The Ultimate Fate of Jeremy Fisher (2018)

The Ultimate Fate of Jeremy Fisher (2016): 3D animation, macmini, short throw HD projector, custom built back projection screen and sound bar.

Beatrix Potter captivated generations with characters like Mr. Jeremy Fisher but she also had the mind of a professional scientist. Many may not know that she studied fungi, producing detailed illustrations of specimens and germinating fungal spores on glass plates. Potter attempted to present her fungi research to the science community but faced gender discrimination.

The Ultimate Fate of Jeremy Fisher exploits Beatrix Potter’s magical aesthetic to introduce a major issue of our time that would undoubtedly have received her own attention and concern. Amphibian mass extinction caused by fungal infection, raises the issue of lost insight, like Potter’s own work in mycology which failed to receive its deserved recognition. In this artwork boredomresearch revisit Jeremy in a world now full of lethal fungal spores.

The frog we see posed as Mr. Jeremy Fisher is the last known living Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frog (Ecnomiohyla rabborum) which became extinct in 2016. As a result of an infectious disease in amphibians called Chytridiomycosis, which is invariably fatal. In The Ultimate Fate of Jeremy Fisher, this wonderful tree frog which used to live in the mountains of central Panama, now quietly contemplates the disease which has rendered its species extinct. Chytridiomycosis is caused by the fungus with the scientific name of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). A fungus which has spores, called zoospores, that are motile (can move under their own steam). Bd produces microscopic motile zoospores that swim through water, as well as within moisture found in the soil.  The zoospores are released from the skin of infected animals and spread to others that come into direct contact with them, or share their habitat. Bd was discovered in the mid-1990s and conservation scientists have now shown that this fungus has recently spread around the world, causing catastrophic amphibian population declines and even species extinctions in multiple continents. Bd is only known to infect and cause disease in amphibians, in which it causes severe damage to the skin of adult animals at the microscopic level. Even severely infected animals might have no obvious signs of disease when observed with the naked eye. The microscopic damage, however, prevents the skin from functioning properly and eventually leads to electrolyte imbalance and death due to heart failure. The signs of chytrid fungus infection in amphibians can vary from there being no external abnormalities, to lethargy, skin loss and ulcerations, muscle spasm, excessive mucous under the eyes, and death. When scientists first started investigating Bd, the absence of frogs from areas where they should have been present was the most striking finding.

The Ultimate Fate of Jeremy Fisher draws a link between the the ongoing mass extinction of amphibians and the little know scientific work of Potter, forcing us to count the cost of a world impoverished by prejudicial perspectives. Jeremy will need more than his mackintosh to protect him.

This artwork was produced for a National Trust exhibition at Wray Castle, Cumbria in 2017 and was developed in collaboration with the Garden Wildlife Health project at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

The Women of Wray Castle: Convention and Control, Wray Castle, Cumbria (2 March – 25 November 2018).

Links: National Trust,  Zoological Society of LondonGarden Wildlife Health