Basic black birds

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The art world, like the natural world, has seasons, and summer is a little too hot for all black.

But heat notwithstanding in the last week of August, about 150 intrepid, lightly attired art lovers–most of them students no doubt assigned to attend–showed up yesterday evening for Arcadia University Art Gallery‘s early foray into the fall season, a show of David Allen’s “The Mirrored Catalogue d’Oiseaux” (installation shot above).

Before the show opening, Allen delivered an artist’s talk in a nice Scottish brogue, assisted by slides, recordings and videos.

One slide after another showed nothing but audio equipment setups. The videos had the madcap, meandering touch of an amateur making family videos, with a muddled sound track. My favorite recording was of silence. “You hear air particles rushing around the room,” Allen explained. We all strained to listen, but alas, the acoustics weren’t up to translating the silence into sound.

Allen, an earnest fellow dressed in a rumpled shirt and jeans, finally showed a couple of slides that weren’t of sound equipment. One was a slide of records in the air. “I’m not going to say anything about this slide, but I think it’s a really nice slide,” he said. The line won him an audible laugh.

After the talk, the crowd strolled across the campus to the gallery, partook in wine, beer, sandwiches and cookies, and took a gander at Allen’s installation, the oiseaux–in this case starlings–in a cage, listening to Olivier Messiaen’s “Catalogue d’Oiseaux.”

In his defense, he had planned the installation for mockingbirds (one shown right), but regulatory statutes decreed no mockingbirds, so starlings it is. The plan is for the birds, on listening to the “Catalogue,” a musical piece based on bird song, to pick up the melodies and repeat them by the end of the installation.

But I liked taking a moment to look at the birds, caged with some plants and lots of dirt at the far end of the gallery. These birds look a bit happier, I thought, than Matthew Barney’s Jacobin pigeons (Jacobin pigeon left) cooped up in the Guggenheim.

I can’t help but wonder about the ethics and the aesthetics of caging up birds as art. And don’t get me started on music as a visual art.

Either way, it seems that right now in the art world, live birds are hot and in season, and willing to sport basic black feathers, even in August.

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