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London Fieldworks: At the time of making the film during a residency in the Atlantic Rainforest in Brazil, we were developing a narrative to find correspondences between scientific interpretation and a supernatural reading of signs in the natural environment.
MRF: The film follows the forest walk of a hunter turned conservationist with the apparent ability to communicate with birds, how does it comment on the dream or possibility of interspecies dialogue?
LF: Adilei Carvalho da Cunha, the former hunter in the film who has transferred his skills to protecting the native fauna embodies a superposition of narrative layers, enabled by his change in perspective. We made the decision to edit out all visual signs of the birds that were responding vocally to Adilei’s mimicry in order to situate the locus of the activity in the imaginative realm. The appearance of a bird then, becomes a construct in our imagination; a protagonist in a new elementary narrative that depicts an intermingling of human and animal sensibility.
MRF: Your bird houses refer to totalitarian architecture and social experiments, is this a way of raising questions about the consequences of over-management of the wilderness and interference in nature and its socialising effects on animal behaviour?
LF: Super Kingdom is a reference to both the utopian imaginary and biological taxonomic hierarchy, reflecting human and animal hierarchy as territorial relationship to landscape. The project was initially inspired by reports of anomalous animal behaviour in nature as a response to shifting environmental cues, alluding to animals as bio-indicators signaling environmental change. As an environment changes, so does animal or human experience of it resulting in altered behavior, often expressed as movement towards a condition more conducive to survival. We are interested in the practices of re-wilding and assisted migration where animals are strategically relocated, redolent of human social engineering projects. Some conservationist biologists argue that the only way to save species threatened by extinction through habitat degradation may be to move them to new ranges they can’t get to themselves. This strategy of assisted migration or managed relocation is attracting widespread interest among scientists who are now investigating how they can pick new homes for endangered species and move them safely. Colonies of Marbled White butterflies have been successfully relocated to a wildlife reserve in Yorkshire, but even so, there is a fierce backlash from others in the conservationist biology community who refer to the policy as a game of “ecological roulette”. Unlike re-wilding a landscape with former indigenous animals, assisted migration attracts critics based on the unknowns of relocating a species to a place where it has never been native: a form of invasion biology.
MRF: As well as an aesthetic and symbolic dimension, the bird houses of Super Kingdom also point to a functional purpose, how do they draw attention to the fragility of natural habitats faced with the encroachment of urban sprawl? You understand ecology as a complex system, why is it important to see it in that way?
LF: These projects are also metaphors for bird population crash. In Spontaneous City and Super Kingdom: Mussolini, dwindling biodiversity is also reflected through the iterations of the component bird boxes: essentially the same component replicated at different scales. We regard them as artworks open to occupation by wildlife, but the multiple units remain predominantly empty. Our perception of ecology is an increasingly complex story linking for instance the most esoteric science with the most sordid political and industrial entanglements, mixing up the local with the global and the human with the non-human through the enfolding of habitats. The compartments of nature and society, between humans, animals and things are coming under increasing pressure from the proliferation of hybrids that create breaches between things delineated by modernity and the scientific method.
London Fieldworks (LFW) was formed in 2000 by artists Bruce Gilchrist and Jo Joelson as a cross-disciplinary, collaborative practice working across installation, video and animation, situating works both in galleries and in the landscape. Primary works by Gilchrist and Joelson interrogated ideas around the authenticity of mediated experience, especially experience of place, while exploring the site-specific nature of cognition through poetic applications of technology. These projects were seminal to the artists’ notion of ecology as a complex inter-working of social, natural, and technological worlds. Subsequent projects created speculative works of fiction out of a mix of ecological, scientific and pop-cultural narratives in order to explore themes of suspended animation, technology, fantasy and death. Their work has been presented at the Microwave International New Media Arts Festival, Hong Kong; Abandon Normal Devices (AND); Tropixel Festival, Brazil and the London Short Film Festival.