Flock is an ongoing socially engaged piece whose purpose is to generate thought and discussion about our perceptions of birds. In Lincoln, I facilitated a "print action" in which local art/bird enthusiasts assisted me in creating a flock of printed bird silhouettes at Constellation Studios. During the print action, participants filled out a survey asking them to list their favorite birds and a nuisance bird. As we worked, I heard many bird stories about canoeing with loons in Michigan; cowbirds laying their eggs in cardinal nests; seeing a whooping crane for the first time in a ditch by the side of rural Nebraska highway; a young child’s simple love for owls; the excitement of seeing the massive wingspan of a wandering albatross in Antarctica; looking for someone’s escaped parrot in the neighborhood; the sweet song of a meadowlark; seeing a bush absolutely full of cedar waxwings or being amazed at the small stature of a black capped chickadee. In a way, nothing has changed since the early years of the last century when the birth of birdwatching encouraged the general public to embrace birds as creatures worth protecting because they were like us in so many ways. The Nebraskans I met seem to know birds as they might know their human neighbors (and similarly, some are loved, while others reviled). Many people get angry or worried when cardinal nests are invaded by cowbirds or when the black capped chickadees do not return in healthy numbers. Many named Bluejays, Crows, Starlings, Cowbirds and Grackles as birds they considered a nuisance, though some did not see any birds as a nuisance. Comments about nuisance birds revealed that it was mainly the birds’ behaviors that landed them in that category; i.e., large chicks who “refuse” to leave the nest; exhibiting noisy, aggressive or rude behaviors towards other birds or humans and those with poor hygiene a.k.a the mess makers. Interestingly, being a favorite bird had as much to do with the bird’s looks as it did with behavior, but being a nuisance bird was almost exclusively pinned on behavior—the bird’s size, coloring or appearance in flight weren’t mentioned at all.
The original Flock from Nebraska has been expanded by students enrolled in 2D Foundations at Rollins College. We began this two week project with a discussion about birds and the culture of bird watching. Soon after, we went for a walk along Lake Virginia to investigate the heron and anhinga nests through binoculars. For some, this was their first bird watching experience. As we worked in the studio over the next few weeks, we discussed our favorite birds, filled out bird surveys and shared updates on the pair of heron chicks who seemed reluctant to leave their cozy nest. The work will be on view at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum on the Rollins campus until May 14, 2016.