lights camera sound actions | time-based contemporary art

more on the Bloodbird

The bird first came to me in the form of an idea for a slide projection to use in a performance I am slowly imagining. Immediately, birds started literally falling out of the sky, a baby goldfinch on its first flight didn’t make it and landed outside my back door. (We looked after it for the cold night then placed it next day in the sun hoping its mother would take it and I anxiously watched the drama unfold – I think the bird lived.) Driving down a narrow road I noticed a dead blackbird and stopped to photograph it with the camera I coincidentally had with me. Later, the cat carefully brought me a fresh kill of a beautiful warbler which I expect to be the bird in the performance.

All spring I had been amazed at the incredible number of red-wing blackbirds I was seeing. For a time, every morning on the drive to school I would see one on a rusty post by the ramp off the highway and my daughter wrote a beautiful poem about it. I depend upon my father for birdy kind of information and he was not aware of a reported increase when I asked. The Bloodbird is from photographs I took while photographing children at an outing on the beach with my daughter’s school. I was near a stand of reeds and suddenly a red-winged blackbird began undertaking extraordinary acrobatics. Entranced, I stayed and took a number of shots of her bolts straight up in the air before I realized that her activity was a ploy to distract me away from her next amongst the reeds.

I knew of the association between birds and the spirit. I remembered a book about birds I had seen once in 1987 and searched for it when I undertook the research I like to do as a kind of left brain complement to the right brain sourcing of image-making. I found it at the Toronto Reference Library and its title is Birds With Human Souls.

The red-winged blackbird is not technically a blackbird at all but a form of oriole, Phoeniceus. Of course I noticed the association from the Latin with the common image of the Phoenix as resurrection, rebirth, rising again. The red-winged blackbird is not included in the books I found about bird symbolism because they are based in European sources. During my research I did come across a reference to an explanation for the red-winged blackbird’s red wings. A man threw a stone at the bird and ever after the bird bore its red wings where the blood from its wound had stained its black feathers. This discovery made my Bloodbird even more well-named!

August 1998  

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