Shapeshifter, Canis latrans
coyote pelt, leghold trap, taxidermy mannequin by John Schmidt
Imaginary, human versions of wildlife stand both in parallel and in contrast with actual animals through our cultural vehicles of media, myth, and anthropomorphism. The contemporary American cohabitation with Coyote is a polyglot of Indigenous stories, resonant settler-colonial misunderstandings of “prairie wolves”, and news media scare-stories, as well as state-led bounty programs and federal eradication missions. Fundamentally we may often overlook the biological reality that coyotes will continue to adapt and spread regardless of our efforts at elimination, but a shift in this paradigm is unfolding.
Akin to the stoic memorial architecture of cemeteries and hero monuments, Shapeshifter is a statue in flux, a human-made effigy of Coyote incapable of maintaining a static relationship to the reality of evolutionary biology. Shapeshifter is a monument to an actual presence in continual, fluid transformation.
"The coyote is the most adaptable and successful North American mammal besides Homo sapiens. Favoring prairie, basin, and bajada, the coyote has recently extended its range from the forests of Maine to the city parks of Los Angeles, from Alaska to the mountains of Guatemala, and it has done this in the face of one of the most concerted attempts ever made to wipe out an entire species... Mythologically and biologically, Coyote is a survivor and exemplar of evolutionary change."
- David Levi Strauss, from American Beuys, Autonomedia, 1999
This sculpture was originally part of a 2012 collaborative exhibition with Claire & Tesar Freeman: Commission for Treasonous Strategies. In 2016 the sculpture was updated and exhibited in conjunction with Between Dog & Wolf as part of Checks & Balances, curated by Murray Horne at SPACE, downtown Pittsburgh during the 26th International Sculpture Conference.