There is a general belief that we are in a new epoch, the Anthropocene: a geological age that recognizes humanity’s impact on the planet; there is no more nature that stands apart from human beings and the mass extinction in the plant and animal world appears inevitable. This is the backdrop for my work.
I make drawings from my photographs of birds in ornithology collections, where naturalists and scientists have collected, classified, and cataloged the world of birds. My work is about the contradiction inherent in our race to learn about life on the planet even as we go about systematically destroying it, about what we remember and what we lose in the process.
In my research with the collections, the life of the birds that had once inhabited the study-skins (as the bird specimens are called) is gone, the study-skins are anonymous - except for the labels tied to their legs that specify their species, the date and place of their death, and the name of the person who collected them. In the work I am currently doing, I first photograph the study-skins, draw them in pencil and then paint abstractions on the drawn bodies. The abstractions for me depict the concept of the soul, the individual life force that is so absent among the countless lifeless bodies in the drawers of the museums. The drawings are memorials, tagged with a symbolic life I have imagined for them, a turn toward the consciousness that extends beyond the physical body.
This work derives from my research with the ornithology collection at Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. The bird-skins (as the 130,000 specimens are called) represent birds collected from all over the world since the early 1800s by amateur and professional naturalists. The collection comes from a time when the layman was a collector and student of nature, paying close attention and recording observations on habits and appearance of the natural world in order to better understand it and our place within it.
Using the work of these naturalists as a psychological platform or starting point, the drawings speak to the impending mass extinction in the plant and animal world due to global warming, and of our own species’ ambivalent role as steward of our planet. The work is a meditation on the contradiction inherent in our conflicted race to collect, classify and catalog the world around us, even as we go about systematically destroying it. The work contemplates the human being’s complex relationship with the environment: as the species that has won the evolutionary battle we have unwittingly taken charge over our ecosystem’s fate.
Our species’ moral conscience as caretakers provides a backdrop for my consideration of the concept of the soul. The work depicts the life force that I found so absent in the tombs of the museum, while working surrounded by the bodies of the dead birds. The birds in these drawings are lifeless, drawn in shades of grey. Colorful painted abstractions overlay each bird’s body and create the notion of a unique soul for each bird. I choose graphic, patterned abstraction -- the language of human beings to convey nonverbal information to each another -- to portray an essence, the eternal energy that extends beyond the physical body.