Wind Birds: part of a true tail of wind turbines, hitch-hikers, and how they effect the local birds of central France.
These paintings were made both as emblems for the 30 day journey spanning the northern half of France and into Holland back in 2007, and as sweetener to the deal proposed to those who had hired us to stand in for avian experts and create an environmental impact study to interpret how wind turbines effect birds. This task we did diligently, not fully understanding the implications to the health of the bioregion, crafting a study littered with fully articulated impacts on birds as well as lofty goals for mitigating impact-peppered with a strong disclaimer-we are artists, not biologists (see excerpts here). I exchanged the ten paintings, plus the environmental impact report for transit back to montreal on a cargo ship, and funding for my friends project in India kick-starting traditional craft economies.
each bird portrait was made half from memory, half imagination, then the closest relative identified in the field guide to birds we were seeing in the farms and fields proposed for the wind turbine project. each work is titled for this bird, and the descriptions on the back are like the game, two truths and a lie, each one holding two true facts and one imagined one.
this method of painting from imagination and memory relies on spending weeks in the field observing birds behavior and identifying them in a field guide. this sourcing of imagery for painting relies on first hand knowledge to be able to then use the strongest memories and impressions from the physical experience of being close to actual birds to paint from. this is an important distinction to me since it relies on drawing people into connection with the natural world, going out to observe and eventually find empathy with the winged sentinels of the forest.
each work is ink and watercolor, 9″ x 11″ and stitched to cardboard, as these were the most efficient materials i have found to use while camping and hitch-hiking.
a story of birds and wind turbines in the massif central mountains of France.
(if you like these images, see some preliminary sketches, in public, here)
the following photographs and text contain a true story which unfolded through the fields, mountains and motor-ways of france in 2007. there is nothing more to describe. i love to create new experiments in how imagery and commentary can stand in for conventional dry storytelling, therefore, the story may connect to the images, or it may not. see what you can imagine through the visuals and text. enjoy. in a sense the paintings above are the conclusion, as they marked the end of this adventure, and were left in the executive offices of the wind turbine company who hired us, the ceo saying as i departed; “my wife will love these….”
beginning with the rising of the sun, in a small wood holding the cold remnants of a food fire from the night before, tilly and i pack our bags.
we want to catch the Spanish transport truck driver who said he was leaving for Spain at 9 am. exiting the forest, across a mono-cultural field of unknown crops (an appropriate breakfast guess is that they are cereals) and crossing the motorway on a bridge which spans two roman roads.
the new concrete vein intersecting the old artery to the heart of Rome. in ten minutes and five degrees of warmth that the sun is giving to the awakening world, we arrive to a lack of greeting.
the packed truck parking lot from the night before is abandoned, those who have slept and drank their fill of a legally required eight hours, have moved on as the sun thought about moving up.
Tilly is disappointed. we canvas the station, her fluent French allowing more conversational requests for lifts south. this interaction cheers her. despite this, three hours pass.
am worried about losing sight of her when she is asking truck drivers for lifts while i am at the exit with my thumb out on one hand and a sign in the other. a fine line between paranoia and caution
we are settled past the stage of being frustrated at people not stopping, and silently resolve to remember there is nothing to do about it, and waiting becomes a breathing exercise, or playful ways of displaying the sign, or some skin to passing drivers. at the exact moment we forget that people stopping is a part of reality, a sedan pulls up with a trunk full of hay and horse hair.
Bert and Greg are now our vessels to flow from the forest into the Sheraton hotel at the Paris airport, to be refilled with a five course lunch.
we now, within the hour, work for a multinational company, and are a little dazzled. in the car, along the Paris vein, we are asked if we know anything about birds. and we ask fourteen questions.
we are like reporters soliciting information out of general curiosity, and are paid with much information about our escorts, and their role.
Greg is the president of INNOVENT, a company based in France that he started in 1993, before wind power was in fashion or even profitable in France.
his first turbine was erected to make his factory more energy efficient (and as an added benefit more ecologically sound, saving the world through saving money).
Greg’s first turbine tumbled to the parking lot, and the turbine blades which caused the problem are still sitting in the yard. he fixed it, and is now in the process of installing turbines all over France.
in response, we ask another question. why do you want to know if we know anything about birds?
he tells a story of a beautiful, carefree week in the French mountains looking through binoculars at avian intricacies.
being a sucker for a good story i believed it wholeheartedly, and began imagining the beauty, of a british columbian mountain, and long days of stillness and quiet in the forest, and the potential of snow and rain and needing to survive, of climbing trees for health and joy and to keep the direction in this remote alpine forest site.
tilly wasn’t responsive to his story, probably because she is more honest, and knows she doesn’t know anything about birds, except they can fly
i accept, and we take flight past the Sheraton, and into the massif central mountains.
over the Sheraton lunch we overhear, and oversee the signing of 20 million euro contracts, between the Finnish supplier and our two friends and patrons, Bert and Greg. Erkki , the fin, doesn’t disguise his excitement when his profit is signed on paper, and he immediately snatches the signed sheets as a child, but no one seems to notice.
