Put a Bird on It!
This spring, the otherworldly dreaminess of Lotusland transforms into a real-world call for awareness as FLOCK: Birds on the Brink comes to the garden.
Story by Leslie Dinaberg
Inspired by the interdependency of bird species to plant species, and to the human race, this contemporary art exhibit celebrates the daily presence of birds in our gardens and communities while illustrating the critical impact of wild bird populations on our ecosystems and our own well-being. Guest curator Nancy Gifford (the same talented dynamo who brought the buzz-worthy bee-themed SWARM to the venue in 2013 and GONE in 2012) and the Lotusland team gathered artworks and commissioned installations from more than 30 local and international artists, which are displayed in the pavilion and—for the first time—throughout the garden.
“It should be quite a provocative and visceral experience,” says Gifford, who hopes to inspire action from all those who encounter FLOCK. “This year, we are covering the issues about birds…it’s about the interrelatedness of species and how important birds are.” She continues, “Plus there’s a tremendous amount of great artists worldwide who work with birds and the bird theme. It’s amazing.”
The exhibit, which opened on February 28 and runs through May 23, is amazing. Approaching the Pavilion Gallery, visitors duck beneath a courtyard “ceiling” of empty black cages titled Silent Spring, their doors open in wait for the return of songbirds long extinct. Upon entering, one quickly encounters the foreboding David Hochbaum blackbird Murmuration installation hovering over Laurie Hogin’s splashy Darwinian landscapes, Robyn Geddes’s moody color field birds, a burning crow by local artist Keith Puccinelli and embellished taxidermy specimens from New Zealand artist Karley Feaver.
Then there are various mechanical devices by Jane Edden, Juan Fontanive and Norman Reed, as well as a “chick bar” diorama by Michael Long. Next is the “nest” room full of surprises by Esther Traugot, Gayle Stevens, Philip Koplin, Liza Myers, Maria Rendon and the mesmerizing video Bobe’s Legend by Macedonian artist Robert Gligorov. Visitors then go through the pavilion into the main gallery, which features large-scale haunting bird works by Fatemeh Burnes. A robotic wing chair by Alan Macy flaps to the beat of a “bird dance” video by Robin Bisio that encircles an aviary centerpiece installation full of musical and avian surprises.
FLOCK also expands beyond the Pavilion Gallery to include six outdoor installations hidden throughout the gardens. Expect to encounter a Murder of Crows in the newly restored blue garden, Gary Smith’s human-scale nests, R.T. Livingston’s camouflaged Sitting Ducks: Hiding in Plain Sight by the lotus pool, a larger-than-life caged topiary peacock by Joe Shelton and a birdbath sound machine by Carlos Padilla and Pod Nest by Luis Velazquez in the pavilion courtyard. Other participating artists include Sharon Beals, Penelope Gottlieb, James Hodgson, Nathan Huff, Pamela Larsson-Toscher, Anne Luther, Kaoru Mansour, Cheryl Medow, Tom Mielko and Susan Tibbles.
FLOCK: Birds on the Brink is on view at Lotusland from Saturday, February 28 through Saturday, May 23. Visitors may see the exhibit as part of a docent-guided tour offered at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday. Reservations are required. For reservations, call 805/969-9990 or visit lotusland.org for more information.
Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine, Spring 2015.