In ‘English Magic’, the 2013 British Pavilion show for the Venice Biennale, birds of prey are used in more than one artwork to depict the beautiful, yet intimidating essence of British countryside and wildlife. The show, curated by Jeremy Deller, was commissioned by the British Council for the 55th International Art Exhibition, and went on tour to venues and events such as the 2013 Venice Biennale.
The video “English Magic” was created for the show, and depicts various aspects of both historical and modern day Britain. The part of the video that struck me was the beginning, in which footage of birds of prey including barn owls, harris hawks, and eagle owls in flight in front of the British landscape is shown in gorgeous slow motion. The footage is backed by an ethereal Steele orchestra version of ‘Romance’ by Vaughan Williams, recorded at Abbey Road Studios, which accentuates the ephemeral nature of birdflight.
” A Good Day for Cyclists” was painted by Sarah Tynan for the show. The painting itself depicts a huge photorealistic Hen Harrier, a bird of prey that is endangered in Britain, clutching a crushed Range Rover.
The piece fits into Dellers’ description of his show being a ‘wistullfy aggressive’ depiction of Britain. Deller referenced the 2007 Sandringham incident, in which two Hen Harriers were shot, as one of the reasons for including the piece, using it to depict his anger towards the sport of shooting and hunting.
The title of the provocative piece suggests nature fighting back against the pollution and environmental damage caused by humanity. As, if only, nature regains it’s strength and carries our mistakes away. Fights back. Heals.
I am enchanted by how powerful the piece is; the Harrier seems to gaze at the floor, as if avoiding the eyes of the viewer, as it lifts away its’ unfortunate quarry on strong outstretched wings.
I am also on agreement with the message of the piece as a whole.
British-born Rackstraw Downes’ practice revolves around realistic paintings of the environment. The artist does not consider his works to be landscape paintings, despite the subject matter; he creates them as a way of expressing the personality of each location he paints. The locations vary from where he resides; from sparse desert-scrubs backed by pink, bare mountains, to beekeepers’ hives, grassy fields and urban sprawl. It is the sparseness of these locations that attracts Downes; he sees fullness in the emptiness of these spaces, and conveys this through his paintings through the abundance of fine detail and dynamic compositions of his work. Downes’ has a masterful command of perspective in his paintings, yet he is not interested in perspective as an aspect of his work. One aspect of painting that fascinates Downes is how one is able to capture fleeting ephemera with the exact stroke of a brush; sunlight through grass, or a momentary shadow.
The chaotic yet flowing compositions of Sarah Sze’s sculptures take up spaces that one would normally go unnoticed and unoccupied, and as a result seem to make the viewer hyper aware of their own body in relation to the composition of the works. Sze’s “High Line” installation does just this, as it is installed on an old railway bridge. The metal sculpture installation incorporates a slick, industrial finish with the ephemeral theme of nature, surrounded by various plants. The sculpture itself functions as a bird feeder, as it has little metal compartments housing various seeds, apples, and oranges. This causes any birds that come to feed at the sculpture to become part of the sculpture itself.
Father of writer Helen MacDonald, the late Alisdair MacDonald worked in photojournalism. MacDonald was the photographer for ‘the Mirror’. He had a talent for consistently catching blink-of-an-eye moments, as shown in these ephemeral photos of people interacting with sparrows. I am captivated by the delicacy of these images, and how they show that even amongst pollution and urban sprawl, there can still be a good relationship between man and nature.