“Shifting baseline syndrome" is a socio-ecological phenomenon in which scientists are unable to identify correctly a species’ "baseline" population size. Often, the only way to collect information for these studies is through oral transmission and local interviews, or by referring to literature and art from the past, as there is no "reliable," scientific written record or data. fish mystery in the shift horizon, an exhibition of new works by Catalina Ouyang, draws connections between the shifting baselines of ecological systems--citing a study of now-extinct baiji and Chinese paddlefish in the middle-lower Yangtze River Basin--and the so-called "shifting baseline" of heritage, language, oral transmission, and ancestral knowledge in the diaspora.
"fish mystery" is a mistranslation of the name of Yu Xuanji, a Tang-dynasty poet, priestess, and courtesan executed for murder, whose language haunts the space. The work draws language from texts on shifting baseline syndrome, haunted landscapes, and ghostly, quantum discontinuities, as well as English "translations" of Cai Yan's poetry written in the spirit of Yu Xuanji, or Fish Mystery. The specters of extinction reanimate in the work as vengeful spirits. Mistranslation is metabolized as an act of rupture, casting an irreverent line through history, across continents, and across generations.