I kept a daily bird list for a year, recording every bird species I perceived between 3rd of January 2019 and 2nd of January 2020. The last time I kept a daily bird list was when I lived in New York from 2014-16, and during which time I realized I had a complicated affinity for house sparrows, as their colonial affect made me feel at home in the Americas due to our shared colonial history. Since 2014 I have been working with animals and the histories they carry.
This new bird-list project made me aware of the multiple histories present in my urban everyday through the mixed flock of birds I encounter each day. It also made me aware of listening as an artistic material and decolonial device, able to interrupt and complicate established forms of classification and ordering that I otherwise rely on.
The intention was always for these daily lists to produce paintings. I made some painting during 2019 while I was recording the birds, but most of the paintings would be made afterwards; painting is slower, and purposely so, it slows down my thinking of my relationships with companion species. Most of these paintings were made during lockdown. I found myself in isolation with my own recorded memories of multispecies encounters during a whole year of living without a global pandemic of this scale.
There are some daily bird lists that don’t have any birds on them, because I was travelling or there was a big storm and I couldn’t leave the house, or in the latter summer because of the 2019 bushfires. I can only imagine what this list would look like during the pandemic. Producing painted records of these daily lists is even more important during isolation in 2020 than it was when I first started. Global, colonial, migratory, diasporic and anthropogenic histories coalesce around us each day, the histories of our multispecies encounters clearly document this. COVID-19 is a similarly global, colonial, migratory and anthropogenic marker that is coalescing around us each day, but it is much harder to document, much more difficult to have a companion relationship with.
I’ve often thought about this while painting. Working in my studio in isolation I often hear or see a bird outside or flying over. I am not alone, these multispecies companions and their complicated histories are with me all the time, but so too is COVID-19 (the latter I am still working out how to co-habitate with). These paintings function Against Social Distancing by reminding me and their viewers, that we are never socially distant from our companion species and the knotted histories they carry.
These paintings will be presented in the solo exhibition by Fernando do Campo To companion a companion in January 2021 at Contemporary Arts Tasmania, Hobart; May 2021 at UNSW Galleries, Sydney; and mid 2022 at Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, Perth.Back to top