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Devil-Jack Diamond-Fish

By on May 17, 2013

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91st Species. Devil-Jack Diamond-Fish. Litholepis adamantinus.
This fish probably never existed, except in folk-lore and the imaginations of a few 19th century pioneer/explorer/artist/naturalists like Constantine Rafinesque, who published a scientific description of the fish in his 1820 catalog of fishes of the Ohio River. According to Rafinesque’s account, the Devil-Jack Diamond-Fish grew to 10 feet in length, weighed as much as 400 lb. and bore scales tough enough to repel lead musket balls.

Juxtaposing this fragment of historical/scientific text with a video loop of an underwater pondscape suggests a narrative, and creates a dialogue between ways of knowing: objective/subjective, scientific/mythic, rational/dreamlike.

There was a time in American history when the landscape seemed wild, untamed, and endless; a time when animals grew to unnatural size and ferocity, and fish were clad with bullet-proof scales. As the wilderness has been civilized and humans are an increasingly visible presence in the landscape–as nature and culture look more and more indistinguishable, waterways become the last bastion of the romantic sublime. Rivers and lakes still hold the possibility of mystery and the unknown. In the murk of a mundane pond the imagination takes hold.