August 27, 2005

Thalurania Watertonii.

For anyone who has been back in the last few weeks and wondered whether I had packed this in, my apologies; one thing and another distracted me. Been to Milan which I didn’t find very interesting; and been working on an article for the next PORES; and started work on a collaborative project with the conceptual artist Kerry Morrison and the biologist Professor Alicia Prowse. We are working on a public art commission in a site of special scientific interest which abuts a new housing estate of hundreds of identical houses. The project will take about 18 months (taking into account growing seasons and nature stuff) so more of that in later times. So as not to bore with day-to-day anecdotes a quick word about Shaun Pickard’s one-person show in the Text Festival which opened a couple of weeks ago and sort of continues the nature theme.

Thalurania Watertonii – Waterson’s Woodnymph.

At first glance it’s not altogether obvious what Pickard is up to. At one end of the room there’s a wall-mounted horizontal white neon light surmounted by about 8 vertical coloured neon tubes ranging from midnight blue through greens to a sort of sunflower yellow. Opposite this installation there is a wide horizontal band of the silvered reflective material running around the other three walls. On this material black text is printed. Reading into the text you find that the bird species T. Watertonii is laid out in a matrix of two horizontal rows – one male one female – and ornithologically descriptive columns, such as crown, hindcrown, through all the body parts to flank and under tail coverts. So we can cross reference that the male bird’s forehead is green-bluish/bronze-greenish and the female’s is greenish-coppery or that the under tail coverts are green-bronzy with blue and white-grey respectively). With the realisation of this we could be in the area of Veronica Forrest-Thomson’s poetic category Rational Obscurity (… “is perhaps the least disturbing form of obscurity because it continues to presuppose a framework of intelligibility. Problems are attributed to an absence of knowledge, and once the necessary arcane knowledge is supplied, the poem becomes rationally coherent”) but the surprising and remarkable parallax effects of the multi-mixing of neon reflections on the silvered surfaces point to the significant experiential moment that Pickard has set out to create. Fascinated by the story of how the jungle bird species was (mis)classified by the Victorian Waterson, Pickard set out to follow in his footsteps. In this search, taking him to a Mibiri creek in South America, he did not find the bird (as he didn’t expect to) but the confusions and absences of story and his retracing of it, form the basis of an acute experience of the gap between the description of the iridescent bird and the (real) experience of seeing it. The show deliberately has no image of a bird from this species, but in the accrual of the materialist language of its description and its essence replicated in shimmering light we are as close to a living moment in its presence as it is possible to be without it.