Art takes flight at Festival of the Mind
An exciting series of new creative collaborations bringing birds and art under one wing will set up across the city for the upcoming Festival of the Mind this month (20 – 30 September 2012).
Animal Magic: The Wisdom of Birds will pair the University of Sheffield’s Professor of Zoology Tim Birkhead with Sheffield-based contemporary artist Paul Evans to create a series of giant eight foot Bowerbird nest structures around the city.
Once built, local artists will be stationed in the human-sized bowers - which in nature look remarkably like human-built huts adorned with trinkets – in order to transform them into full-scale interactive art pieces.
Professor Birkhead will use his knowledge of animal behaviour to instruct the artists on how exactly mimic the behaviour of the Bowerbird to tempt members of the public inside to view the constructions, to be created in Weston Park on Thursday 20 and Friday 21 September in Barkers Pool.
Of the project, Professor Birkhead said: “This is a great way to show the public just how amazing nature can be. Not many people know about bowerbirds, and even fewer can believe that birds can build such sophisticated structures.
“Science might seem dull on paper, but it really is quite remarkable and this is a great way of getting it out of the textbooks and into people’s imaginations.”
The ambitious series of installations entitled Animal Magic: The Wisdom of Birds will also feature a dawn chorus of Twitter haiku by local poets at the account @Callhaiku, and a flock wallpaper of mutating starlings that will be installed in various locations around the University.
The artistic-academic collaboration came about through the University’s Ideas Bazaar in September 2011, at which the local creative community were invited to meet with academics to form partnerships which could turn their ideas into reality.
Paul said: “Since 2009 I have used a variety of creative processes including drawing, painting and animation to express my sense of awe and wonder at the complexity of the natural world. Examples of my work on this subject include a series of life-sized drawings of whales and an animation of fast-evolving butterflies created with graphic designers Humanstudio.
“My journey through the avian world with Professor Birkhead has been both a delight to the senses and a challenge to the mind. Birds are truly marvellous and to express even a small part of Tim’s expert knowledge and enthusiasm for these creatures has been difficult to say the least.
“What I hope people will find in these artworks is something of a sense of the strange beauty of birds, coupled with an expression of the profound mystery that still surrounds these amazing, almost magical creatures.”
Professor Birkhead said: “The interface between science and art is one of the most exciting areas of innovation. Birds possess an array of senses not dissimilar to our own enabling us to identify with them in a way not possible with most other animals. Art informed by science is a wonderfully exciting way to tap into those regions of the human brain that so often seem completely dormant.”
Together with three colleagues, Tim set up New Networks for Nature in 2009 as a way of embracing artists, scientists, writers, whose work draws inspiration from the natural environment and New Networks for Nature celebrates the different ways the natural world influences our culture.
Professor Birkhead, Fellow of the Royal Society and Professor of Zoology at the University of Sheffield, is the author of numerous books including Bird Sense and The Wisdom of Birds: An Illustrated History of Ornithology. Professor Birkhead recently completed his 40th year of studying guillemots on Skomer Island, Wales, which has been hailed as a spectacular achievement by the ecological community. He is committed to the public understanding of science, regularly appearing in the media as a featured expert on wildlife stories.
Paul Evans is a visual artist based in Sheffield who studied at both the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University. A lifelong supporter of environmental causes, he set up a branch of Friends of the Earth whilst in his school sixth form and was involved in a number of direct actions for Greenpeace during the 1980s.
The artworks created during the collaboration, which features as part of the citywide University of Sheffield Festival of the Mind, will be unveiled throughout the city on 20 September 2012.
Animal Magic: The Wisdom of Birds is part of the University’s Festival of the Mind, a collaboration between the city and the University of Sheffield which will showcase the University’s cultural strengths by bringing together research staff from the University and the cultural and creative industries in the city, through a series of high impact knowledge exchange partnerships. The Festival of the Mind is for everyone - the general public, academic colleagues and the professional and cultural quarter.
Five themes have been identified for the Festival of the Mind to enable individuals to highlight cross-cutting research which can be linked to outreach and wider collaboration in the city: Magic, Space, Identity, City and Craft.
The Festival will also mark the official launch of Civic University, a celebration of the University’s strong connections in the city and its founding principles to put knowledge to work for the good of others. This practical approach inspires collaboration across subject areas and with individuals, businesses and organisations beyond the University to solve the more pressing problems we face, both close to home and around the world. Events take place between 20–30 September 2012. For further information visit:
Professor Tim Birkhead is Professor of Zoology at the University of Sheffield’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences. To find out more about Professor Birkhead visit:
Paul Evans has engaged in a number of collaborative projects with academics, poets (including Gregory Award winners Chris Jones and Matthew Clegg) and with graphic designers Humanstudio. He often works in series, through site-specific installations, and through internet-based activities that connect apparently disparate elements through a form of “visual poetics”.
He has won a number of prestigious awards and prizes including the Eyestorm Gallery Award for Painting. In 2010 he was the Leverhulme Trust artist in residence within Cardiff University School of History, Archaeology and Religion.
The University of Sheffield
With nearly 25,000 students from 125 countries, the University of Sheffield is one of the UK´s leading and largest universities. A member of the Russell Group, it has a reputation for world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.
The University of Sheffield has been named University of the Year in the Times Higher Education Awards for its exceptional performance in research, teaching, access and business performance. In addition, the University has won four Queen´s Anniversary Prizes (1998, 2000, 2002, 2007). These prestigious awards recognise outstanding contributions by universities and colleges to the United Kingdom´s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life. Sheffield also boasts five Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and many of its alumni have gone on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence around the world.
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