Amy Switzer: Word Bird: Mortimer, 2008, glass, wood, book pages, 4 x 1 x 6 inches (Paper bird)
19 x 10 x 10 inches (Glass case)
This work developed from an interest in ecological issues, specifically the introduction of non-native invasive species. This paper bird is intended to represent a Starling.
My interest in these birds arose when I observed a murmuration of starlings that consisted of approximately 200 birds. I am also interested in the starling because of it’s history and that it is considered an invasive non-native species in North America. After some research on the bird I found that the birds were introduced to North America when Eugene Schieffelin released 80 European Starlings in New York City in 1871. Schieffelin did this with the hope of populating the New World with the birds mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare. Since their introduction, starlings have contributed to the decline of several native birds. Schieffelin was a member of the American Acclimatization Society, which sought to ‘civilize’ the New World by introducing plants and animals that were part of the “landscape of poetry” (Todd, 146). In hindsight Schieffelin’s actions seem to have been misguided. This is perhaps ironic since the only mention of the starling in Shakespeare is in Henry IV, Part 1 and the bird was used as a tool to incite vengeance. According to Kim Todd the starling that was featured “in Shakespeare’s presentation...was not a gift to inspire romance or lyric poetry. It was a bird to prod anger, to pick at a scab, to serve as a reminder of trouble. It was a curse”(Todd, 139-140).
The fact that Schieffelin and his contemporaries sought to control, organize and ultimately replicate a European ecosystem, which reflected their own version high culture, fascinates me.
"Word Bird: Mortimer" was inspired by Schieffelin’s actions. The sculpture consists of a bird constructed from the pages of a copy of Shakespeare’s Henry IV. The pages were cut and layered to simulate feathers. The bird is the size of a starling. The bird sits perched in a glass case. It is isolated, almost sanctified, and in its beak it holds a thin strip of paper, which was cut from the book page.