For the birds a personal journey by Jony Easterby
I like so many other artists I know have become struck dumb by the impending crisis of climate change and global catastrophe. Everything I had previously worked towards which I thought to be socially important, aesthetically pure, and culturally relevant started to assume a very dubious and negative mantle.
I needed to address my fear for the future but also work with forces that symbolise, hope beauty and timelessness.
These tangential creative strands can be confusing, but I have learned to go with the flow, nothing ever comes of forcing the vision in the wrong direction. One day whilst kayaking on the Dyfi Estuary exploring tides to address the issue of rising sea levels I travelled upstream to investigate a vast honking flock of geese during their summer migrations. As I paddled around the strandline I noticed that there were thousands of primary wing feathers on the sand and in the water.
These seemingly fragile objects belied their history and purpose. Geese lose all their wing feathers in the summer and for a period of time are temporarily flightless. Prior to this they had been subjected to thousands of wing beats, across thousands of miles of migrations, through storms and seas.
On a whim I pushed the quills of two feathers inside each other and used a pin to create a spindle, that to my delight became a perfect and very efficient miniature wind turbine. In that moment I realised that our connection with birds was the thing that could draw all my divergent strands of thought together.
‘For the Birds’ evolved as a way of talking about these issues and to also allow our work to exist in the space where birds live and thrive. As a group we all create individual works, which are connected by a common set of ideas and outcomes, allowing the sound, movement, dynamics and stories of birds to be celebrated. Alongside this feel good factor there are sometimes deeper and darker narratives in play.
People have asked ‘Where are the birds when all this is going on?’
The simple answer is that they are mostly asleep. Yet indeed all the birds in our show are missing and rapidly disappearing from our lives. We have replaced them with artifice, technology and at worst a simulated televisual version of nature. What remains in our show are fragmented remnant ecologies, human bird imitators, birds imitating humans, caged cuckoo clocks, digitally reconfigured uber flocks and even a 78rpm recording of nightingales from 1939.
Although we are celebrating their lives our birds are in a state of crisis, both in reality and within our show.
Initially we are charmed by the sculptural pieces, the ingenuity, the humour, the beauty and fun of this work, but scratch under the surface of each piece and there is a darker tale to tell. This is the story of our birds.
Catastrophic population loss, extinctions, dystopian representations habitat destruction , layers of artifice and disrupted migrations.
The more I thought, read and experienced about the lives of birds the more I realise that these extraordinary and beautiful creatures are the key to talking about the state of our planet and understanding our relationship to nature and humanity.
Birds offer human imagination mystery and beauty, of other lands, other ways of being, of resilience, of renewal. They are sign-bearers, omens. They are our literal canary in the coal mine.
They transcend boundaries, they bring us news of far away lands and make us realise there are no real borders, no isolated languages and patterns of migration as long as time itself. As such they are the ultimate barometer of the health and vibrancy of our landscape and all the life that lives in it.
Twitter gives a new spin to the medieval alchemists’ language of birds, which translated what was divine and of the air into the earth of humanity and the mundane. The huge global industry of garden-bird nurture, led by the RSPB in the UK testifies, their presence makes us feel good. But what about when we interact with birds directly and face their physical and ecological reality?
What important messages do they offer in creating a home that affirms all life for a sustainable future?
And what inspiration and strength can we draw?
Through art and artifice For the Birds aims to bring a new level of joy and wonder to our experience of our avian friends whilst questioning our dubious history in helping preserve their beauty, life and song for future generations.
This article appeared in Positive News April 2017