A Matter of Scale

It’s been a very busy few days both in and out of the studio!

Managed to take advantage of the fine weather Tuesday, and spent the morning roaming the city with my camera … many more nest photos are now on the hard drive, awaiting their integration into work.

One of the 'famous' nests in Edmonton ... so many people I have spoken to about this project have mentioned this nest to me. A nice little bit of ingenuity, this.
What I didn't know was that there was a second nest built into the bridge! This one's rather less obvious than its larger cousin farther along, and much better hidden. I almost missed it.

Wandering around and marvelling at these structures – as I always do – got me to thinking about all the challenges around constructing these objects, and how they really don’t change all that much, regardless of scale. It’s all variations on a theme in many ways, with the materials used and context dictating the eventual solution … and of course, some situations are easier than others! It struck me that the Walterdale Bridge pictured above was a great place to build … the pre-existing structure provides so much in the way of stability and security, that it’s more a matter of finding the best space amongst many than anything else. There are much tougher places to work with to be sure …

I am also in building mode – working on a series of sculptures that will also be incorporated into the body of work for NEST this autumn. It’s great to be working this physically – not that the gel-transfer printing is not (my fingertips are still a mess; they’ve gone from blistered and sore to peeling and calloused!) – but the sculptures engage my whole body, directly and simultaneously. Manipulating the materials with a consciousness of their relationships to space and volume – and how best to work with them – is a fascinating process in active learning. Not unlike the process a bird would experience in building a nest for itself – but I lack the avian advantage of some genetic hard-wiring! Again, scale becomes a defining factor, both in the methods of construction and the way the resulting structure is ‘read’: a nest that one can hold in the palm of one’s hand means differently than one that could potentially house a full-sized human being.

Ultimately, it comes down to the relationship between the physicality of the being making the structure and the structure itself  … and it’s that back-and-forth, that dialogue, which is my greatest teacher on a great many levels just now:  about what I am physically capable of doing/making, about the strengths and limitations of various materials. About this matter of scale … and what it means to make work that explores (and exploits) the dimensions of the human form, the way scale (in all things) can create connections or break them apart.

And on that note, I thought I’d also share this artist’s work (my thanks to David for directing me to this work!):

Tony Orrico

This fellow is billed as the ‘human spirograph’ … which struck me a a bit gimmicky. But his work is truly beautiful, thoughtful, and executed with a deep understanding of living in and working with and from the human body for creative ends.

A photo by Michael Hart of one of Tony Orrico's Penwald Drawings, in process

It’s very much worth having a look at the videos and images collected in a lovely article Orrico’s work on BrainPickings to gain some insight into the tremendous physicality of this artist’s work. It’s quite humbling, and mesmerizing to watch.


The Love Affair Else-where, Part III: So much Work

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:


Sharon Beals

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 cover of Beals' remarkable book

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.

A Great Tailed Grackle nest
see http://sharonbeals.com/ for more
An Akekee nest
see http://sharonbeals.com/ for more ...



Chris Jordan

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 not nests in the strictest sense ...
See http://www.chrisjordan.com/gallery/midway/ for more
... they are the remains of baby albatrosses, the bodies of which have formed nests for the plastic that killed them.
See http://www.chrisjordan.com/gallery/midway/ for more ...

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/



Benjamin Verdonck

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.



David Hess

A view of the Avam Nest Project
See http://www.davidhess.net/sculpturemonumentalindex.html for more
Another view of the sculptural installation
See http://www.davidhess.net/sculpturemonumentalindex.html for more ...

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.



The Tree Hotel

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!

The exterior of the 'bird's nest' hotel room outside Halad Sweden


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!


Some thoughts on new drawings …

I’ve been quite conscious of my work process in the last while – more than usual – because it seems to be evolving quite rapidly. This is, quite naturally, bringing all kinds of interesting questions to light for me in relation to the way I work, why I am drawn to do what I do: the ‘why’ of the ‘how’ if you will.

This body of work appears to be resolving itself around repetition/recapitulation, and consistent references to specific patterns and shapes. This is something that had begun to make itself known with the initial work for Archives of Absence, but for the most part, I chalked that up to working in different materials and with different content than I had before. Now, I’m beginning to think otherwise.

A bit OCD? Maybe … but there’s other things at work here:

What does the reiteration of form or object say about the object itself, and/or about the need to repeat or recapitulate the form  – and the doing? Certainly for this body of work, focused as it is on birds’ nests, this form of making does certainly tap into action as an instinctual and/or ritualized process.

There’s also my predilection for squares, circles, and grids:  circles and squares are two of the ‘perfect’ forms, and they seem to encapsulate notions of balance and harmony, this being inherent in equilateral/bilaterally symmetrical shapes. The way these shapes relate to space is important here too – their extension into space is the same in all directions. These are democratic shapes – they occupy and contain with equality. Grids and patterns based on grids work in a similar way, especially when used as a means of expanding or contracting the scale of an object, or measuring space. Grids = Order, Containment, Regularity, Pattern. They allow for variation, but within rigidly set boundaries.

 This repetition can create blindness through its sameness, on one level … that jaded sense of “seen that before”/ “same old, same old” … we become desensitized to the things we see repeatedly. But the converse is also true, and something I want to explore much more: if we are presented with a sequence/series/reiteration of the same object or form, we are also (at least I am) drawn to the details: the hide-and-seek of finding the differences between these objects which are essentially the same. It is these threads that reveal independent narratives attached to (and issuing from) each object.
So in the end perhaps this is becomes about seeing and choice,  and the connections between the process of  making and the process of recognition.