I know of artists who fly aloft and land like a glance, perpetually abreast of something—patterned renewal.
I know of artists; I have sat nearby as they cock their collared heads. I imagine they hear the thermal winds, a distant movement.
Lentic birds, dwelling in still or slow-moving waters, do not travel, except among each other. Ducks tip their tails and twist their necks and make some hay. I’m told they do migrate, these birds, but I only know them to abide.
I wonder if the ones who stay—the finches, the nuthatches, your doves, and your sparrows—if they crane their heads and feel themselves to be richer than the ones who coast on quiet columns, their social lives stretched out between them.
I wonder who’s advancing and who’s circling, and why only one of these means something’s accrued.
John Webster wrote of birds inside a cage as “within despair … in a consumption, for fear they shall never get out.” I wonder if the birds who abide—who continue—feel much the same way, or if it’s the ones still trained on their aerial track who wonder, “How can I safely fall from this flight?”
I know of artists who, upon landing, work to join nests. I see them like sociable weavers: all their performed confidence, their effort, their copper heads keening for a roof in this new and glinting light. They form hatches on telephone poles, a party line placed at the source. But are they homing pigeons mimicking the life of a songbird?
The flight of birds is wordless. It’s odd to think of those quiet avian pathways threading the sky since the ones who first laced them: the early ones who turned their heads and motioned upwards, and called out to an unknown that was desirably away.
The artworks featured throughout this text come from the collaborative, multifaceted exhibition, In Your Words, by Nanna Debois Buhl and Brendan Fernandes. Featuring birds and language in images, audio, and film, In Your Words explores and reflects on nomadic and hybrid identities. Inspired by the Danish author Karen Blixen, who wrote the renowned 1937 book Out of Africa under the pen name Isak Dinesen, the project “explores notions of identity, translation and migration through a post-colonial lens.”
In Your Words is on view at the MacLaren Art Centre in Barrie, Ontario from November 29, 2014 to March 1, 2015.