Thursday, January 16, 2014
This lead to a collaborative idea developing, we started thinking that our learning from the Bird Yarden could be taken out of the gallery, and around the city - visiting different sites, and exploring spaces through a project looking at Urban Birdlife and other wildlife.
We came up with Birder's Paradise.
At that point there was a call for artists to propose works for the exciting New Library of Birmingham. I have always wanted to do a project in a library - and this looked really fantastic. So we thought about how Birder's Paradise could be adapted to a brand new library setting, and put forward a proposal to do a one-week residency at the library, working with the public to carry out 'birdwatching' activity and discovering species of birds that can be found in books, working towards creating a birdwatching trail through the library.
We were lucky enough to be shortlisted and later offered a commission (rather than the residency) to create the birdwatching trail. At first it seemed a bit strange to be offered the commission, as we had envisioned the participatory activity uncovering the content for the trail, but the commissioners (Capsule) felt the idea could work as an artwork, which would last from September to December - and therefore have more presence i9n the programme.
I The programme of commissioning which Capsule put together for the opening months of the new library was exciting, high profile and really high quality - so we were thrilled to be included. The couple of months leading up to the opening saw us working with Capsule to hone the idea for the Birder's Trail - and it really was a quite thorough process of negotiation, which I feel it is worth mentioning here, as other artists may find it interesting.
The commission budget was £1,000 between the two of us, and £2,000 materials/fabrication budget. We were really excited to be offered such a wonderful budget, and saw it as a real opportunity to create a beautiful new artwork.
We started to consider the format the artwork could take. Capsule suggested we could make the birds in the format of silhouettes cut out in perspex, which could be dispersed throughout the library. We felt that this would be striking, but that perhaps there were other options to be explored - then came the process of honing ideas and negotiating with the commissioner. We learnt quite a lot from this process, as often as the artist - you are not 'in the know' about the context and restrictions which you are working within, and have to feel your way through the process;
We thought about the idea of a curio cabinet: housing literary birds in glass vitrines.
We were excited about the cabinet, and found a carpenter who could build it for us, using stained woods, to give it character. Unfortunately, when we went back to the commissioner there were a number of problems with our idea: 1. the opening weeks of the library were expected to be incredibly busy (in fact in just over a week - the library welcomed its 100,000th visitor!) and so it would be impossible to find a site for the cabinet near the entrance. 2. Capsule had already commissioned a cabinet from another artist, and so didn't want another one. 3. though the variety of approaches might be interesting, it may also mean there is less of a recognisable identity to the artwork. 4. The vitrines themselves would be difficult to site around the library, and their could be problems with health and safety. And so with all of these issues, we needed to have a rethink.
Another idea we came up with involved using sheets of clear perspex, layered up to create a diorama, a technique I have seen used in regional museums and was keen to try out. We felt that this could work, as it could give the illusion of 3 dimensions, but be almost flat, and therefore we thought, more siteable in the new library. Andy created a mock up to explain what we wanted to do:
So, we put forward a series of bird shaped silhouettes, each relating to a different book from the New Library of Birmingham's collection. We felt that black was the most appropriate colour for the perspex, but as the ceiling of the library is black in many places, and the sites of the birds would see them viewed, often from below with the ceiling in the background, in the end it was agreed that the perspex would be yellow: the same colour as the library floor.
In the end we were really happy with how the trail installation turned out. The negotiation and development process was much more involved than we had first thought - and in the end we felt that there was less creative space for us as artists than there may have been, but overall, we were really pleased to have been commissioned and included within the fantastic programme of artworks and events that Capsule had curated.