In London Fieldworks’ delicate creations, architecture meets nature. Its installations feature pine-colored clusters of minuscule wooden forms that appear to grow upon vast tree trunks. Founded by artists Bruce Gilchrist and Jo Joelson, London Fieldworks is a collaborative and multidisciplinary arts practice with projects at the intersection of architecture, sculpture, installation, and film.
Each of the homes has rounded windows and doors, while those on large evergreen trees resemble natural objects, such as wasp and hornet nests or even fungi and mushrooms. From reflecting Clerkenwell’s urban renewal to offering new habitats for animals, the sprawling birdhouses fuse architectural ideas with nature and art, resulting in sculptures that integrate effortlessly in both natural and urban spaces. Through its installations, the practice explores its concern with the climate crisis through the lens of history, the environment, and culture.
One work, “Spontaneous City in the Tree of Heaven,” references opposite sides of London: Duncan Terrace Gardens in the east and Cremorne Gardens in the west. The installation is constructed from hundreds of bespoke bird boxes reflecting the forms of the local architecture—a combination of Modernist 60’s social housing and Georgian townhouses.
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Two new paintings by Kerry James Marshall feature a central crow that looms over a botanical backdrop. One or two birdhouses, which have entrances that are too small for the blackbirds to fit through, are perched on the leafy branches along with more petite species. Part of an ongoing series, the acrylic paintings are based on John James Audubon’s Birds of America, an archetypal text cataloging 435 life-size watercolors of avian creatures.
Marshall’s artworks provide a multivalent counterhistory to conceptions of race in the United States. While Audubon is recognized widely for his contribution to ecology and natural history in America, his own background is conflicting. The ornithologist was born as Jean Rabin in Haiti to unmarried parents: his father was a white plantation owner, while his mother’s identity is not as well-documented. However, many people believe she was a Creole chambermaid who may have had a mixed racial heritage. When Audubon migrated to the United States in the 19th century, he changed his name and masked his potentially biracial background.
Throughout his life, the famous birdwatcher and artist both supported and actively participated in chattel slavery, enslaving and selling people throughout the early 1800s. Audubon, who passed as white, also sought out relationships with presidents James Harrison and Andrew Jackson to promote his studies. In 1976, though, the artist’s work was included by curator David C. Driskell in his exhibition Two Centuries of Black American Art, which positioned Audubon within the Black arts canon.
Today, Marshall utilizes ornithologist’s studies as a way to consider the narratives around race in his series, Black and part Black Birds in America, which on view virtually through August 30 at David Zwirner. The Chicago-based artist paints large crows in chromatic black, which is composed entirely of dark reds, blues, or greens. Another smaller bird, like a goldfinch or cardinal, has the deep shade on its face or wings, evoking the one-drop rule, or the claim that one Black ancestor was enough to grant a relative that same identity.
Because Marshall forgoes actual black pigment when painting, he evidences that racial categories are simply a social construction rather than a biological fact. Similarly, the ambiguous titles of the series compare the classification of birds to that of people, utilizing the color to reference both the creatures’ feathers and human categorization of race. “None of us works in isolation. Nothing we do is disconnected from the social, political, economic, and cultural histories that trail behind us. The value of what we produce is determined by comparison with and in contrast to what our fellow citizens find engaging,” Marshall says.
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Based in west London, artist Kate MccGwire is known for her serpentine feather sculptures and discomfiting artworks that coil and ooze in every direction. A recent installation follows in that tradition as it pours down like a massive gush of water from a built-in bookcase. Composed of approximately 10,000 pigeon feathers, “Discharge” stands nearly five meters tall and cascades to the floor in feathered ripples. While the plumes lining the main chute are in shades of gray, those at the bottom are lighter, evoking the ways water appears white when it crashes.
The delicate feathers are sourced ethically from pigeon racers who collect the plumes in August and October when the birds molt. MccGwire sorts the materials in her studio, separating the ones that curve left from those that bend to the right, before arranging them in captivating, color-specific patterns. “When visitors see the piece for the first time they are drawn to the phenomenal scale, rhythmic patterning, movement, and perfection of the piece,” she says of the mixed-media installation. “But are often perturbed and revolted when they understand what the material is,” which is exactly her intention. By juxtaposing the raw materials with the finished artwork, she asks viewers to consider the everyday beauty that’s often overlooked.
