I’ve become just as fascinated by the diverse ways in which other artists and designers have approached working with birds’ nests (and the many ideas and resonances these objects provoke) as I have with the reality of the nests themselves. There’s some really amazing and interesting work out there: tree houses, hotels (!), installations, site-specific sculptures, photo essays … the list seems to be endless, and a quick google search brings a plethora of images and projects. Such a vast range of work also speaks to the enduring ability of the nest-as-object to captivate the imagination and provoke responses in people.
One the one hand, I think much of the art and design work dealing with nests speak directly to the tug of desire, of a deep longing in humans for all kinds of safety and security: physical, emotional, and psychological. On the other, there’s a more analytical need: the puzzling at – and the puzzling out of – the brilliant engineering and construction that goes into these structures. I mean really … no hands or opposable thumbs, and just look at what a bird can create for itself and its young. Quite humbling, to me at least.
I thought I’d share a few images of some of the nest projects I’ve found on my travels in the virtual world; some of them archive human and avian relations in a broader, direct sense, while others riff on the imaginative conjurings that nests provoke:
I absolutely love this work, and was delighted to be gifted a copy of the book created from this project, Fifty Nests and the Birds that Built Them.
The diversity Beals captures in this collection of images is really quite stunning, as is the tension between their incredible fragility and their endurance as constructed objects. I was instantly struck by the range of materials used by the birds as well … well beyond the ‘usual’ of twigs, leaves, grass, lichen, and moss: spider silk, bits of chicken wire, hairpins, bits of thread and fabric, plastic twist ties, twine, nails … the list is truly a testament to adaptation and resourcefulness.
Chris Jordan is another fantastic photographer who has turned his fine eye (and lens) to avian themes. His photoessay on the plight of albatrosses on Midway Island is thoroughly arresting, and speaks volumes regarding the far-reaching impact of human-made materials on the environment.
These are such loss-filled, lonely images. I find myself haunted by them … but also heartened by artists such as Jordan and Beals, who use their work to highlight the extent to which the human search for comfort and safety of one sort or another wreaks havoc in other ways. A profound reminder of individual responsibility and collective impact. I encourage you to have a look at what Jordan is doing to actively change the balance on Midway: http://www.midwayjourney.com/
Part sculpture, part performance … Verdonck’s work is looking directly at human-animal relationships (among other things!) I find the disruption created in the urban context quite interesting – it’s not simply the spectacle of the unexpected – although that’s certainly a factor. What struck me in looking at the work was the way in which the physicality of this nest, perched as it was on the exterior of such a clean-lined monolith, spoke to the nest-like aspects of the cubicle farm and the high rise apartment – and perhaps exposed some of the human messiness behind those glass walls. The the comments made by passersby were interesting and quite thoughtful as well. It’s quite a structure, regardless of what one thinks of the artist’s intent here.
This is quite a lovely take on the the idea of the nest-as-refuge: the height, the move to monumental scale and the durability of materials (this is all-metal construction) strikes me as an assertive statement, perhaps a challenge to the reality of a real nest, which is precarious, exposed, subject to damage from the elements.
In short, the ultimate tree house! A delightful foray into imagination that speaks to the ideas of camouflage, hide-and-seek, ‘nesting’ as a familial or conjugal enterprise regardless of species. I just wish there was some way for humans to fly to the entrance!
There’s more – so much more – work out there … it would wind up being a bit ridiculous to go on.
Suffice to say that each project raises its own set of questions with respect to the way in which the nest-as-object becomes a site upon which (or through which) a variety of human needs are expressed. Some of these are part of the ongoing ponderables associated with the NEST project overall: why the ongoing attachment to non-human structures? How does our response change with changes in the scale of the nest? In the materials? What about location?
What about combinations of those variables: scale – materials – location ?
Such is the nature of the work … and with that, off to the studio!