Why Birds? (This post contains photos of a bird embryo – not suitable for the faint-hearted)

For quite a while now I have been very drawn to birds, except that I don’t really know where this interest emerged from. In my childhood memories I can recall finding injured or frightened birds, which I put in small cardboard boxes and cared for until they recovered enough to fly away. I remember at one point two birds acting very erratically on our driveway: my parents’ conclusion was that they had eaten some anti-moss product they had scattered over the lawn – but the rain hadn’t arrived soon enough to disintegrate it and the birds had started eating it. I felt terribly upset at seeing those creatures so unwell, and fortunately a neighbour whisked them off to a special vet. (I don’t know what happened to them after. Adults will often add a sweeter ending to these stories as not to get you more upset. It is sometimes better than the raw truth for children to be able to live out their innocence a little longer.) This happened when we were living in Canada. Around that same time I also remember finding a small blue egg, perhaps from the nest of a robin. For a few days that egg became the most important thing in my life. I put it inside a small straw basket and fluffed up a nest for it out of tissues. I carried it around with me everywhere, even at school, where I eventually dropped it and it split open onto the ground in front of me.

Having quite a clear memory of it now I now understand the egg did not have a developing embryo inside it. Of course I was very upset at the loss – of what could have been. In my childish innocence back then I did not realise the very precarious conditions in order to incubate an egg. During this last Easter holiday I found a white pigeon egg, which, again in some form of childlike hope I tried to incubate using a hot lamp and a cherry pit cushion I regularly heated up in the microwave, as well as keeping the egg regularly moist. I undertook endless research on the internet, learned how to candle an egg (the process of holding the egg over a strong but small light source in order to see what is inside), but soon ended up realising it was dead.

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Above you can see the egg, with my phone light shining through. You can see the mass of the embryo on the top, and the veins surrounding it. I kept the egg for a few days but eventually the veins began receding (a blood line begins to form, I think already visible here on the left of the egg going down towards the M of samsung), and there was absolutely no sign of life, so I had to admit it was dead. And of course, being the person I am and finding dead animals fascinating to observe, I opened the egg. I cracked the shell open with a toothpick,

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from the side of the air pocket (I learned on the internet that this is a precautionary measure in case the embryo is found to be alive. Although precarious I imagine in case of bacterial infections, this is done so that if need be the surface of the egg can be patched up again and left to incubate again. But in this case it was obvious the embryo was dead. I opened the egg up further, and a pocket slipped out, followed by the egg yolk.


The inside wall of the egg was wrapped in a web of thin, red veins. A tiny creature was tightly wrapped up inside the see-through membrane of the sack. I poked it open and the embryo emerged.

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I definitely cannot say it wasn’t difficult to do this, especially after the hope I had carried with me for several days that it might survive. But it was a definite reality check. Firstly, in my awareness of consuming animal products: I have already given up eating meat, but coming face to face with a once living creature growing inside this egg made me realise its true nature. Eggs are so easily consumed without conscious awareness of what they can give. I’m not saying it’s bad, especially since most eggs eaten do not have a developing embryo, even if they are fertilised. I was once on holiday in a farm. One morning I wanted to make pancakes and picked out a rather heavy egg from the fridge. I found a fully formed bird inside, yet did not have the courage to open it and look at it. Of course this is not something people normally do, I know, but in my artwork I enjoy, which is not the right word, rather I am involved, implicated in a respectful way in things that are dead in nature. I take photographs of dead birds in an attempt to present them with some form of remembrance before the process of decomposition takes hold of them and they fade into the earth. Death being a very natural process of life, I realise this is me encountering and dealing with the idea of death… In this case the bird becomes more of a symbol, a metaphor, within my own thought process…
So I am not opposed to eating eggs, but I am now more mindful of what they really represent and the potential of life an egg has to give.

In my childhood I had many, many dreams of finding eggs. The dreams always had a tendency to stop before the eggs could hatch or before I could even incubate them. I would enter dark forests with many nests within my reach, and I would try and gather as many as I could.

Most recently, which was about a week ago I had an intensely vivid dream, which I realise was completely influenced by the pigeon egg I found last Easter. I came upon a sort of grassy and rocky path area – which was filled with a large number of eggs, all different sizes. I could not see what colour they were because every single one had the appearance of being candled – that is I could see the inside of every egg; the veins, the developing embryos, all with refined details. I knew all of them were struggling, and in my dream I was trying to work out which ones I could still save.

