Thursday, November 24, 2011

A cultural diversion...sort of.

Last week I attended an art exhibition in London's fashionable Shoreditch. Of course the reason I'm mentioning it here is that it was nature-related. Ghosts of Gone Birds is an exhibition which is, in its own words,...

raising a creative army for conservation through a series of multimedia exhibitions and events that will breathe artistic life back into extinct birds species. Ghosts Of Gone Birds celebrates their diversity thru paintings & sculpture, talks & poetry, installations & live music. Plus a series of Ghosts stories that shed light on front line conservation work being done around the world to prevent any more birds migrating to gone status.
Sounds pretty interesting right? Well since I had business in London, I popped along to take a look. What was really fascinating was the way the different artists had approached the subject (especially from my point of view as more of a naturalist than an art lover). Some perfectly replicated the bird in question, others really captured (whilst not making a perfect visual representation of the species) a bird's jizz (or how I'd imagine it). Others focused more on the concept of extinction or telling the sad story of a species extinction (Some lovely riffs on the Stephen Island Wren v. Lighthouse keeper's cat story - a story which like the bird's common name is slightly apocryphal). Extinction is a melancholy subject but a number of the paintings were vibrant celebrations of what has been lost rather than grey pieces of mourning and self-recrimination. Others captured that melancholy perfectly.

Others focused on birds we still have but may not have, Gail Dooley was one with, her raft of albatross busts (some complete with longline hooks) adorning one wall and looking spectacular. Gail's Albatross Project is rather beautiful and each head is spectacular but seeing them gathered like this really gave scale to her work.


Another section of the gallery addresses the issue of hunting in Malta. The bird below is made up of shotgun shells and photos of dead and injured birds shot on the island. The species involved are astonishing. Why any hunter would think it worthwhile to shoot some of them is beyond me and indefensible by any hunter's rationale.


This is one of a number of metal sculptures by Harriet Mead. I believe it is King Island Emu and the painting on the wall behind represents Kangaroo Island Emu but I may have got them the wrong way round....

king island emu

 Below are two pictures of my favourite piece in the whole exhibition. Cally Higginbottom produced a triptych of Bachman's Warblers embroideredinto birch bark. The top picture is part I and the bottom part III....

bachman's warbler triptych

bachman's part 3

The unpicked embroidery sums up extinction and its effect rather beautifully and the delicacy and scale of this piece beautifully sums up a tiny and lost american wood-warbler.

Ghosts of Gone Birds was a beautiful if fleeting exhibition but I suspect it is not quite done although the exhibition is finished. The website talks of taking things out of London and I hope that many of you get the chance to see it or a variation of it in future.

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