Chasing and fearing wolves.
Words by Sanne Kabalt & artwork by Sanne Kabalt
After a 150-year absence, the wolf is now returning to the Netherlands. A few lone wolves have crossed the borders and upon confirmation that some sightings – which first surfaced in the form of poor quality amateur photographs, sometimes of dogs – were in several cases actual wolves, the majority of the Dutch have responded in agitation. Newspapers and social media have filled up with responses bearing witness to a longing for wilderness on the one hand and alternatively a deep, myth-induced fear. Though these reactions may seem to be two extremes, what you fear and what you long for is often the same thing.
The looming presence of this animal changes the perception of Dutch nature. This is a country that is small and densely populated, a country where large stretches of nature are scarce, where all forests are relatively young and manmade. Notwithstanding this, any forest where you might encounter a wolf feels like a very different forest altogether. I photographed several forests in the Netherlands as if they are a stage that the wolf might enter any moment now. The anticipation is enough to give every innocent bush the power of hiding a predator.
Furthermore, I collaborated with a foundation called ‘Stichting Wolven in Nederland’ that was formed in order to prepare the country for the wolf. The nature researchers involved in this organization have been active in giving lectures explaining where and how wolves might live in the Netherlands and arranging compensation for farmers whose livestock might be attacked, long before the first wolf of this century set foot in Dutch territory. Also, they have carefully placed camera-traps that capture anything that moves around the Dutch borders, their sole purpose being to identify a wolf. The resulting images are frequently searched for wolves. This process fascinates me: To see hundreds of images of the same place and to witness everything happening there – branches sweeping, birds swooping, a swine passing, a deer resting – and to focus on one thing only: Wolf? Also, the very existence of these images is due to the anticipation of the wolf, therefore they are each carrying a wolf within them.
If you do run into the wolf, what should you do? The situation underlying all the preparation, fear, longing and agitation is the moment of finding yourself face to face with this animal. It is a fantasy, fairy tales coming to life, as well as a potential reality. I gathered advice on what to do from varying sources, ranging from newspaper articles, online blogs, nature experts, a survivor of a wolf attack, worth-of-mouth advice in an area in Romania where the wolf population is very high and the foundation ‘Stichting Wolven in Nederland’ again. Lay as close to the ground as possible. Look for traces but take care not to step on the trace itself. The advices contradict each other and easily convey how some people are terrified to face the wolf while others would love to encounter the animal. By re-enacting the advices bodily and presenting them to the viewer almost as a manual or as if they are yoga exercises, I hope to encourage you to choose for yourself what you would do and even to start practicing.
The question that constitutes the title of the project is one that you could ask every single photograph in the project. You should ask any forest and any camera-trap-recording. It is a question that you can choose to respond to with one of the poses and actions that have been recommended and enacted. It is a question that is asked of you.
Offer it your neck.
Lay as close to the ground as possible.
Stare it down.
Don’t turn your back on it.
Make yourself large and scream aggressively.
Curl up into a ball.
Look for traces but take care not to step on the trace itself.
Imitate a wolf howl.
Walk backwards slowly.
Take off your shirt and hold it above your head.
Do not touch.
Slump your upper body.