Sunday, 20 November 2011

'Ghosts of gone birds' review

Where is it? Rochelle school & club row, Shoreditch
Verdict: Worth a look

What is it? The website says “the show is dedicated to breathing artistic life back into the bird species we have lost”.  It’s a collection of artworks featuring extinct bird species from the well known such as the Dodo and the Great Auk, down to species I’d never heard of, such as the Guadalupe Caracara (an extinct bird of prey in case you were wondering).

As with most wildlife exhibitions, this exhibition comes with a message – to note all the birds that are now extinct (mainly at human hands) and to make us more conscious of the species that we are about to lose, as well as the number of birds that are currently being killed by poachers and the fishing industry.

There are over two hundred pieces of art – largely drawings, paintings and sculptures; and they are all for sale - ranging from the hundreds, to several thousands, of pounds.

My opinion:  Firstly, let me clear the air a little.  I have nothing against conservationism; in fact I have a lot of admiration for those of us who are out there doing our bit to save endangered species.  At the same time, I like to appreciate art for what it is and my appreciation is not increased when I know that there is a message behind the art.  For this reason, my opinion is purely based on my view of the art and not the worthiness of the cause it’s representing.  

First impressions are that most of the works are done by talented artists.   There are many artworks of extinct birds in their natural habitat or imagined scenarios of the last of the species being killed off.  One of my favourites is a sculpture of a bird being attacked and consumed by a horde of ravenous ants coming out of their nest (a hole in the floor).  The quality of the sculptures is of a higher quality than the paintings ranging from the many albatross heads emerging from the walls to an inspired wooden sculpture of an emu.

My favourite installation has to be an outline of a bird filled with shotgun shells found in Malta – where illegal shooting of birds is still commonplace (picture below).  Yes, it’s not subtle, but environmentalist art seldom is.  Still it’s less subtle than a bunch of nude women covered in fake blood … if markedly less eye-catching.  Another highlight is a room full of painted caricatures with imaginary birds all with clever play on words names.

Yet again, this is another exhibit that I only got to see close to the end of the exhibition, so if you want to catch it you’ll have to hurry.

Overall it’s a mix of good and average artworks and though I really enjoyed some pieces, most were of a high quality but a tad uninspired.  But with 200 works available you’re unlikely to walk away without finding at least a couple of gems – though you may need deep pockets to walk away with the artworks themselves.

Dates:  2nd-23rd November, 2011.

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