Cape Town artist illuminates plight of Table Mountain’s endemic species with roadside spectacle

A Cape Town artist is gaining international attention after installing an eye-catching series of glowing animals along a South African highway.

The Endemic Project is an immersive visual-audio installation dotted along a densely forested road near Cape Town. The project is the brainchild of local artist Bryan Little, who is hoping to raise awareness of the unique flora and fauna – some of which are critically endangered – that exist within the surrounding areas of his city.

Created with reflective tape, the animal artworks poke out of the shrubbery on Rhodes Drive, lighting up under drivers’ headlights as they pass by at night. The otherwise dark 7 kilometre stretch of mountain road is also brought to life with an accompanying audio tour created by sound designer Sylvan Aztok, who uses atmospheric music and animal calls to enhance the artwork.

To get the full experience, drivers are encouraged to download and listen to the free geotagged soundtrack while driving at 50 kilometres per hour down the six-minute long stretch of Rhodes Drive.

Little didn’t run The Endemic Project concept by officials before installing the self-funded artworks but says that, in the six months the animals have been lighting up Rhodes Drive, he has yet to receive a single complaint.

“Right in amongst the city you’ve got this incredibly kind of primitive road. It’s so dark and eerie and mysterious, and quite beautiful actually,” Mr Little told BBC Earth.

He wants to inspire people to “wonder again for the natural world” by asking the question: “What does it actually mean to have something that is endemic to your area?”

To one side of Rhodes Drive is Table Mountain National Park, a spectacular area and important zone for biodiversity. Table Mountain itself is home to around 1470 floral species, of which 70% are endemic to the mountain. The national park is also roamed by a sundry range of animal species, including chacma baboons, rock hyraxes and a rare land-settled colony of penguins.

Little says that he has been overwhelmed by the reaction to his project thus far.

“I couldn’t believe the response,” he said. “It was hugely popular immediately.”

Priya Reddy of the City of Cape Town, the authority responsible for Rhodes Drive, also told the BBC: “The City prides itself on the creativity of its residents. We welcome any initiative that enhances the aesthetic beauty of Cape Town and further highlights our commitment to innovative design.”

Now that they’re gaining international media attention, one might expect Little to put measures in place to prevent his much-vaunted artworks from being stolen by road-side thieves.

But the artist and filmmaker is purposefully leaving his enlightening installations unprotected, because he believes that the potential for the artworks to be stolen is an important part of the project. Little says that this reflects the “feeling of loss” of animal species going extinct in real life:

“It’s kind of a way to make someone feel something for something they might never otherwise see, you know, like a geometric tortoise or a ghost frog, you have to be fairly lucky to see something like that.

“But with this project I can… almost manipulate that feeling of loss for them so that it becomes less abstract, this idea or notion of species extinction.”

All images via Bryan Little / Facebook

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