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Panel 6. Birds in Artistic Space and Imagination

The Exploitation and Veneration of Birds: Past, Present and Future

Rebecca Jewell, Artist and Printmaker, UK

This talk will draw on my work as an artist and anthropologist to examine the exploitation and veneration of birds, both past and present. Birds and artefacts made from their feathers, such as capes and headdresses, have inspired my practice as an artist. Following my career from Leverhulme Artist in Residence at the British Museum through to my current work on the preservation, decline and extinction of bird species, I will explore the shared histories of the people who made feathered artefacts in the Pacific, the colonialists, anthropologists, and travellers who obtained those objects, and the museum that now houses them. This talk will not, however, just offer an anthropological account, but instead advocate for art as a way of knowing and understanding birds, their feathers and feathered artefacts. The practice of printmaking and drawing allows artists to reinterpret objects and collections and see historical artefacts and their cultural and spiritual significance in new light. As an artist, I venerate birds through my printmaking and the construction of collages made from hand-printed and coloured feathers. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this paper will ask whether artists can influence the future preservation of birds and advocate for their protection. As the author Jonathan Franzen suggests, ‘Jewell’s work points toward a happier outcome, a reconnection with the primal wonder of birds, a recognition of how poor our world would be without the feathered Other.’


Centuries of Crafted Bird Lines Face Logo Times

Susan Clayton, Université Paris Diderot, Université Paris VII, France

Language and naming constitute a fundamental way of connecting with our entourage, something I set out to convey in my painting “Wordspree Viaduct”, 2016 by setting opposite each other the nightingale, of Keats poem, and the stylised Twitter bird.

A bird singing forth enabled Keats, to formulate his intense, existential quandaries. Further, the songster connects the poet with distant pasts, thus enabling him to span time with panache. In fact birds have for centuries inspired writers to bridge time and space. Also painters to span regions and realms; a recurrent example is a dove linking heaven and earth, and signifying spirituality. Anthologies of birds in poetry, and art, confirm the appeal of these bird lines. In our first part, Spanning regions and centuries, consolidating identities, we will undertake to highlight some of the main articulations of the bridging capacity of bird lines.

When humans address birds by their species name the symbolic gesture of naming is re-enacted. In Confabulations John Berger captures the satisfaction of identifying a bird, as he exclaims “wagtail”. He also feels intimacy - a richness calling for analysis. Giving a proper name to a bird, as does Helen Macdonald, is a further development of the naming. However one may wonder if the richness of bird lines seen so far in my paper persists in a social construction of reality symbolised by the Twitter logo? In section two of my paper, Twixt Skilled and Stylised, I will consider changing bird lines, bearing in mind environmental issues.


Falling Birds

Helena Hunter, Independent Researcher, UK

Falling Birds is an ongoing artistic research project that addresses the alarming decline in bird species globally. It is motivated by the questions: what songs do extinct and endangered birds sing us? How can we hear their stories and what do their representations hide and reveal?

This project was developed during Helena Hunter’s research residency at The Horniman Museum and Gardens in London, UK. During the residency, the artist conducted a series of writing encounters with taxidermy mounts of extinct and endangered birds in the Natural History Collection. She experimented with poetic language to materialise what it might mean to encounter extinct and endangered birds in this way, and to bring the museum specimens into contact with the broader context of environmental change and species depletion. Hunter also worked in the conservation department photographing a series of x-rays of the birds she was working with. The resulting artworks include a series of digital collage prints that blend x-ray images of birds in the collection with fragments of poetic text.

For Winged Geographies, Helena will present a performative reading that includes the x-ray images of the birds as projections along with spoken word and sound. The presentation will trace the movements of the now extinct passenger pigeon, highlighting alternative ‘natural’ histories of how the movements of birds and humans interconnect overtime, and why these connections matter.


For the Birds? Rehabilitating Animals, Rehabilitating Animality at Chicken Sanctuaries

Heather Rosenfeld, University of Wisconsin, USA

There is widespread disagreement about humans should and do relate to chickens. Many agree that the way industrial agriculture treats chickens is problematic, but there is significant uncertainty about alternatives. Chicken sanctuaries are sites that rescue, rehabilitate, and care for chickens, taking them out of production regimes. In doing so, they challenge the idea that chickens are commodities, at least in a traditional sense. Yet, neither are they wild animals. What, then characterizes a sanctuary chicken? How do sanctuary affiliates relate to them? Drawing on ethnographic and survey work at chicken sanctuaries alongside visual storytelling (mapping and cartooning), I suggest that along with rehabilitating animals, sanctuaries are also sites of rehabilitating animality. I outline and elaborate these emergent concepts: anti-farm animals and pets, birds and dear monsters, and direct and indirect ambassadors. Then, I identify tensions therein, such as the struggle to get chickens recognized as “birds” and what that means in terms of medical care and the category of “bird.” This project builds on scholarship in critical animal geographies (Rosemary Collard), on the exclusions of humanism (Sylvia Wynter’s, Aph Ko, and Syl Ko), and on animals and disability (Sunaura Taylor).

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