FOR THE BIRDS – INSPIRING WOODLAND ARTS ADVENTURE AT THE BRIGHTON FESTIVAL
Secret Location (Part of Brighton Festival)
Until 28th May | £12.50
Previously exhibited in Wales and New Zealand, For the Birds is a trail of artworks experienced at night in a secret woodland location. Questions were raised about the event’s potential to disturb nesting sites, but an independent assessment deemed the trail harmless. Perhaps some birds were disappointed: we thought we might spot a group of robins with glowsticks looking forward to a countryside rave as an alternative to the usual avian pursuits of pecking at seedballs and elegant chirping.
This Brighton Festival event is, of course, not literally ‘For the Birds’ but acts as a salute to them and our experience of birds from a human-centric viewpoint, provoking wider thoughts about nature and our place within it. To do this, the trail draws us in cleverly, celebrating its subject by engaging the senses as well as the mind. Small bellows and music boxes echo birdsong: lights travel through the trees suggesting flight: shadows of doves projected onto open Downland give a sense of place and scale.
One of the more amusing artworks is a film of the gloriously named and job titled Wolfgang Wolfertstetter, a virtuoso Bavarian ‘Vogelstimmenimitator’, or bird imitator, standing in a field mimicking birdsong so realistically that real birds sometimes answer him. Beyond direct mimicry, humans also respond to the world in a more abstract way, and the trail culminates in a performance by a cellist and the trail’s only use of speech in the form of an ancient poem.
Aside from language and sound, there is also a human drive to create and craft objects reflecting the world around us. Many of the installations are mechanical devices, and the use of technology prompts questions about the mathematics of flight, or the music of birdsong. The engineering is difficult to define in the darkness, adding an air of mystery, while several artworks react to surrounding movement or wind, lending an element of randomness to the carefully planned structures.
The trail, created by six core artists, communicates lead artist and producer Jony Easterby’s vision in a remarkably clear and coherent way. Unlike a conventional exhibition, there are no notes or explanations on the way round, just a summary on a board at the end. This might be a product of necessity than rather than design as it’s difficult to read in the dark, but the success of this approach suggests it should be followed more often, allowing full engagement with the works themselves before a retrospective look at exactly what it all means.
It comes as no surprise to learn that people are, like the aforementioned robins, raving about this artistic triumph. In an increasingly technological world, it’s somehow comforting to be reminded that the human endeavours of science and art have their roots in nature, demonstrated here through the expressiveness of birdsong and the shape of a bird’s wing.