Time flies. It is a three full months since my last blog. And I have much to say about birds —in particular finches and penguins—so this could take a while. And I posit that you won’t really learn anything about either bird by the end.
In 1995, while living in Darwin with Nearest, I met the most wonderful young scientist. He was studying the decreasing population of the Gouldian Finch – one of the most colourful, teeny tiny squeezable (but not too hard because it’s a finch) birds in Australia. As a commercial illustrator I was not amazing, okay, no need to guild that lily – no counter comments of support required. I had friends in the business who were, and still are, amazing at it. So I don’t put this up as finery, but really as example of how past lives always inform the present in our work. And how surprising and fun it can be, to be asked to dip back into a past life, and the birds themselves made this illustration the sweetest of things.
Let’s call him Peter, as that’s his name: Peter commissioned me to paint some Gouldian Finches for a poster asking the public to report sightings. This is pre-photoshop. (I know kids, what even is that?) And some of the finches had to be vanishing. Cue the hand made ‘opacity slider’.
So with poster produced, birds and scientist and illustrator continue doing what they do. Twenty years later the poster artwork boards a plane and wings its way to me for some alterations. Peter and Robin (that’s a human, not a bird) have had the work framed and on the wall. We’d always talked about a minor addition to the area that had been left vacant for the poster text. And it was time. As time had flown. *continues with tragic bird wirds*
I quickly realised I was even less of an illustrator now, but it was lovely to ‘revisit’ the dry season grass plains of northern Australia. And, fortunately, I could add in some soft washy grass that wouldn’t compete with the little birds as I don’t think I’m actually capable of realism any more! Hah! Here’s a musical interlude: Elbow ‘Starlings’
A week later I stood in an installation at QAGOMA, shallow breathing while Gouldian Finches fluttered around my head and whizzed past en route to coat hanger perches and stuffed stocking hidey-holes.
I was initially conflicted by Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s musical installation of live finches, From here to ear (v.13) 2010. These lovely alive little creatures flitting about inside a gallery space for 3 months? But I overheard a member of the Queensland Finch Society speaking so lovingly about the birds to a visitor that I ‘calmed the flock down’ (thanks Karen) and rested into the soundscape and the experience. And it was magical. AND the birds had begun breeding in the installation and laying eggs! GET OUT! (which is what the invigilator said nicely to me as it became obvious I was never going to leave that gallery)
Here Céleste Boursier-Mougenot talks about the sound. And just re-watching that video reminds me of why I love to write on a blog. The writing itself now feels part of the art making. And so today, when I didn’t really have time to write *so insanely slow at it* I realised it might be what I needed to shift me back to my own upcoming installation work and to be able to talk with the sound composer about what it is I’m doing.
Just as soon as I know what I’m doing.
When you’re not an installation artist, to say you’re working on an installation sounds preposterous. A celebration of drawing, and a sharing of an experience is my intention. The drawings will be installed along with a soundscape. QAGOMA printed material quotes Celeste that the piece was created ‘for listening and experiencing’ and that his aim is to ‘amplify our feeling of the present moment’.
It’s really rare to see wildlife en masse in a wilderness environment. It’s rare for them to exist that way on our planet now, and subsequently rare to see it. It’s an absurd goal to attempt to convey this experience: 40,000 penguins on a beach, 20,000 in a rookery, hundreds coming in and out of the sea all day long. I sat on that Macquarie Island beach while one waddled up and sniffed my rain jacket. It. Was. Unforgettable.
So, colour is back in the cupboard for now, and I’m drawing. For me too, this is the resumption of blogging as it is plaited together with thinking about the working day now. And I’ll record some penguin progress here as ‘Calling Home’ moves towards installation in late August in The Vault at Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery.