My studio practice concerns the transposition of sound, time and motion into other forms. Most recently, this has manifested in attempts to cast explosions in aluminum and bronze, but this body of work began more gently as experiments in which traces of the past were conjured out of analogue technologies and made visual. For example, for the Norwegian Wood Drawing (2012), I undertook to divine something of the sadness and brilliance of John Lennon from old Beatles albums by way of a mechanical contrivance that transferred the minute variations of the vinyl grooves onto a paper surface. The resulting series of drawings appear to, even if in a very small percentage, contained true traces of Lennon’s essence. Indeed, consistent throughout this body of work are methods that allow for the energies, motions and essences at hand to be captured and presented in a seemingly raw and unfettered manner. As such, theCast Explosions (2015) and small Trinity (2016) pieces are not representations or renditions of explosions, but the actual explosions themselves, albeit in a stilled state. While there is a strong speculative element of this pursuit, the works nevertheless emanate an undeniable aspect of the real, one that lends them reliquary-like presence.
All the Birds I Saw Last Year
I have become distracted by birds. Early in 2017 I began to take note of the local flocks of starlings, sparrows and crows. Depending on the weather and time of year, their location and activity varied considerably. It occurred to me that if I were to make a record of every bird I saw for a year, some larger patterns might emerge that speak to our relationship with nature. Indeed, conceiving of the local bird population as a collective canary-in-the-coalmine, I thought I might begin to detect how human activity is adversely affecting our shared environment.
As I began my bird count on September 18, 2017, I was conscious of famed ornithologist John JamesAudubon’s (1785-1851) declaration that he saw 10,000 birds a day. How long might it take me to reach that number in an urban environment some 200 years later? Properly, each bird image denotes one sighting, so can represent either a single bird or a flock. Still, I estimate it took 240 days to meet Audubon’s one-day total.
Admittedly, my pursuit is pseudo-scientific. While the regimented manner in which the results are presented suggests a scientific eye, what birds I see from day to day is largely random. Perhaps the project is best expressed as the meandering of one being intersecting with the meanderings of many others. Be that as it may, over the course of several months, the fluxes in the local bird populations are apparent and patterns can be discerned. One observation that is particularly telling is that 38% of our local bird population are invasive birds, species naively introduced by humans and which now thrive in the urban environment.
During the course of the year, I realized the project pitted my Neolithic brain against my modern sensibilities. While I am now able to rapidly identify birds by their colour, call, behaviour and flight pattern – something our ancestors would have relied on to find food or be warned of approaching predators – I am compelled to categorize and order those birds in the same all-too-modern manner that has, ultimately, led to the exploitation of the natural world. That all my bird sightings are recorded on my mobile phone, something that keeps us disengaged from our physical surroundings, belies a whole other set of ironies.
My desire is for the project to be read as a gesture of hyper-attunement at a time in which we are all increasingly aware of the rapid pace of environmental change. I am at once buoyed by the intelligence, ingenuity and incredible beauty of our avian neighbours and distressed by how we humans impinge on their lives on a daily basis.
I owe a debt to the illustrators of my many bird reference books. It is their renderings that populate these charts. Amongst these are Roger Tory Peterson, Román F. Compañy and David Allen Sibley.
I would like to thank my family for their support and for tolerating my near-constant state of distraction. Thank you also to The Central Art Garage, Andrew Wright, the City of Ottawa Public Art Program and the Ontario Arts Council.