of pinniped colonies around Mar del Plata, Argentina”. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 8(6), 721-735.
Trimble Micaela, Charrier Isabelle (2011) “Individuality in South American sea lion (Otaria flavescens) mother–pup vocalizations: Implications of ecological constraints and geographical variations?”.
La travesía de los lobos marinos (Blog) // A space dedicated to the dissemination of biological and ecological information about sea lions and their impact on local culture.
Other projects with animals in Mar del Plata: Perro Mío ! Documentary fiction
Martín Virgili (2008). Project: “Perro Mío!”: notes on contemplation and meaning in art.
Fluctuat Nec Mergitur. Documentary on the construction of the port of Mar del Plata.