Nocturne is a series of wild altars located in an urban wilderness that are meant to be experienced at dusk, dawn, or at night. The first series of Nocturne altars was built and placed by the project’s author, LA-based artist Isabel Beavers, who has later opened the project and invited audiences to build altars in their local urban surroundings. By welcoming others to engage in the collective, distributed practice of altar building, the Nocturne project aims to grow a relational network of more-than-human collaborations with diverse local ecosystems that offer opportunities for generating new eco-rituals.
Rooted in intimate experiences with the landscape, seascape, and more-than-human species, each altar site calls upon a specific and ephemeral moment of sensory collaboration: times when the sun, light, sound, and scent coalesce through the senses of the human body to produce sublime or ordinary but intimate moments.
The aesthetics of Nocturne altars are important to their functioning. They are light, semi-translucent sculptures made of beeswax – as a sustainable alternative to plastics – with attached LED solar paneled lights. As the sun fades, the lanterns illuminate at dusk, forming a beacon in the dark and enticing viewers from afar as they notice a soft glow emanating from the trees. The sculptures thus generate a serendipitous moment in which the passerby notices the sculptures’ light first.
“This pause and break in their typical movement patterns and speed are meant to lead to a moment of deeper observation of the network of more-than-human species around them. Generating this embodied experience aligns with relocalization practices, and subverts the hierarchy of intellectual versus embodied knowledge present in Western epistemologies. To come back to our bodies is to come home, and in this case to come back to the more-than-human entanglements that we are a part of. “
– Isabel Beavers (2021)
Upon spotting a wild altar, spectators also notice a QR code that has been placed. That allows them to read more about the project, and directs them to put their device away, listen, observe, and spend a few moments noticing and recognizing the lives of all of the other species that surround them. Once the first encounter with an existing altar has been made, it depends on the audience’s will and daily routines whether or not they return to the altar.
“The hope is that they plan to return or think of the altar when moving in other urban wilds throughout the city. This becomes a ritual, as participants return to the altar multiple times, or are inspired to create their own altar. This might deepen their awareness of the more-than-humans around them, inspire them to learn more about the local ecosystems, and lead to a feeling of wellbeing, connection, and eventually attunement to one’s community.”
– Isabel Beavers (2021)
The Nocturne project is an experiment in care-taking, new rituals, and a seduction into intimate moments with the more-than-human world. The practice of generating new ceremonies and rituals with more-than-human species serves as a method of re-localization, de-emphasizing the human-human connection, and re-emphasizing the grounding impacts of human-more-than-human interactions. The network of altars operates as an economy of care – visitors to the interventions are responsible for upholding the integrity of the site, both in the more-than-human species that inhabit it, as well as care-taking of the art piece and altar.
Within the CreaTures project scope, Nocturne has been showcased on several public engagement occasions. Participants of the Nocturne Altar Hack: Wild Designs for New Eco-rituals workshop at the CreaTures Feral track at the 2021 Uroboros festival discussed the possibilities of building altars in their diverse geographical locations. The Nocturne: Sea Altar installation showcased at the Atmospheres Deep exhibition in the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art offered glimpses into the depth of ocean creatures’ entanglements. The Nocturne Radio Walk in Los Angeles took participants for a guided tour around existing altars situated in the local neighborhood.