A tiny bird weighing no more than a twenty pence piece can travel thousands of miles every year to and from winter feeding and summer breeding grounds. We rarely ask ourselves the question of how, or why? What drives them? How do they know where to go? How do they know when to start?
As individuals, birds are vulnerable, insignificant – en masse, in migration, they signify a powerful force of nature: the desire to move, to return as part of a great lifecycle. They are reminders of our individuality and our part in society as humans, of our indivisibility from community. We see in them also metaphorical and physical parallels to ourselves as travellers in the world. Art is about understanding our place in the world: following the migration of the cards, and through them, the birds, re-explores our relationship with our identity, our environment and our sense of place.
Humans also migrate to new countries, to new opportunities, away from past troubles. As we look at the birds flying over our heads, we think of their freedom to travel as and when they like, ‘free as a bird’, and yet our lives and destinies are intimately linked. If we destroy their breeding grounds by mining or building, they have nowhere to go. If we use up their water supply from a vital stopping-off point, they will not survive the journey. And if the birds vanish, we will lose our ability to dream.
All about migration is a project about those dreams, those journeys and our links with the bird world. I have created 10,000 postcards of Brent Geese, a migratory species which overwinters in the Exe Estuary and many other parts of the UK and Ireland. These postcards are being sent out to schools and communities all over the world, including along the migration paths of the Brent goose, from Exeter to many countries in Europe including France, Germany, Sweden, across Finland, up through Russia and across to Canada, right up to the Arctic. People are being asked to write on the cards or colour them in and send them back to me at Hope Hall, Heavitree, Exeter where I will hang them in a huge indoor installation as part of Devon Open Studios in September. In collaboration with and with vital backing from Professor Stuart Bearhop of Exeter University, who is a specialist in Brent Geese and migration, I also have support from South West Water and Exeter Arts Council, and have won one of the Devon Open Studios Artist Bursaries which are sponsored by Helpful Holidays.
The postcards are at the mercy of people and fate – some will never be sent back, some will get lost en route, of those that make it back, some will be disfigured, and yet they all tell a story of where they have come from. For a moment, the community where the postcard and bird left are linked with the viewer here. The project has been developed and promoted using contemporary technology and social media, such as twitter and Facebook, yet by relying on physical postcards it asks questions of our desire for communication. Many of the cards have been carried by hand to other countries and use the centuries-old method of a postal service to bring them back to me.
The project launched on May 11th which is World Migratory Bird Day, at Polsloe Party in the Park in Exeter. The final exhibition was at Hope Hall, Exeter, EX2 5JN from 14th to 22nd September.