A Murder of Crows…An Unkindness of Ravens…A Parliament of Owls… As presage of fate, a bringer of the new seasons or communicator with the afterlife, the appearance of birds has long held an ominous place in human history, and from Poe’s Raven to Hitchcock’s murderous flocks of gulls, this has been reflected in literature and art.
From ancient times birds have been seen in the dual role of messenger and guide, harbinger and psychopomp. The psuchopompos, from the Greek, literally, “guide of souls,” was an angelic being said to ferry the living to the realms of the dead, while the herbergeour, M.E., “provider of shelter,” was one sent ahead to provide a host for coming king, queen or lord – who in turn could be a personification of Spring, Fortune, War or Death itself.
Harbingers and Psychopomps is an exhibition showcasing seven emerging artists and their Interpretation of birds as the magnificent, inspiring, and yet sinister messengers and heralds of a world we make for ourselves. Firelei Baez’s dramatic images weave together the realities of natural grooming forums with myths learned during her Caribbean upbringing, where it was said that if a bird takes a person’s hair it is taking part of her soul. Annika Connor’s limpid, exquisite paintings ask the viewer to find both foreboding and inspiration in the beauty of her birds. Amit Greenberg’s work is a poetic abstraction of wings and flight intended to symbolize internal longing for transcendence, while Richard Gabriele’s paintings and robotics sculpture make direct allusion to the BP disaster and a post-apocalyptic world of both present and future. Gabriele’s installation is a collaboration with with KMel Robotics, and features flying robots in a new interpretation of the tree of life. Lori Merhige’s “Unravel” is an abstracted, low-tech depiction of flocking and swarming patterns that meditates on vanishing industry, and James Tunick’s software work Vizz.me uses the swarming of birds as a movement pattern that controls the actual swarming of a Twitter feed focused on bird-related “tweets.” Unifying the display aurally, Carrie Elston Tunick’s Loon Love Song is a spatialized sound piece that portrays movement from isolation into community through the calls of loons across space.
As human encroachment on the natural world continues and man-made development and disasters claim more and more habitat, we may see the disappearance of birds, rather than their appearance, as cause for apocalyptic alarm. Harbingers and Psychopomps is a peon to the glories and totemic values of one of the planet’s most ancient and mysterious class of animals.
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Rachel Lee Hovnanian, Leila Heller Gallery, September 2014
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