Fifteen Bird Calls

Warren Viscoe, Artist

This is one of the sculptures in our collection. It was made in New Zealand in 1982-1996.
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Object Detail

About the Work
"On the shelves of these five towers Warren Viscoe has stored momentoes of an absent nature. Feathered badminton shuttlecocks rest inside glass jam-jars whose greaseproof-paper lids are pierced with breathing holes, like the childhood nature trays in Viscoe's 1980 installation 'Breathing'. Like 'Breathing', 'Fifteen Bird Calls' is one of Viscoe's many evocations of the way we endanger other forms of life even as we attempt to collect and care for them - ecologists call it 'fatal care'. But the mysterious detailing of this work exceeds any simplistic message.
Not for nothing did one critic compare viewing 'Fifteen Bird Calls' to inhabiting a Joseph Cornell box. Viscoe's poetic touch is sure and light. The shuttlecocks, feathered dead-weights, offer a funny, poignant and deft image of forest birds' stifled flight. The milled shelves are themselves memories of the trees the birds once inhabited. Lashed to their rock foundations, they are an ecology literally held in the balance. The small circular mirrors on the wall are like those hung in the cages of lone birds to fool them into song, but they have another, subtler effect. They seem to punch silvery holes in the walls, transforming the gallery itself into a bird-box of sorts - and thus turning you into a speciment in a controlled environment.
During Viscoe's years amid the ear-static of London and Ontario it was the sound of lone bird calls that returned him in memory to the bush of Northland. 'Sometimes in the city you can hear a bird call above all the other sounds' he observes, and 'Fifteen Bird Calls' invites us to listen closely to its nested secrets.* Slowly but surely, the spaces around these dovecotes fill with the absent sound of unseen birds, a dawn chorus of siloence. The result is a phantom forest, a silent aviary, a life support system for environmental memories.
Viscoe loves to hatch this kind of sensory paradox, evoking sound with a medium that speaks directly to the eye and hand. In 'Blindfold' (1997) Viscoe reproduced the cry of the morepork in braille dots on a horizontal 'page' of pine. In legend, the moreport is a bird that is heard but not seen. In reality, the species is truly disappearing from view. So Viscoe translates its cry into the language of the blind."
- Justin Paton, for the exhibition catalogue 'Warren Viscoe. Life and Limb' published in 2000 by the Sarjeant Gallery following the 1996-1997 exhibition of the same title, page 22
*Unpublished notes on the installation, 1996.
Installation H 2900 x 2440 x 2440mm
mixed media with wood, stone and found items
Sculptural installation consisting of five wooden towers freestanding on the Gallery floor. Each tower is constructed of wooden planks: three with planks at right angles to each other, three contain stacks of small wooden shelves, one has long branches attached inside the tower. Two towers have an angled wooden plank at the base. Each tower has a large rock at its base. On the small shelves are an assortment of jam jars containing badminton shuttlecocks. Some shelves have loose shuttlecocks lying on them. The jars have a greaseproof paper cap with punched holes, held on with an elastic band, just like specimen jars.
Credit Line
Collection of the Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua Whanganui. Gift of the artist, 1997
Collection Type
Permanent collection
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