Jimenez Lai’s timber birdhouse, A Flock Without a Murder, is tall, stately and looks rather like one of Sol LeWitt’s concrete block sculptures. Birdega, by the artist Olalekan Jeyifous, is a New York bodega in miniature, painted a dark shade of teal. 100 Martin Inn, crafted by the design studio Roman and Williams Buildings and Interiors, is a bird hotel; “the tiniest hotel they’ve ever designed.”
You’d think this kind of effort would only be possible for the avian-obsessed, but the dozens of artists recruited for For the Birds, a multidisciplinary exhibition at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for which 33 site-specific birdhouses have been created, mostly seem motivated by a fresh creative challenge.
And listen: we all went a little nuts at the beginning of the pandemic. With nothing to do and nowhere to go, forced to turn our minds towards anything other than the suffocating reality of our lived experiences, many of us developed new obsessions to keep ourselves occupied—knitting, baking bread, you name it. For Randall Poster, a lauded music supervisor and longtime Wes Anderson collaborator, that obsession was birdsong.
“As someone moved by and working on music all my life, I had my ears opened to the music of the birds and was moved by the beauty and variety,” Poster said in a statement.
Poster’s newfound appreciation for an entirely different genre of melodies led him to assuming the role of creative director of For the Birds, which draws inspiration from the residents of the Botanic Garden—Baltimore Orioles, Gray Catbirds, House Wrens, Swallows—and emphasizes the need for the birds’ continual need for environmental protection and preservation. Over the last 6 months, a deadly avian flu has killed an unprecedented number of wild North American birds.
On a recent, gloriously sunny Thursday afternoon, several artists could be found parked next to their creations, excited to explain their work. Artists Chen Chen and Kai Williams came up with Blue Heron Triangle, a floating dock built with recycled plastic and bamboo that’s meant to serve as a rest stop for Great blue herons in the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden.
“I think it might take a second for them to get used to it, but we just wanted to give them a little platform to use to fish for the little tiny fish that are swimming around in here,” Chen told The Daily Beast.
Artist Julie Peppito’s contribution, a large, sculptural birdhouse made out of wood, metal, plastic, concrete, mosaic and a number of found objects, is based on five different birds, the artist told The Daily Beast. “When I was researching for the project, they said it would be nice to do it on birds that are local, so I was looking at all the local birds and I found that there were four birds that had ‘American’ in the title.”
She decided to start there, and also drew inspiration from a barn owl to represent wisdom. “I’m all about symbolism.”
Peppito’s ornate birdhouse, named United Birds of America (E Pluribus Unum), “is about us trying to live up to our motto—out of many, one,” Peppito said.
Poster will also be releasing a compilation of music called For the Birds: The Birdsong Project, which put out a call for new music inspired by birds and birdsong last year. People really took to the assignment: the compilation includes an incredible 20 albums. Musicians like Nick Cave and Elvis Costello, as well as creatives like author Ocean Vuong and iconic diva Bette Midler, contributed songs, poems and original album covers.
The Botanic Garden’s sprawling outdoor installation, which officially opened to the public on June 11th, will be in place until the end of October, giving local birds the chance to interact with and settle into the wide variety of temporary homes that have been made for them. In this sense, the birds themselves will assume the role of participating artists.
The exhibition also has an environmental bent: “Climate change and related destruction of habitat have led to a 30 percent decline in birds across North America,” Adrian Benepe, the president and CEO of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, said in a statement. “For the Birds celebrates and underscores the existential connection between birds and plants, which are entirely mutually dependent, with art, education, and science for an audience of all ages.”
There might be a serious mission here, but the whimsy and variety of the birdhouses ensure that the exhibition gives off a lightness of spirit. Kids will go nuts for the bright colors and bird sightings, and adults will relish the details.
Artist Amy Ritter’s birdhouse, a three-tiered steel structure seeded with grass, flowers and shrubs, is meant to shield avian visitors from predators and prying eyes. Plus, Ritter cracked, “it’s inclusive to all birds—so great for Pride Month!”