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Juan the Hurricane Monster

by Gilbert van Ryckevorsel

The inescapable approach of hurricane Juan on the 28th of September, 2003, followed a straight line from Bermuda to the North Atlantic coastal city of Halifax, Canada. It was characterized an hour before landfall by a meteorologist from the Atlantic Hurricane centre in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, who exclaimed: "A monster is approaching us!"

Gilbert van Ryckevorsel,
Gilbert van Ryckevorsel, "Juan the Hurricane Monster", storm debris, driftwood, Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, Canada, 2004.
As JUAN rampaged through our city during the night of 28/29 of September the sound of wholescale destruction and the silent flashing of exploding power lines surrounded us for 2 hours - a lasting imprint of the experience.

At daylight the next day, a scene of destruction showed a chaos of fallen trees in my yard. Across the street one trunk held up by its side branches showed a weird growth deformation, suggestive of the words of the weather forecaster. I could see a monster shape in that fallen tree and my mind became obsessed with developing the idea: "Let's build a monster from these storm-felled timbers."

Over that winter I built the statue in a barn behind our house in Mahone Bay: a driftwood sculpture made of the trunk of a fallen tree and finished with driftwood from along ocean shores, from lake sides and tree bark, all selected along the lines of the most awesome prehistoric dragon, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and I called him "JUAN the Hurricane Monster".

It measured 18 x 10 x 7 feet. Fastened to a platform base, surrounded by birch branches, it stood as a giant garden exhibit in the front yard of our family home in the coastal harbour town of Mahone Bay, Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia, Atlantic Canada. This public exposure became the most photographed subject in a very picturesque historic town over the summer seasons of both 2004/05.

To my neighbors, the monster is a magical creation of my imagination, a disaster visualized and a unique remembrance of hurricane Juan and other ocean-born violence visitations such as cyclones and tsunamis and their floodings wherever they occur. In Western traditions the monster is a legend related to a more awesome fixation with danger. Our fascination with fantasy monsters relates to the tales of ancient cultures exemplified in the Greek Odyssey by Ulysses, by Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, the Loch Ness monster in Scotland, the story of Moby Dick by Hermann Melville and film productions such as Jaws, Jurassic Park and other science fiction titles of the present time, even the naming of a storm: Katrina - a now historic name in the U.S.A.

Gilbert van Ryckevorsel,
Gilbert van Ryckevorsel, "TRITON", digital image, Guardian of mythical Atlantis, responsible for driving powerful tsunami waves around the worlds oceans, 2004.
The rich Maritime History of Atlantic Canada of the last three Centuries has seen both native and new American mariners returning from ocean voyages with myths of monsters seen in nature. To the Chinese, the monster/dragon tradition reaches back in time relating simply to good and bad experiences in life. The good dragon survives as a personal protector.

Personally, I have spent my lifetime exploring underwater worlds in oceans and freshwater, expressing my creativity in a variety of artistic media always relating to submarine subjects. My interest in paleontology, in fossils and the history of prehistoric life has followed my travels worldwide and prepared me to find inspiration in a renewal of the monster myth. Oceanic and freshwater worlds are not ours to dwell in and the unknown part of this alien subsea world captures our imagination in shapes and forms both friendly and dangerous.

"Juan the Hurricane Monster", as a stand in for these natural disasters, helped the public visualize their awesome adversary. The legend is reborn in Mahone Bay, on the North Atlantic Coast of Canada at a time when disastrous monster hurricanes annually are cruising toward continental shores.

An artistic creation is successful when widely appreciated by audiences young and old. As such, I am encouraged to build Ocean Monster statues in memory of natural disasters because they make us think: The powers in nature are contained when we treat our environment with respect, or these monsters become alive and may threaten our very existence.

In situations of looming danger from the unknown, the experience of being exposed to a threat creates monsters in our imaginations until we can see the reality of what happened. The experience of life and death known from long before humanity became civilized is a story of survival. I believe that my peaceful driftwood monsters remind us of the powers of nature, which when treated respectfully, do indeed have a protective function.

Gilbert van Ryckevorsel

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