In ten installations created over the past twenty years, Rachel Berwick has focused our attention on human interactions with and understandings of the natural world. Her past works have examined species that are extinct (the Tasmanian tiger and passenger pigeon), nearly extinct (Lonesome George, the last surviving member of his subspecies of Galapagos tortoise), and reborn (the Coelacanth, a 400-million year old species of fish that was thought to be extinct and then re-discovered living at depths of approximately 1000 feet and classified as a "living fossil"). Berwick's new installation, Zugunruhe, is her second memorial to the passenger pigeon. Once numbering in the billions, the species inspired awe in nineteenth-century naturalists and experienced a rapid decline that brought it to the edge of extinction by 1900. The last passenger pigeon, Martha died in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoological Garden on September 1, 1914.
Fascinated by the natural history and the history of science, Berwick spent over four years in research for Zugunruhe, studying writings of and about seventeenth- to nineteenth-century naturalists and explorers. She sought stories that, in her words, "illuminate the intersection between man and nature; specifically stories that surprise us into considering or imagining our place in the world, our coming into being and, now at a time of an awareness of global climate change, our possible extinction."
Zugunruhe consist of two components: a tree laden with amber passenger pigeons and encased in a 9' high octagon of mirrored, smoky glass; and a glass globe containing a dial that moves in simulation of migration and points to written reports of passenger pigeon sightings that are printed on adjacent walls. The installation is characterized by intellegence and a cool elegance, and by Berwick's visually arresting and metaphorically apt choice of materials: passenger pigeons are cast in copal—an immature form of amber, the stuff of fossils—and mirrors cast reflections that commingle the viewer (human) and subject (animal), reinforcing the artist's message of our commonality.
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