Two deer fighting in Long Pond Greenbelt. Photo by Jill Musnicki.
By Mara Certic
After a burglar repeatedly tried to break into her parents’ home, Jill Musnicki and her husband had the idea to install motion-sensitive cameras around the property to try to catch the crook red-handed. The police ended up catching the pilferer without the help of the cameras, but the security system she had set up inspired Ms. Musnicki to embark on an artistic investigation of her own.
“As I watched what images came out, I thought it would be neat to use them in an artistic way,” she said. As part of the Parrish Art Museum’s road show in 2012, Ms. Musnicki installed game cameras from Water Mill to Montauk to shoot pictures of unsuspecting creatures as they moved past.
The artist, who is a fourth generation East End resident, wanted to show the lives of the animals who continue to live among us, in spite of all the development that has depleted their natural habitats. The show was called “What Comes Around,” and provided a fascinating glimpse into what animals do when undisturbed by humans.
This Friday, June 27, at the South Fork Natural History Museum in Bridgehampton, Ms. Musnicki will present “What Comes Around II,” which will show the secret behavior of the animals who live in the 1,100 acres of Long Pond Greenbelt.
According to Ms. Musnicki, the cameras she installed throughout the area—which stretches from Sagaponack to Sag Harbor—are typically used by hunters to “track where the action’s going on.”
The artist, however, uses them to catch glimpses of foxes, osprey and endless deer interacting, uninterrupted by the hustle and bustle of humanity. The cameras take still pictures whenever something moves in front of them, Ms. Musnicki explained. She then collected them and has spent hours whittling down the series of images from 100,000 to 5,000.
“I put myself in the zone, sit in front of the computer, scroll through thousands of pictures,” she said. The process, she said, is hugely time consuming: “It definitely takes me away from my painting in the studio,” said the artist who is primarily known for her work in that medium.
After whittling out the photos triggered by a leaf or a twig blowing in front of the camera, Ms. Musnicki enters them into a film editing software in which she, with help, edits the pictures together, speeds up the process and creates a stop-motion film of the undisturbed animal kingdom. “It’s a little tiny pocket of animal life,” she said.
A large part of the artistic process is in the presentation of her hidden cameras’ shots.
Ms. Musnicki’s edits become a “fast little film,” adding an interesting artistic element to the project. The same film will be projected onto two giant screens at the Museum Barn at SOFO. The films will be screened in a round, if you will, with one starting five minutes after the first. “The more screens I have the more dynamic it becomes,” she said.
The Long Pond Greenbelt cameras have captured pictures of “lots of creatures,” Ms. Musnicki said. The nine-month span of this project has allowed Ms. Musnicki to document baby foxes growing up. “There’s a little log that a turtle jumped off of,” she added. The artist’s house faces part of the reserve. “I particularly love the [camera] across the street from me, so much stuff happens there,” she said, citing a brawl that she captured between two deer locking horns.
The project, she added, “involves people in every step of the process. When it comes to show it, I definitely feed off of people. I need help, I get help, people like to help, and so it turns into a nice collaboration,” she said.
Each project is very different, she said. The friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt “know where to go, and that was fun for me, to learn a few places that I didn’t know of.” Ms. Musnicki has also been working in collaboration with the Nature Conservancy on a similar project at the Warhol Estate in Montauk, thanks to grants from the conservancy and Warhol Foundation.
A preview of the Montauk project will be shown on five different screens the next day on Saturday, June 28, at the Nature Conservancy’s Beaches and Bays Gala at the Center for Conservation in East Hampton.
The final Warhol project, which has been in the works for a year, will be shown at a later date and will be the artist’s most dynamic and detailed view into our animal neighbors and “a life of their own in the middle of all of us,” she said.
What Comes Around II will be shown on Friday, June 27, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the South Fork Natural History Museum Art Barn, located at 377 Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike in Bridgehampton. A preview of the Warhol project will be shown at the Beaches & Bays Gala on Saturday, June 28, which will take place at the Center for Conservation on Route 114 in East Hampton.