call of the birds: artist's statement  

This project began in 2007 with an interest in depictions of the Holy Spirit – dovelike, roosterlike, or eagle-ish – by turns majestic, humble, or silly-looking, depending on individual artists’ inspiration.  I searched the amazing Artstor database for etchings and engravings of the Annunciation, beginning in the 13th Century, and going forward to the 17th. My initial impulse was to gather these birds together into an impromptu flock, or a conference to echo Farid ud-din Atta’s great 12th Century Persian Sufi poem about the search for the true self. I animated the found images into a simple flurry of superimposed creatures which I eventually scored using a performance of a mantra from the Prajnaparamita Sutra, some collared doves' songs, and my own voice. (The same set of Annunciation doves have also appeared as a flock of magical birds in Matt Gilbert’s Hespera Delia video for Unless & Until.)

I came back to the birds in 2009, when I was at an awkward place in my work - finishing up Unless & Until, while at the same time feeling squeezed by my academic duties.  New materials to work with didn’t speak to me at all.  Then one day I found myself rummaging through small, runty chunks of wood in the sculpture scrap bin at Sewanee, where I teach.  The fact that they were discarded fragments of long-dead trees made me want to value them; their occasional resemblance to wooden toy blocks brought the interesting possibility of a really object-like painting surface, one whose sides could be just as important as its face.  Elsewhere in the studios, I found scraps of bookbinding and drawing paper, perfect for refining the blocks' surfaces and suggesting a connection to illuminated manuscript pages.

The birds are - by behavior & association - messengers, relaying various forms of the basic imperative to wake up already & pay attention. A few of their directives have specific attributions: You Are Not Being Attacked is from Ajahn Sucitto at Chithurst; You Must Change Your Life is from Rilke; and Who might be from a koan, or a Sufi story. I enjoy remaking humble, discarded studio offcasts into reminders of what is most important.

Call of the Birds:

artist's statement
overall view
source images animation