New Wunderkammer Wave – Birds

© Petrit Halilaj

© Petrit Halilaj

When I met Annika Kahrs at Peter Amby Gallery in occasion of her first solo exhibition in Scandinavia, I started to realize the presence of a new Wunderkammer wave. The exhibition presented two videoworks by the artist: “Playing to the birds”, 2013 and “Sunset – Sunrise”, 2011. Annika Kahrs’ film “Playing to the birds” shows a performance of Franz Liszt’s piano piece Legende Nr. 1. St. Francis of Assisi preaching to the birds. The audience is, however, not comprised of people, but rather of domesticated birds. Liszt translated this narrative into the language of music, in this process, the mimicry of the sounds and noises also plays a role, so that the high notes of the pianist are suggestive of the trills of the birds.

Courtesy of Peter Amby Gallery

Courtesy of Peter Amby Gallery

Kahrs sets this dual translation – first in words and subsequently in tones – against a form of feedback with reality.  The birds, protagonists in the original narrative, appear here as those ‘actually’ addressed in the concert hall, which for the viewer of the film, in turn, forms a part of Kahrs’ narrative fiction. The setting of the bird cages in relation to the grand-piano, at which the pianist impassively and with high concentration gives his all in the demonstration of his abilities, is tightly arranged. The result is that the bird concert comes across as a form of experiment. The outcome of the experiment is something that the viewer must decide for themselves, since any significant shift or conclusion remains evasive. After the last notes have faded away, the musician stands up, takes a bow, and leaves the room.

Courtesy of Peter Amby Gallery

Courtesy of Peter Amby Gallery

Few hours later in Beverly Hills, Gagosian presented another Wunderkammer interpretation: “Birds of the West Indies,” an exhibition of new work by Taryn Simon. The story behind the title says that in 1936, American ornithologist James Bond published the definitive taxonomy Birds of the West Indies. Writer Ian Fleming, an active bird watcher, appropriated the author’s name for his own now famous novels. He found the name “flat and colorless,” perfectly suited for a character intended to be “anonymous…a blunt instrument in the hands of the government.” This co-opting of a name was the first in a series of substitutions and replacements that would become central to the development of the Bond narrative.

© 2014 Taryn Simon. Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery

© 2014 Taryn Simon. Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery

Conflating Bond the ornithologist with Bond the secret agent, Taryn Simon uses the title and format of the ornithologist’s taxonomy for her own two-part body of work, Birds of the West Indies (2013–14). The first element of the work is a photographic inventory of the women, innovative weaponry and luxury cars of Bond films made over the past fifty years.  In the second element of the work, Simon casts herself as the ornithologist James Bond, identifying, photographing, and classifying all the birds that appear within the 24 films comprising the James Bond franchise. The result is a taxonomy of birds not unlike the original Birds of the West Indies.

© 2014 Taryn Simon. Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery

© 2014 Taryn Simon. Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery

In this case, the birds are categorized by locations both actual and fictional: Switzerland, Afghanistan, North Korea, as well as the mythical settings of Bond’s missions, such as the Republic of Isthmus and SPECTRE Island. Simon also collected papers, correspondence, awards, study skins, and personal effects of James Bond the ornithologist, displaying them in vitrines alongside the photographic works. The character James Bond is so embedded in public consciousness that it is difficult to disengage from the fiction and view the ornithologist’s letters and effects independent of the cinema persona. In Birds of the West Indies, Simon creates a space in which fiction and reality collide and disappear, opening up a black hole that belongs to neither realm.

Courtesy of Chert Publication

Courtesy of Chert

The fully illustrated publication Taryn Simon: Birds of the West Indies, which includes an essay by Daniel Baumann, was published by Hatje Cantz in 2013. But at the same time I found another bird-related publication: Petrit Halilaj: Poisoned by men in need of some love, including an essay by Elena Filipovic. The book presents displays, inventories, specimens and tablets from the Nature Sector of Museum of Kosovo, and afterwards, from the Museum of Natural History of Pristina, as you can see from Chert Publication’s blog. At Wiels, for the exhibition “Poisoned by men in need of some love,”  in november, curated by Elena Filipovic, Halilaj has filled the museum with sculptures of birds and other animals, made from a mixture of dirt, straw, excrement, glue, and wire.

Courtesy of Chert

Courtesy of Chert

Moreover on March 4th Flash Art NY Desk will open the doors of an exhibition conceived as a tribute to Frank Stella’s late 1970s series of paintings, called “Indian Birds,” and in particular to Khar Pidda (1978), published on the cover of Flash Art International no. 92-93 in 1979. Stella began the series during his 1977 stay in Ahmedabad, naming the individual works after birds found on the Indian subcontinent. The exhibition will bring together contemporary artworks which could be visually related to “fragments” of the “Indian Birds”, in order to inquire Stella’s shifting compositional process, visual references and sculptural approach to painting. The exhibition display will play with the deconstruction, dismantling and subverting of Khar Pidda.

From the exhibition Khar Pidda - A tribute at Flash Art NY Desk. Courtesy of Flash Art

From the exhibition Khar Pidda – A tribute at Flash Art NY Desk. Courtesy of Flash Art

From a collaboration of Bortolami, Gabe Catone, Alessio Cancellieri, Lisa Cooley, Michele D’Aurizio, Hannah Hoffmann, Hotel Americano, Gea Politi, Project Native Informant, Overduin & Co., Maciej Tajber, and Andre Sakhai, artists like Lupo Borgonovo will be presented to America.

Peter Amby Gallery 

Gagosian Gallery 


Flash Art


8 thoughts on “New Wunderkammer Wave – Birds

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