CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The world’s largest land mammal and one of its most intelligent and vulnerable species – the elephant – will be the focus of a series of shows at the University of Illinois in late September.
Deke Weaver is a writer, storyteller, graphic and video artist as well as a performer. He also is a faculty member in the School of Art+Design in the College of Fine and Applied Arts at Illinois.
“Elephant,” the second installment in performance artist Deke Weaver’s “The Unreliable Bestiary” series about endangered species and habitats, will be presented at 8 p.m. Sept. 23-27 at the U. of I. Stock Pavilion, 1402 W. Pennsylvania Ave., Urbana. The event is free and open to the public.
Like Weaver’s previous productions, “Elephant” promises to be a one-of-a-kind phantasmagoria, with a little eco-education thrown into the mix. The performance will include a larger-than-life-size elephant puppet, dancers, live music and video projected on two 90-foot screens.
“The Unreliable Bestiary” is Weaver’s enduring project that encompasses site-specific performances, video, a book and a website that explore our “precarious moment in natural history.” Each piece in the series uses a different letter of the alphabet to focus attention on an environmental concept, threatened animal or habitat.
The title for the series combines the literary concept of the unreliable narrator with that of medieval bestiaries, which were lavish, illustrated manuscripts of animal stories rife with spiritual connotations and moral lessons popularized during the Middle Ages.
“Monkey,” the first installment in the series, wove together myth, science, lecture, dance and video in a string of interrelated short stories about humans and other primates. Fittingly, the show’s Feb. 12, 2009, opening at The Station Theatre in Urbana coincided with the bicentenary of evolutionist Charles Darwin’s birth.
Weaver said that “Elephant” is like a quilt of stories with two main patches of fabric: The first about a circus elephant that met a tragic end in 1916 at Elkton, S.D., and the second about the training of mahouts, or elephant drivers. As part of his research for the project, Weaver spent a week at a mahout training school in Thailand.
Weaver hopes to take “Elephant” on tour, staging performances in stock pavilions or similar facilities at universities across the U.S.
A writer, storyteller, graphic and video artist as well as a performer, Weaver is a faculty member in the School of Art+Design in the College of Fine and Applied Arts at Illinois. He has presented his work in venues in Australia, Brazil, Europe, Russia and the U.S. and contributed film and video pieces to dance and video works in the U.S. and abroad.
Weaver’s artistry has been recognized with fellowships at Yaddo, an artists’ residence at Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; the UCross Foundation in Wyoming; and the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire. He is a three-time recipient of regional grants in film/video making from the National Endowment for the Arts and received a grant from the Zellerbach Foundation.
Funding for “The Unreliable Bestiary” project is provided by a grant from Creative Capital, a national nonprofit organization that supports artists of all disciplines pursuing “adventurous projects”; an Arnold O. Beckman Research Award; a grant from the Office of Public Engagement; and a Center for Advanced Study fellowship.
Jim Elkins, a faculty member in art history, theory and criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, will moderate a question and answer session after the Sept. 27 show.
“Elephant” is the first piece in the Center for Advanced Study series, "Knowing Animals: Histories, Strategies and Frontiers in Human/Animal Relations.”
Videos from “Monkey,” Weaver’s blog and more information about “The Unreliable Bestiary” project are available online.