I have always had a soft spot for things like Rube Goldberg machines, automata and such like, and this work really makes me happy. I am quite taken with the way his slightly madcap creative energy translates into three dimensions (and they are all in motion, all at once). The ultimate in ‘up cycling’ to my mind …
Poet Louise Gluck sums up the the complex simplicity of birds’ nest building activities so well. In her poem ‘Nests”, she writes:
It took what there was:
the available material.
I am discovering just how much that particular approach informs my practice overall – and for this body of work, particularly so. Part of what I want to do with NEST is to apply the methods of birds’ natural nest-building habits to the work that I create – both literally and metaphorically. On a literal level, I have always works with recycled and reclaimed materials – the detritus of city living and the remaindered artifacts of the manufactured world. This is an essential aspect of what I do: to make work that treads lightly, but also speaks to those complexities of living in this world and out relationship to the materials we make and use to do that living. The parallels to the wiliness of birds as architects and engineers is obvious, and not a little fun:
Bowerbird Nests … the male creates installations of objects to attract the female, which may include bright blue bottle caps!
I received a fabulous book this past Yule season, that is contributing enormously to my research for the NEST project, and to my understanding of some of the engineering and architectural challenges I am facing in constructing work.
Have a peek at Avian Architecture, by Peter Goodfellow – it’s a goldmine of terrific research on – and images of – various forms of bird’s nests, and has grab listing of resources for further research as well. (click on the “google preview” button on the page I’ve linked here to have a peek inside!)
In human terms, crafting a ‘nest’ is both process and product. Effort and thought goes into the selection of physical objects and materials that we use to build our homes, the ‘nesting’ we do over time to create comfortable spaces for ourselves. But these material artifacts are also invested with meaning of an altogether different sort: the weight of memory, of connection and attachment that is assigned to some (if not all) of the things we choose.
There is an architecture of the spirit here, a using of the ‘available materials’ to create meaning far beyond the things themselves.
A small nest made of copper mesh, beeswax, human hair, and a crow feather I created in 2011.
Birds nests then, be come markers of sorts – signifiers and pointers directing our thoughts and responses back to the spiritual/emotional ‘nests’ we create as individuals … or to those that we wish we had, or have lost in one way or another. Perhaps it is simply the precariousness and fragility of those exposed havens – made of everything imaginable, in seemingly random collections – that make that connection between the animal-made object and human desire so enduring.
One of the really terrific things about the artistic community in this city (and beyond!) is its willingness to support and engage with the work of its members. I feel a deep and ongoing gratitude for this – making art in such an environment allows individuals (and their creative practice) to thrive, to be supported, and to gain valuable feedback and insight into their work on an ongoing basis.
A little while ago, I posted a request for materials for a series of sculptures I will be creating as part of the NEST project for my Residency. To my great delight, people are responding, in really great ways!
I had a contribution from Beth – all the way from Calgary(!) – Paddy has lots of goodies he’s bringing to Harcourt over the next while, Kim has started a collection of plastic strapping at her shop, Marc donated an amazing wooden frame that will likely be part of an installation, and Brittney has bags of shredded paper for me that I am figuring out how to best use as well.
I am so thankful to everyone who has contributed so far – and I’m looking forward to seeing what else comes my way in the next while … and what will be made from all of these disparate materials.
I am looking for input from people on two related subjects:
1. Do you have a favourite nest, and if so, where is it?
If it’s in Edmonton AB or Halifax NS (and area) – I’d be most appreciative if you’d let me know the nest’s location.
My goal is to hunt down your favourite nests and photograph them, as part of my Residency project.
2. Do you have plastic that could be used to build nests?
If so, please get in touch and let me know what you’ve got. I’m looking for things like flexible plastic tubing, pipe wrap, offcuts from plastic banner production, offcuts from plastics manufacturing, plastic strapping used to hold pallets of goods together … that kind of thing. The material should be in long strips/lengths, suitable for weaving into a bird’s nest shape; it needs to be fairly sturdy, but flexible enough that I can manipulate it with my hands. Bright colours would be fantastic, but not essential. Ideally, you’d be in Edmonton AB so we can connect personally and I can get this material from you.
Thanks for any assistance you can provide!
Leave any input in the comments below, and I will get back to you.
I have been contemplating the relationship I have to things – objects, that is. This in part because of several conversations I have had with various people lately, some of them questioning my desire for – and collecting of – what amounts to garbage. I am drawn to collect various cast-offs to the point of obsession: rusty metal things, crow and raven feathers, bits of broken or disassembled clocks and machines, the requisite beach bits (a must for a prairie-born scavenger like myself). Even here, in this small apartment, I am unable to stop myself from bringing random things home as I find them (it’s more like they have found me).
Really the question is why? Why this particular affinity for particular forms of detritus? On one level the answer is simple – it is fodder for my work, and they are objects with shapes and textures that I find pleasing. But this does beg the question, really, and raises another whole set of questions about the nature of my work. Perhaps I need to engage in a process similar to that if Roger-Pol Droit in his book How Are Things? and catalogue my response and relationship with the objects I collect, or at the very least, examine my fascination with the categories of things that increasingly inhabit my world. (This book is, by the way, a delightful read – and a fascinating exploration of the relationship between objects, their roles in our lives, and the emotional and physical connections we have with them.)
I find myself beginning this examination with a passage from Droit’s book, that bear reproducing here:
“Is anyone really persuaded that our external reality teaches us nothing? That their [things’] quantity is indifferent, their diversity without significance? That their variety, categories, genealogies and metamorphoses are as nothing — just so many irrelevant culs-de-sac? On the contrary. Things have no residence other than in their absolute singularity. Matter in this particular place, under this particular form. Displaying this colour and no other. This texture and no other. This degree of wear and tear and no other. Each thing is itself and no other.” (pp 9 – 10)
It is indeed this – the singularity of each object that I encounter – that draws my initial attention. But this could be true of any collection; so the additional layer of understanding that must be gained revolves around the particular categories of object that I collect, and what whose categories and the individual characteristics of the objects within each category provide in that way of … what? Satisfaction of some sort? Understanding?