PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — The David Winton Bell Gallery at Brown University presents Zugunruhe, a new site-specific installation by Rachel Berwick, opening Saturday, Nov. 14, 2009, and continuing through Sunday, Feb. 14, 2010. An opening reception and artist’s lecture will be held Friday, Nov. 13, 2009, at 5:30 p.m. in the List Art Center Auditorium. The exhibition and opening event are open to the public without charge.
During the last 20 years, Berwick’s work has focused on human interactions with and understandings of the natural world. Her past works have examined species that are extinct (the Tasmanian tiger and passenger pigeon), nearly extinct (Lonesome George, the last surviving member of his subspecies of Galapagos tortoise), and “reborn” (the Coelacanth, a 400-million year old species of fish that was thought extinct and then re-discovered living at depth of approximately 1,000 feet and classified as a “living fossil”).
Her new work is titled Zugunruhe, a term coined by ornithologist Gustav Kramer in the 1950s to describe the phenomenon of nighttime restlessness and agitation displayed among birds at the onset of migration. It is Berwick’s second memorial to the passenger pigeon. Once numbering in the billions, the species inspired awe in 19th-century naturalists and experienced a rapid decline that brought it to the edge of extinction by 1900. The last passenger pigeon, Martha, died in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoological Garden Sept. 1, 1914.
Fascinated by the history of science and anthropology, Berwick spent more than four years in research for Zugunruhe, studying writings of and about 17th- to 19th-century naturalists and explorers. She sought stories that, in her words, “illuminate the intersection between man and nature; specifically stories that surprise us into considering or imagining our place in the world, our coming into being and, now at a time of an awareness of global climate change, our possible extinction.”
Zugunruhe consists of two components: a tree laden with amber passenger pigeons and encased in a nine-foot high octagon of mirrored, smoky glass; and a glass globe containing a dial that moves in simulation of migration and points to written reports of passenger pigeon sightings that are printed on adjacent walls. Jo-Ann Conklin, director of the Bell Gallery, says the installation is “characterized by intelligence and a cool elegance, and by Berwick’s visually arresting and metaphorically apt choice of materials: passenger pigeons are cast in copal — an immature form of amber, the stuff of fossils — and mirrors cast reflections that commingle the viewer (human) with the subject (animal), reinforcing the artist’s message of our commonality.”
In conjunction with the exhibition, the Bell Gallery will host a series of five public lectures on topics related to Berwick’s work. The Zugunruhe Lecture Series is supported in part by the Creative Arts Council and the Marshall Woods Lectureship at Brown University. All lectures will be held in the List Art Center Auditorium:
- Wednesday, November 18, 2009, 5:30 p.m.
Paula Findlen, the Ubaldo Pierotti Professor in Italian History at Stanford University
“Athanasius Kircher’s Marvelous Machines”
- Tuesday, February 2, 2010, 6 p.m.
Ralph Rugoff, director of the Hayward Gallery, London
“The Trouble With Nature”
- Thursday, February 4, 2010, 6 p.m.
Peter P. Marra, Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, National Zoological Park, Washington, D.C.
“Understanding the Migratory Connectivity of Birds”
- Tuesday, February 9, 2010, 6 p.m.
Nancy Jacobs, associate professor of history, Brown University
“Africa, Europe, and the Birds Between Them”
- Thursday, February 11, 2010, 6 p.m.
David Wilson, founding director of the Museum of Jurassic Technology, Los Angeles
“Nikolai Fedorov, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, and the Roots of the Russian Space Program”
The David Winton Bell Gallery, located on the first floor of List Art Center, 64 College St., is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and on Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. For more information, call (401) 863-2932.
Rachel Berwick received her M.F.A. from Yale University School of Art and a B.F.A. from Rhode Island School of Design, where she has taught since 1999. Her work has been shown internationally at the Serpentine Gallery, London; Istanbul Biennial; Bienal de Sao Paolo, Brazil; and Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; and in the United States at Mass MoCA; Real Art Ways, Hartford; Aldrich Museum, Ridgefield, Conn.; and CCAC Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, among others.