Rubin talks about a lot of art in his essay, some of which I thought was interesting after searching for it on the Web. Because birds are the subject of countless metaphors and art, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that Rubin managed to find bird art that spanned an entire spectrum of themes – identity, mortality, humanity, etc. -- but I guess that's what curators are paid to do. I have to admit that it was nearly impossible to enjoy the essay because of the lack of images that were on the web. But even through the catalog, I can say with confidence that not all bird art is created equally. On page 14, Rubin writes about an artist named Martha Alf and her images of pigeons outside her window sill and how she imbued the birds with human qualities. Seeing the few images that are on the web, this seemed to be the most unambitious art project that I can imagine.
However, I enjoyed Roni Horn's photos of Icelandic birds, as they abstract the back of birds heads and I can't tell if they are photos of the hind of a dog or the back of a nun or some strange feathery sculpture.
Roni Horn, bird
One thing that must be a struggle for curators is where to draw the line about what to include and what not to include. To put Martha Alf's pigeon photos in the same lineage as Joseph Cornell's "bird boxes" is, well, let's just say that I'd be psyched if I was Martha Alf.
Another contemporary photographer that is inspired by birds is Paula McCartney (no relation to Paul) whose Bird Watching uses store bought craft birds placed in natural landscapes. For me, her photographs challenge the idea of the birder with enormous binoculars, but I also understand that the types of birds that she chooses don't necessarily belong in the landscape she puts them in. Her intervention might symbolize her desire to control or subvert nature as well as putting forth her ideal constructed landscape.
The desire to control nature, or rather, the need to intervene with nature, is evident in the efforts of Operation Migration (NYT Magazine, 2/22/09). However, unlike McCartney who stage manages her photographs with store-bought birds, a different type of mimicking occurs when the biologists and conservationists of Operation Migration guide endangered whooping cranes from Wisconsin to warmer climates by dressing up in white suits and leading them in an ultralight plane. The article points out that the costumes are necessary so that the birds don't become too comfortable with people. I commend the project for bringing together a community of people to conserve the whooping cranes, but as the article suggests, its troubling that this endangered species needs to be protected not only from extinction, but also domestication. That humans are in charge of preserving the "wild" nature of animals is bizarre. It seems like we spend all this time teaching parrots to talk, dogs to roll over, and monkeys to run businesses, a la careerbuilder.com, and now the civilized have to teach something to be uncivilized. It's like teaching Eliza Doolittle her Cockney accent after she's been refined.