Among the urban populace, not much attention is paid to the presence of wildlife, or its lack thereof, in our everyday lives, and yet various means of effigy abound. Ubiquitous examples can be seen in trades of porcelain sculpture, affordable bottles of wine, and ironic T-shirts featuring bears, rabbits, and fish. From a set of antique deer horns appearing in a rustic new restaurant to a penguin endorsement on a dry cleaner’s signage, effigies often appear in city life, but seldom are recognized.
For the writer Dani Couture, this observation created an entry point to view her surroundings more critically. Her blog, Animal Effigy, which she recently wrapped up after two and a half years, catalogues hundreds of examples and dozens of species spotted among urban life. The project was inspired, in part, during a reading by the poet and playwright George Elliott Clarke, who described a particular nostalgia for the woods and the North as a part of the Canadian psyche, especially among writers. We all want to be coureurs de bois, he said, yet most of us live in cities. This is true especially for Couture, whose writings and prose often evoke natural settings, as she finds herself seeking traces of wildlife in the city, an effigy-owner in plenty. From the time she started the site animaleffigy.com, in 2008, the project began to reveal itself to her. “I couldn’t walk five steps without taking a photo of a logo, or a store display, or someone’s jacket, or a tattoo,” she says. “It was everywhere. And at times it was overwhelming.”
From a childhood spent moving around southern Ontario, landing mostly near woods and water, seeing genuine animal habitat was not uncommon for Couture, but it amuses her to note urbanites who have long forgotten their relationship to flora and fauna, catching themselves off balance in instances where the two worlds collide: bewilderment when a deer shows up on King Street, or the feeling of horror when a skunk is found living in their garden. Despite our urge to bring the natural world back to us, we often view the countless raccoons, the mice in the subway, and the cooing of pigeons as nothing more than disagreeable, an unnatural break from our regular routine.
These gaps in awareness aside, our effigies only grow in number and continue to enter our homes by way of decorative pillows, books, and gift cards. Our longing for the natural world exists in a different, more commercial way in the paraphernalia all around us, and digitally, with one effigy further, it lives in this on-line archive.