“Birds more than any other animals, may serve as bonds between man and nature.” Frank Chapman , Handbook of Birds, Eastern N. America, 1896
As I prepare for my upcoming exhibition, the Art & Craft of Nests at the City Library, as part of Craft Contemporary 2022 and National Bird Week, I am seeking to explore this bond. How might a bridge be suspended between our species?
For centuries, the strength, fragility and resilience of birds has captured our collective imagination. They play a central symbolic role in our mythology, religion and folklore and have inspired our desire to fly – from science to poetry, art and music. Yet could birds have inspired the origins of our textiles and crafts?
Birds are the closest living relatives to dinosaurs so it is reasonable to consider they may have been our earliest craft and textile teachers in both fibre use and technique. They weave, felt, stitch and sculpt their nests using only beak and breast, and from splitting, stripping and shaping, to coiling and random weave, these techniques are all echoed in human crafting tradition. Between birds and humankind, who influenced and inspired who and when?
With a needle as beak, curled fingers and cupped hand as breast, I am delving into the tenacity, determination, skill and ingenuity that is demonstrated by birds to craft and curate their nests. I am researching and exploring the possibility of where the origins of fibres and techniques arose and the evolutionary symbiosis that might exist between birds and humankind.
Birds inhabit the globe and their history of textile use and technique mirrors the diversity of the cultures with which they coincide and intersect. Human habitation may drive bird species towards decline, yet it also drives their innovation and in turn my own exploration of the synergies in my art work.
From bird behaviour to plant ecology, climate change to extinction pressures and adaptation, nests have great potential to be researched, explored, and exhibited as objects of narrative art for they are layered with stories, capturing both moments in time or as a sequence of unfolding events.
Re- envisioning nests that are held in natural history collections around the world, I am emulating a birds methodology in collecting nesting materials foraged locally of fauna, flora and found objects. The archival nest specimens on which I am basing my sculptures demonstrate that the material choices of birds mirror those used by humans spanning cultures and centuries. From the precursor of modern textiles, including leaves, bark, fur, and felted fibre to plastics today, each nest is a time capsule, with cultural, environmental, and artistic narratives waiting to be rediscovered.
To see a nest in the wild is a magical and often a very rare occurrence for most people, especially those living in urban areas. In creating and sharing my nest sculptures I want to bring the wilds of the world to the City Library so everyone can discover this hidden and magical world to delight in the wonders of nature. The nest sculptures offer a portal to faraway lands and times, to connect with the beauty of the rare and wonderful treasures of our avian world.
From scientific discoveries to theories proposing the origins of art and craft traditions, the unique stories revealed with each nest, the bird that created it, and the techniques used, are an invitation to awaken an understanding that every bird species is worthy of our wonder, awe and mostly importantly our protection.
Do fly in and tell your flock!
28 September – 3 December 2022
City Library Niches
235 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
*An exhibition space managed by the City of Melbourne
To align with National Bird Week, I’ll also be hosting artist floor talks at the City Library on Monday 17 October at 4:30pm and Sunday 23 October at 2pm Tickets are free, yet places are limited. Book via Eventbrite to secure your opportunity to discover more about the fascinating world of birds and their nests that inspired my sculptures.