Although I have not had this type of dream in at least a year now, I would very recurrently dream I could fly. Inside all of my dreams I consistently have the knowledge that if I throw myself off a cliff, window ledge, rooftop or whichever high surface I find myself on, I will not hit the ground. So in whatever situation I find myself in, I can always escape.
Sometimes it’s very difficult to fly, and a real struggle to maintain height. Sometimes it’s a lot easier. Sometimes I fly carrying someone to bring them to a place of safety, and sometimes I am being chased.
Many times I attempt to fly in an attempt for freedom but find myself trapped beneath a roof made of glass or netting. However in the end I always find a way to escape.
One of the most beautiful dreams I have had was when I flew off a roof top, off a building that looked somewhat like an old university college such as in Cambridge or Oxford. I flew to an open field in which there was an enormous wooden barn, on two floors. The top floor had a large opening on one side, into which I landed. I was surrounded by hundreds of thousands of cawing crows, all gathered inside the ceiling of this open barn. It felt so natural to be surrounded by them.

What is peculiar in those dreams is that I am always in human form when I take flight. I never have any bird-like traits on my physical dream body. And yet I very much have the sensations of being a bird, especially as I attempt to find an escape when trapped inside a ceiling, much like a bird tries to escape a room after flying through an open window.

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A few birds drawings from the time I was about 16 years old

Next year, during our third year and final year at l’École Nationale Supérieure des Arts de la Marionnette (ESNAM) in Charleville-Mézières we will be required to create a solo in 5 weeks. Usually a text is given, from which a 10-minute piece has to be created. This time we have been partnered up with ‘writing for dramaturgy’ students from ENSATT (École Nationale Supérieure des Arts et Techniques du Théâtre) in Lyon. We have to ‘order’ a text from them, which means we have had to present our past work to them to give them an idea of our styles, as well as presenting them with initial ideas we have for our solos. For this project I have decided to explore the theme of birds with the student I have been partnered up with. She has asked me to write everything I feel about birds.

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Exploring the metamorphosis of a girl into a bird during my Art Foundation year at age 19

I have never asked birds to come into my life. I have never searched for them, at least not consciously. What fascinates me most is they seem to emerge from me, in my work (many drawings and paintings I make are of birds). Something bird-like is trying to express itself from me. It is a feeling difficult to describe, but I don’t have a clear idea of what I am making, or why. I am constantly searching in the dark, and sometimes when something emerges I understand better why I have made it. Most often, in retrospect I understand it was an attempt to liberate myself. Birds have strong associations with freedom, and none the less in my work. The theme of birds has become so strong I have decided to give it as much space as I can – including in my third-year solo project.
As I have mentioned in my previous blog posts my current project now is to create a film on the embodiment of bird-like traits within the human body or mind. The research I am undertaking now and the eventual creation of the film is serving me to find out more about what fascinates me so much with birds, and why they are such a big part of my life.

In my next posts I will share with you more writings on my experiences with birds, as well as my research into topics such as shamanism, animism and totemism, all of which I find very useful in understanding a connection with animals.
I have come across the terms DMS (Delusional misidentification syndrome), in which a person misidentifies a person, place or object, and clinical lycanthropy in which a patient believes they are undergoing the transformation into or already believe they are a non-human animal. I will also be researching into these as further inspiration for my film project. What I think is interesting to note, as a final thought, is that in the Western world what is classed as a mental illness is in other parts of the world seen as a gift and as of service to the community (symptoms and experiences lived by shamans for example would be medically treated here, whilst from their point of view it is the relationship they are gifted to have with nature).  This, alongside reading the book Becoming Animal by David Abram (which I more than highly recommend), is making me rethink the relationship humans have, or are losing, with their direct natural environment.
All in all, this is informing my project on meshing together bird and human-like traits, whether physically in the body or as experiences lived in the mind.

Please rest assured, apart from within the land of my dreams, I do not identify myself with birds, nor do I think of myself as being one. Rather these are themes of a more metaphorical and symbolical nature that I am interested in exploring in order to advance my artistic work.

Stay on the lookout for more posts!
I wish you a good weekend.

 

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