Erkki gives gifts of vacuum sealed caribou from the Finnish wilder-land, and Greg asks Bert to get the innovent socks from the car urgently.
see a window, and jump through it to find that i would have been better off inside. i give a drawing to Erkki, hoping that it would act as a gift from Greg and Bert
the paper, on which i happened to draw wind turbine in the Scottish landscape, with connecting roads and sky as a seminal step in the HOW IS THE WEATHER project, transforms into a personal gift from me, making the lack of reciprocal gifts from Greg and Bert all the more clear.
sox are given and all is forgiven, but this moment brands itself somewhere in the back of my mind. PARDON ME, COFFEE BREAK. BRB blindly tilly and i are escorted by train to central France, a distinctly different mode of transport through the landscape, more impersonal even though your are in much closer proximity to so many people, maybe because of this.
while there were people willing to drive out of their way to take us to somewhere we needed to go when hitching, some folk wouldn’t give up the seats that our tickets had reserved for us, when asked politely. we were relegated to the play area, a mock 2D city where the children can drive around aimlessly, without any real ability to change anything, a feeling probably repeated in their teenage years.
this marks a beginning of the change in our thought patterns. we now are almost in Vichy, and have to decide what supplies we will need for the mountains, since innovent is sponsoring this bird-watching, and we have to decide what our stories are.
stories are fun to make up when you don’t have to. when we excitedly sat down on Greg’s leather seats, we were wandering Jewish artist who mumble, when we exited, we became biologists…wandering mumbling bumbling Jewish artistic biologists.
i changed my pants to prove it. we were now to play a game akin to so many others we had as rebel clowns, but without the face paint, and group of silly support to keep up in character.
we are introduced to Jean Claud Dupris, who has been waiting for two and a half hours at the train station, because he and his moustache did not get our message.
Jean Claud dupris and his moustache unceremoniously, but respectfully dump our stuff in his family van, and hustle us towards unknown destinations.
it is hard to explain to someone that we would rather be outside camping in the rain than inside a hotel, and harder if you are pretending that you are a biologist and not just a nature addicted tramp, or a pair of them.
in the leather seated horse carriage which brought us to Paris, Jean Claud was painted as a primitive man. someone who is rural. and also someone who can be somewhat stubborn, and if this is the case, we were instructed to say that we expect him to fulfil our needs to facilitate the project being completed, and if he has a problem with this, then call Greg. this, as is my general experience, confrontational position was fruitless, and made a somewhat stubborn moustache a downright donkey.
tilly was the one who had to spin the yarn, to weave out biologist’s lab coats out of our art education.this, as is my general experience, confrontational position was fruitless, and made a somewhat stubborn moustache a downright donkey.
standing in the lobby of the hotel that Jean Claud drops us in, we are asked publicly how many beds we require by the patron and her Dalmatian.
tilly, in her rhythmic ignorance of the sick minds of men, says of course, one. hysterics are building.
the ridiculousness of the situation are bursting forth, and i give a stranger drinking at the bar with a missing tooth a Monty python wink wink.
tilly misses the joke, but it sets the stage for me to see the humour in Jean Claud ignoring our pleas to sit down and talk about what we need from him.
as it was somewhat similar to sucking water from rock, we let him lizard his way out the door and home, with a 9:00 meeting planned.
five weeks have passed, and i have only recounted two days, the pace shall have to be more of a summary.
after Jean Claud leaves, tilly and i sit down to a ritual Friday night meal, real hysteria breaks in and we find perspective.
what the hell has just happened.
we awake in the woods, and are escorted through Paris’ five star food to Jean Claud and a hotel meal, from transient to responsible faster than you can say mammal.
one of our first tasks as biologists, once we managed to create enough heat to run a vehicle off Jean Claud the following day, and just are brought to a little village without our imagined needs being met, was to find out if birds were mammals.
let it suffice to say that the learning curve was an acute angle.
this is only the first chapter of a novel story, which is just as long.
in the future i would like to elaborate, to turn it into a different medium.
i would like to record tilly and i speaking about this story, and animate that with these photo’s.
but possibly simpler is better and we will let this story be as much as it is, enjoy it. i’ll elaborate if and when i make time.