Breast milk, cake frosting, melted wax, viscera, piss, blood, mud, and egg yolks: This is how exhibition co-curator Eric Crosby describes Swedish artist Nathalie Djurberg’s newest project, The Parade. With her musical collaborator Hans Berg, the Berlin-based couple has created an environment populated by more than eighty individual bird sculptures, each with wildly varying colors and mish-mash anatomies. The flock is also circled by five new stop-motion animated short films, and a multi-channel soundtrack by Berg, with each channel corresponding to a specific film that work simultaneously to create an overall ambient effect.
Installation view of the exhibition The Parade.
As a new body of work, there was a unique opportunity to document the birds and the films. It was an ambitious task, carried out expertly by the staff here at the Walker. From our registrars coordinating, receiving, and conditioning the birds as they arrived from Germany, to our staff photographers who opened up their studio to stage and capture them.
Research for the book and the exhibition design took us through a range of ideas including stories of avian behaviors, music theory and notation (‘the parade’ as musical canon), taxidermy and natural history museum dioramas.
Incredible video of a ‘transformer owl’ that can morph into three distinct body shapes, depending on the predator it encounters.
Some views of The Bell Museum of Natural History, University of Minnesota.
About that last point: Eric (pictured above) and I took a quick field trip to the Bell Museum of Natural History at the University of Minnesota, the best part of which was a very meta diorama of diorama production. The real exhibits were impressively rendered and posed, and gave us ideas on how to present each bird in the book. Given the context, we considered the idea of the field guide, which is another kind of catalogue, and more interestingly a different experience from encountering the birds en masse in the gallery. We’d later use the idea of a guide or audobon to shape the materiality and modest size of the book.
Spreads from the catalogue
The larger typographic moments remind me of another animation called Le Merle (The Blackbird), by Norman McLaren. Based on a French-Canadian children’s song, it’s a story of a bird that loses various body parts and appendages, only to grow three more in its place. The stop-motion animation is elemental: a very simple bird composed of lines and circles, which morphs into to more complex structures with each iteration, and in the end, transforms into something that is unrecognizable from the original.
Frames from the film Le Merle
The gradient backdrops in Le Merle were similar to the colorful grounds of Djurberg’s more recent work. In the catalogue, gradients and colors inspired by her sets became a way to identify the individual films, which also played out in other instances of the exhibition identity.
In spreading out his fan, this bird
Whose plumage drags on the earth, I fear,
Appears more lovely than before,
But makes his derrière appear.
—Guillame Apollnaire, “The Peacock”
The Parade: Nathalie Djurberg with music by Hans Berg is on view in Burnett Gallery and runs until December 31, 2011. Afterwards, it travels to New York and San Francisco.