Angry birds: avian art vandals attack their own reflections
Published by University of Leicester Press Office for University of Leicester in Communities and also in Education
A crow beholds its reflection - or a rival. ©steve russell
An outdoor sculpture exhibition resembled a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds after crows began savagely attacking one of the pieces.
Organisers of the University of Leicester’s annual Sculpture in the Garden exhibition were taken aback after discovering a group of crows furiously defacing a large mirror sculpture.
The sculpture by artist Simon Hitchens, entitled “In the eye of the beholder”, features a limestone monolith placed in front of a 7ft-tall polishes stainless steel screen.
Within days of being installed at the University’s Harold Martin Botanic Garden, scratches from claws and beaks, bird spit and marks from wing flapping werevisible on the mirrored screen.
Despite the birds’ ferocious attack on the piece, each of the other 16 sculptors’ work remained unscathed –leading organisers to suspect the crows had become enraged by their own reflections.
Simon, 45, who lives in the Blackdown Hills, Somerset, has exhibited the piece outdoors twice before, but never encountered this problem.
He said: “There was one incident with a chaffinch when I showed the piece at the Grove Hotel last summer, but never anything like this.
After hearing about the damage, Simon considered removing the piece from the exhibition, entitled “Interesting Times”, but then decided it should stay for the duration of the show.
“My first reaction was frustration," he said. "The piece works so well if the mirrored surface is pristine and you are not aware of its materiality, only the reflection within it.
"I decided that the physical interaction by the birds brings another, unexpected element to the work and I'm interested to see how our understanding of the piece changes during the exhibition because of this avian interaction.
"Normally my pieces sit in a serene and contemplative state - all well and good, but in this instance I like the sense of not knowing how this interaction will alter the understanding of the work. It now has a bit of 'edge'.
"I suppose the sight of birds interacting with the sculpture, I assume as a confused and aggressive act, allows us another insight into what the work is talking about - alter egos, body and soul, confronting our demons, life anddeath. I believe the sculpture is now truly 'living', reflecting the world around it with candour."
Almuth Tebbenhoff, the exhibition’s curator, said: “We usually walk up to a mirror with the desire to have our own beauty reflected back to us and wereact accordingly with delight, despair or resignation. We are generally too civilised to go and attack the mirror if we don't like what we see. We are also aware that the reflection in the mirror is not competing with us for our territory.
“What the birds saw was their own aggression reflected back and, lacking the experience of such surfaces, took it for something coming from the outside. As their fury escalated they saw their reflections get more and more aggressive. Isn't this how wars start?”
“It is a great piece of art that can show you something so important - in this case it was a collaboration between artist and nature.”
The piece has now been cleaned but will remain in the botanic garden and will have to fend for itself against the crows over the four-month duration of the exhibition.