My practice began with self reflection in the form of a self portrait that expressed an insecurity of mine; public speaking. I then worked on a collaborative video project in response to a song by the Handsome Family; “The Song of a Hundred Toads”. As these first two projects stemmed from self expression and personal interpretation of media, I decided to make my subject matter for my project for the term about a passion of mine; birds of prey. My work acts as a celebration of their ephemeral ferocity, and an exploration of the rarity, violence and wildness that they embody. It also surrounds their interactions, similarities and differences with humanity, both metaphorical and physical.
My piece of video art, ‘Sparrowhawk’, was created partially in order to experiment with video as a medium. It features flashing glimpses of a sparrowhawk amongst darkness, in order to emulate a rare sighting of them one would experience in their natural habitat. It is accompanied by a voiceover of an excerpt from ‘H is for Hawk’ by Helen MacDonald; a book that has been a major influence on my practice this term. It was also influenced by the video created for Jeremy Dellers’ ‘English Magic’ exhibition, which celebrates the beauty of birds of prey by featuring slow-motion footage of owls and hawks in flight.
‘A love song to the flying death of the northern woods’, one of my written pieces, acts as a visceral homage to wild birds of prey. My use of imagery in this piece was greatly influenced by the work of Ted Hughes; particularly his use of language in the poems ‘Hawk Roosting’, and ‘Crows’ fall’. The rapid-fire structure of Max Porters’ book ‘Grief is the thing with feathers’ was also a noteworthy influence on the use of structure in this piece.
‘Austringers’ manifesto’, my second written piece, acts as a reflection of the morality of bringing a bird of prey into the captivity. It also expresses my frustration at the mistreatment of birds of prey in such conditions, and expresses the moral obligations of those who decide to bring birds into captivity. This piece was also greatly influenced by ‘H is for Hawk. This piece accompanies my final piece in the form of a voiceover, as a way of bringing it to life .My final piece is a large acrylic wall painting of goshawk, facing away from the audience, head turned to fix viewer with a baleful stare. The choice of bird was influenced by ‘H is for Hawk’, as it is a goshawk that the author trains in her book, and the medium was inspired by Sarah Tynans’ powerful mural ‘A Good Day for Cyclists’. The piece acts as a way to bring the project together, a homage to the accipitrine hawk.
For my final piece, I am painting a wall mural of a photorealistic goshawk. I chose a goshawk, partly because I find their physical form to be one of the more imposing among birds of prey, but also because they are one of the most secretive birds of prey in Britain. It is also a way for me to pay homage to the literary work of Helen MacDonald, “H is for Hawk”, as it is a goshawk that the author writes about training.
Part of the reason I chose to do a wall painting was that this entire project is based on something I am passionate about; I chose to bring it to its peak in a medium that I enjoy working with immensely. I also chose to do it in reference to Sarah Tynans‘ mural “A Good Day for Cyclists”.
The painting will be accompanied by a voice over of my “austringers’ manifesto“, to bring some context to the piece, and to bring the painting to life.
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’
” 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.