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Anca Benera and Arnold Estefan

Maja and Reuben Fowkes: What first drew your attention to the presence of wildlife in urban environments?

Anca Benera and Arnold Estefan: A red-winged blackbird nesting in the attic of the house where we lived. It reminded us of Kundera's interpretation of history in connection with the blackbird's invasion of the urban environment over the last centuries. In one of the first chapters of “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting” he says that “a change in the relationship of one species to another (fish, birds, plants, people) is more significant than a change in the relationship of a group within the same species. Globally, the fact that the blackbird goes against nature and follows man to his artificial anti-natural world produced a major change in the planetary order of things. It is beyond doubt more important than the Spaniards' invasion of South America or the resettlement of Palestine by the Jews”. And yet nobody dares to interpret the history of the last centuries as the blackbirds' invasion of the human world.

MRF: In the series of drawings of birds nesting in unusual situations is there an element of comment on the destruction of natural habitats?

ABAE: It is rather a reference to the dimension of the human influence on the planet at large and a comment on how birds adapt to these new situations. Scientists argue that now we live in the Anthropocene era, when human activity has become the central driver of the planet's geological changes. For the first time since the dinosaurs disappeared, humans are driving animals and plants to extinction faster than new species can evolve.
At the moment there is an increasing tendency for birds to colonize cities. Statistics say that 60 to 70 percent of the overall wild populations are birds. Our research is centered on the synanthropization phenomena - the adaptation of wild populations to human-created (anthropogenic) conditions in general.

MRF: By following the story of birds’ adaptability to new situations, the question arises of the human ability to adapt and respond to the challenges of ecological crisis and climate change?

ABAE: Ecological crisis was produced by humans, being too busy with their own existence to notice what major changes their actions produced on the environment. The problem today is that ecology is intertwined with economic calculations and legal regulations. We believe the solutions to the ecological crisis must influence economic decisions, not vice versa. It's interesting that the principles of economic life are based on a certain tendency in human nature – to accumulate things, to negotiate, barter, exchange one thing for another. Animals don't do this, don't need more than one shelter and basic things to survive.
To rethink the nature of economics is the most important step.

MRF: There is an element of humour in the echoes between the news headlines and the images of nesting birds, is this a comment on the politics of the construction of the news or rather on the fact that these fragile species of birds exist below the radar of the media and in that way remain invisible in contemporary culture?

ABAE: It is rather a method of work. We use deductive reasoning in the form of syllogisms - two apparently unrelated facts explained by their juxtaposition, thus generating new connections, new meanings. Both the headlines and the images of birds are real facts, found in the media.

MRF: Could we consider these nesting sites as liberated zones of wilderness within the hyper-controlled city?

ABAE: Yes. There are also examples of spaces entirely reoccupied by nature, at a larger scale. For instance, in Bucharest there is an abandoned reservoir where an entire ecosystem has developed. It is actually a swamp, bordered by apartment buildings and 4 major roads. The area was supposed to be a part of the hydrological protection system, in case of flood. The construction started in 1986 during Ceausescu's regime but after the 1989 revolution it stopped. For 20 years, nature was allowed to develop without any human interference and many wild species appeared on the site. Protected species of mammals, rare birds, amphibians, invertebrate, seagulls, swans, ducks, storks, turtles, snakes, foxes and beavers live together in this area. Apparently, this site is the biggest urban delta in Europe and has a chance to be considered protected area, which would mean that nature has won a battle with humankind.

Anca Benera and Arnold Estefan
Urban Wildlife: The Human Influence on the Social Life of Birds, 2013

Anca Benera & Arnold Estefan are artists and co-founders of the Centre for Visual Introspection, an independent platform for research, artistic and theoretical production in Bucharest.
Working collectively since 2010, they have participated in projects and exhibitions such as: Mom am I barbarian? 13th Istanbul Biennial (2013); œconomy, an already tumultuous landscape where phantasms cross, Oberwelt, Stuttgart (2013); We were so few and so many of us are left,, (solo shows, 2013); Measures of saving the world <rotor>, Graz, Austria (2013); Winning Hearts and Minds, a project conducted by Critical Art Ensemble at  dOCUMENTA (13) Kassel (2012); Intense Proximity, La Triennale, Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2012); Navigating London's lost rivers, Camden Arts Centre, London (2011); Sights and Sounds, The Jewish Museum, New York (forthcoming show, 2014)





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