Collected Objects Belonging to Bird Biologist, Cleo Petros


Various items collected in a wooden box, including: a piece of canvas, an Auk skin, a dream journal and scrapbook, and miscellaneous clippings of types of birds.

Objets divers dans une boîte en bois : un morceau de toile, peau d’alque, journal de rêves et album de scrapbooking, coupures montrant divers types d’oiseaux. Carnet de croquis à reliure noire avec dessins et écriture à l’encre, graphite, crayon de couleur et collage mixte. Fausse peau d’alque de matériau inconnu (peut-être résine et peinture), fragment de toile, boîte en pin avec charnières en métal.

Cleo Petros
Private Collection
Bas Jan Ader
Box: 31.8cm W x 26.7cm L x 7cm H | Journal: 20.32cm W x 24.8cm L x 1.3cm H | Colouring Book: 21cm W x 27.9cm L x 0.6cm H | Skin: 15.2cm W x 17.8cm L | Cards: 7cm W x 4.1cm L
Various, including black bound sketchbook with drawings and writings in ink, graphite, coloured pencil and multimedia collage. Faked Auk skin of unknown material (possibly resin and paint), canvas scrap, pine box with metal hinges.
Dream journal cover
Canvas with text
Blue and green birds
Photograph of the artist
Dream Journal Pencil Sketch

Transcript of letter accompanying objects:

8 March 2011

Dear Mark Ferguson, of the Rooms,

St. John's, Newfoundland

My name is Cleo Petros and I am a bird biologist. This past fall we conducted an annual bird count out on Funk Island, northeast of the island of Newfoundland. It's a provincially funded count and I've been on this trip for the past three seasons. We travel from your city to Twillingate and take a boat out to Fogo Island and from there set up even further to the Funks. When youre out there on the sea, out past Fogo, which is pretty far out there, you begin to lose your sense of place and time. Anyway, I mention this because of what occurred. As I was banding murres and birds that will perhaps make their southerly migration one last time to the Gulf of Mexico (and perish there in the oil soaked seas and never return) I found a package crammed into the rocks behind some well tended nests (I can show you the cuts to my wrists from their sharp bills). it was a piece of folded canvas. I took my thermos and sat on a ledge away from the puffins where they tend to dive bomb you and unfolded the canvas. This what I found. The canvas was written on. You can read it for yourself though it took some time for me to read the smudged print and I did not know how long it would last in the elements so I spoke the text phonetically into my phone and then, using an app you can download for free, translated this speech, which was Danish (I know some Danish), into English and I've printed off the English version for you. Here's what it says:

Please send this to my mother. Mother it is Jan.

I love you. I was foolish. The rudder broke and I

tried to jury rig but the sea is all tears. If you get

this, I found a treasure map on this beautiful island

of birds. Please consider. With love, BJA.

I believe this letter may be from the conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader, who disappeared in 1975 while trying to cross the Atlantic in a 13 foot boat. Now, inside his folded canvas was the following (you have it too), this dark skin that is a bit like dried seaweed. We took this to the lab back in Toronto and discovered it was flesh. We sent a sample for DNA testing in Washington and the skin is, in fact, the skin of a great auk. You have an auk in your Rooms display and I think this may be the only preserved auk skin in the world. You will know the auk as the great northern penguin, now extinct, but it fed the early explorers as they charted west looking for a route to China. Anyway, upon this skin is a rather strange letter. It has taken us a while to translate it (you have the original) and we believe it, too, is in early Danish, by a John Scolvus:

In the beginning was a wave and the wave was God and the

wave has told me to be truthful. It is the year 1476. My real name

is Columbus. Beneath this island I have found oil. The auks we

have eaten. We kill an auk, strip its feathers, use its oil to make

a fire to boil water. In this boiling water we cook all of the auks. We

feed the fire the feathers and skin of the auks, we eat the meat

and store the feathers and oil. The oil is the body of the past.

The exhaust of oil will kill the future. Know this. I am your

Discoverer. JS

Could this be a letter by Christopher Columbus, who some consider to be Jonas Scolvus? Let us know what you think of these letters, and what they may mean.


Cleo Petros

Marine Biologist