Unfriendly Skies: Birds, Buildings and Collisions

Unfriendly Skies: Birds, Buildings and Collisions

October 29 – November 20, 2015

Opening Reception: Thursday, October 29, 5:00-7:00pm

Curator’s Gallery Talk: November 14 2-4pm

About the Exhibition 

Unfriendly Skies: Birds, Buildings, and Collisions features diverse work of artists bringing attention to a little considered but important fact that each year as many as 1.3 billion birds are killed as a result of collisions with buildings. While the focus of the exhibit is bird conservation, many of the artists on view examine poetic dimensions of bird imagery and its hold on the human imagination.

Public Conversation: Thursday, November 19, 12pm, Art & Design Building, Room 1007

Artist/Curator Lynne Parks and Christine Sheppard, Bird Collisions Campaign Manager for the American Bird Conservancy, will discuss the exhibition’s themes and the impact of manmade structures and environmental degradation on North American bird populations.

All events free and open to the public.

Curator’s Statement

A fatal combination of light pollution and glass is killing as many as a billion birds each year in the United States.

Throughout human history, birds have always been near to us. They’ve graced our culture with their color and beauty, their distinctive songs, their intricate behaviors, and, most significantly, the freedom of their flight. Icarus took the skies, Leonardo da Vinci designed flying machines, and the Wright Brothers built a plane and stepped into it so that we could be like birds.

Their qualities are pervasive as a symbol throughout our arts, political movements, religions, nations and sports teams. Birds are emblematic of divination, peace, courage, skill, freedom, and rapacity. To Homer, birds were mediators between the gods and us. They remain representative of transcendent spirituality. We watch them because they instill wonder and instigate curiosity about their place and function in the world. With birds, our imagination literally takes flight.

Bird populations are in decline due to habitat destruction, climate change, predatory cats, and violent collisions with manmade structures. The Audubon Society has warned that half of our bird species are threatened. We have to help birds on multiple fronts.

The majority of artists in the exhibit directly address the loss of bird life from building collisions. Light pollution attracts birds into manmade environments. A single carelessly designed building can kill thousands of birds during migratory seasons, but windows in the 123 million residencies throughout the United States cause much of the carnage. By modifying our urban building designs and residential windows, we can greatly reduce collisions. We know that birds don’t strike windows for lack of intelligence; it’s just that the drastic human imprint of the natural world outpaces their ancient instincts for navigation. Unlike us, songbird vision is more laterally oriented. They see differently than we do.

The work in this exhibit incorporates documentary photography, mixed media, portraiture, sound, glass, animation, and installations utilizing bird-strike deterrence products. The works herald warnings, post-extinction scenarios, memorials and proactive solutions. Recognized is the inherent usefulness of birds’ services to our collective ecology including plant pollination, see dispersal, and insect and disease control. Several of the artists are avian conservationists and activists.

This is the future of birds in art: dying or absent. If we continue to live as we do, birds will no longer be symbols of freedom or grace, but absent symbols of human consumption.

Participating Artists

Rose Anderson/Baltimore MD, Sandy Anderson/Baltimore MD, Miranda Brandon/Minneapolis MN, Elsabe Johnson Dixon/Alexandria VA, Sam Droege/Upper Marlboro MD, Edgar Endress/St. Augustine FL, Stephanie Garmey/Baltimore MD, Lara Ghelerter/Rosedale MD, Aaron Heinsman/Baltimore MD, Brian Henry/Baltimore MD, Natalie Jeremijenko/New York City, Bonnie Crawford Kotula/Baltimore MD, Ursula Marcum/Baltimore MD, Lisa Moren/Baltimore MD, Tim Nohe/Baltimore MD, Jenny O’Grady/Lutherville MD, Lynne Parks/Baltimore MD, Elisabeth Pellathy/Birmingham AL, Ben Piwowar/Baltimore MD, Nicole Shiflet/Baltimore MD, Nick Simko/Baltimore MD, Chris Siron/Baltimore MD, Van Wensil/Elkridge MD, Andrew Yang/Chicago, IL

About Curator Lynne Parks

Parks is an artist and curator working in Baltimore, MD. She was the 2013 recipient of the Mary Sawyers Baker Prize.

About Christine Sheppard

Sheppard earned her PhD at Cornell University. Her interest in captive propagation as a tool to save endangered species led her to the Wildlife Conservations Society’s Bronx Zoo, where she started curatorial intern and ended as the head of the Omithology Department. She has charred American Zoo Association taxon advisory groups for Coraciiformes, Galliformes and Gruiformes and has chaired the IUCN Hornbill Specialist Group. She initiated the Green Team at WCS and the Green Practices Advisory Group of AZA.

About the Fine Arts Gallery at George Mason University

The Fine Arts Gallery at George Mason University is committed to the presentation of innovative new art and creating a forum for active dialogue, research, and engagement with contemporary visual ideas and artistic practices. Located in the School of Art (SOA) on the Fairfax campus of George Mason University, the Fine Arts Gallery offers a divers program of exhibitions by emerging and established contemporary artists, thesis exhibitions by current MFA candidates, and a semi-annual SOA undergraduate senior exhibition.

UNFRIENDLY SKIES CATALOGUE best viewed in full screen.