“Discharge” has been exhibited in an evolution of configurations in South Korea, Berlin, Paris, and now, Harewood House in West Yorkshire until August 14. Take a video tour of the current exhibition—which also includes a massive feather rug and encased sculptures—and find more of MccGwire’s voluptuous projects on Instagram.
Update: The exhibition at Harewood House has been extended through October 25.
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Surrounded by Feathers, Birds Clutch Their Bleeding Hearts in Christina Mrozik's Monochromatic Illustrations
Just as they’d carry a seed to a new location, the birds in Portland-based artist Christina Mrozik’s latest series tightly grasp pulsing hearts in their talons. The graphite illustrations intertwine masses of feathers and avian body parts with the still bleeding organs, suggesting that they recently were ripped from the chests to cause their descent.
Coraticum—cor means heart in Latin—is an exploration of reconstruction, one that’s defined by bringing the heart outside the body. “It represents the beginning place from which feelings unfold, the center, the seed. I see this as the place before the stem or the root, before the flower or the honey,” they say. As a whole, the series considers the difficult emotions necessary for transformation. Mrozik (previously) tells Colossal the project was born out of personal upheaval in their life, which they explain:
I had been undergoing a major rearrangement in my relationship, rewiring my brain’s response to chronic pain and learning about the history of trauma on my nervous system. The way I moved internally was under massive rearrangement and self-scrutiny, and I was doing my best to find where to put things. Then quarantine hit and it felt like the work of rearrangement was happening externally on a global level.
Each monochromatic illustration is connected to a specific step of the reconstruction process: “The Eye of Recollection” to memory, “Safekeeping” to self-preservation, “The Ten Intuitions” to desire and instinct, “Colliding in Reverse” to letting go, and “Untethering Permissions” to questions about authority.
Coraticum is currently on view at Portland’s Antler Gallery, which will be sharing virtual tours of the solo show in the coming weeks. You can find prints, pins, and books of Mrozik’s surreal compositions in their shop, and follow their work on Instagram. (via Supersonic Art)
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In 2012, Bristol-based artist Diana Beltrán Herrera (previously) began sculpting impeccably layered paper birds and other wildlife as a way to record her surroundings. Her lifelike pieces continuously have captured nature’s finely detailed and minuscule elements, like the fibrous texture of feathers and the veins running through leaves.
Today, the artist has expanded the practice to include exotic species and environments she’s never seen up close, developing her paper techniques to express the more nuanced details of the shapes and textures she studies in biology books. Now focusing on the structural elements of fungi, fruit, and florals, Beltrán Herrera shares with Colossal:
Paper as a medium for documentation allows me to register and create notions and ideas of subjects that I have not experienced in real life but that I can experience when a sculpture is completed. I like this approach because it is not harmful, and through my work, I can show and tell my viewers about the things I have been learning, of the importance of nature just by researching and making it myself.
Much of her work centers on conservation efforts and environmental justice. For example, a recent commission by Greenpeace UK bolstered the organization’s Plastic Free Rivers campaign. ” I am constantly looking for more subjects that are relevant to the times we are living in, so that through my work I can communicate important information that can educate or just make things more visible. The approach is very (graphic) and visual, which helps to deliver a message,” she says.
Beltrán Herrera’s upcoming projects include a commission for a coral sculpture, in addition to plans to launch a studio with her brother by the end of 2020. Her hope is to merge graphic and digital design with her paper pieces, potentially adding in animation, as well. Ultimately, her goal is to dive into larger projects. “I don’t see my work as something I want to know how to make and stay safe, but as a challenge, that will always allow me to wonder how to execute and create things that were never made with paper,” she says.
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Through densely laid cross-stitches and whorls of thread, Han Cao revitalizes discarded photographs and postcards. Similar to the artist’s previous projects, her latest series New Nostalgia strikes a balance between the original subjects and the fiber-based additions. Sometimes covering faces with sparse dandelion puffs or confetti-like burst, Cao redefines the vintage pieces and explores how narratives linger as she stitches plumes of train steam that trail beyond the initial photograph’s edges.
Based in Palm Springs, the artist shares glimpses into her process on Instagram, and if you’re in Philadelphia, check out her embroidered pieces that are on view through August 22 at Paradigm Gallery. Cao also sells some of her mixed-media works in her shop.
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Editor's Picks: Art
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