For several years, I have volunteered for Lights Out Baltimore (LOB), an organization that seeks to raise awareness about the unsustainable loss of migratory birds owing to building collisions. Birds migrate at night orienting in part by constellations. Light pollution disorients and attracts them. They are pulled into cities full of imperceptible glass with tragic results. During migration, LOB volunteers monitor downtown Baltimore rescuing injured birds and collecting fatalities for scientific research. I undertook a photography project that wasn't documentary, but rather it emphasized my personal involvement with these birds. Nonetheless, it showed the sad results of our building design that is antithetical to nature's great movements, migration patterns.
The statistics are staggering. As many as a billion birds die each year from building collisions. I deliberately chose to make portraits of the fatalities in order to highlight individual losses and value. They each tell a very specific story since we always log the address where they are found. I also photographed these specific locations to show the deadly factors. Large panes of glass are killers. Owing to the physiology of the avian brain, they either perceive a clear pathway or a reflective surface appears real. Birds are flying toward shelter and food in landscaped greenery. They find themselves in mazes of invisible barriers. We need to carefully assess the placement of trees and shrubs.
As well as enriching our lives by their beauty and song, birds provide many functions in ecosystems ranging from insect control, disease control, pollination, seed dispersal, and more. Considering habitat loss, outdoor cats, pesticides, and the challenges of climate change, the additional losses owing to collisions make for an unsustainable brew. We should assist other species that perform vital functions as well as allowing their right to exist. I hope that my LOB project inspires new design. It's a matter of turning lights off, facing them downwards, creating innovative and beautiful bird-friendly design, and being considerate of migration pathways. We can’t prevent every death, but we can mitigate the losses. Birds will always grace our art, myths, and symbols, but I hope they continue in their own right.
I owe my love of birds to family. My father always showed us the variety of other species and he was gentle enough that yard birds fed from his hand. He brought home injured animals to rehabilitate. My sister devotes most of her time to Audubon and conducts breeding bird surveys. Going birding is how I bond with all of my siblings and they do important work in renewable energy and native plants. It all ties together.
I have long been fascinated by the multiple orientations afforded us by wonder cabinets, and I am much inspired by Kurt Schwitters' exquisitely composed refuse, Joseph Cornell's theatrical boxes and Louise Nevelson's assembled abstracts. I, too, collect found objects and play with their reactability in the studio/laboratory, intrigued both by what they disclose and by the investigation of infinitesimal qualities, Duchamp's inframince. As a child, I explored the unfamiliar and forgotten objects cluttered in my parents' drawers. Many afternoon hours were spent guessing at their practical usage, often as not imagining unlikely ones and imbuing them with life. The fountain pen nibs, defunct cigarette lighters, sewing machine parts and broken jewelry were my "plastic animals." My father's horological tools were especially evocative, later I was entranced with his beautiful landscape designs. My brother Bob and I read mythology together and I appropriated the notion of composite beasts.
I am drawn to the discarded, forgotten, and obsolete which are by no means inert. I collect fragments found in the marginal spaces of alleys and abandoned buildings, trash heaps and flea market bins.
Contained within my pieces are vessels and aberrant anatomies, seemingly disparate objects enthralled by shared qualities. Contrasting textures compliment or irritate, there are harmonies and tensions. The life of objects reflects our own desires, sensuality and procreation and also what might be tangled, corroded or broken within. Process and transformation are revealed in decay, there are revelries to be found in dust.
Contextual reciprocities unite my assemblages, photos and writing. I am a self-taught visual artist much indebted to my husband Chris's knowledge, collaboration and encouragement.