Urban Species Restoration Unit

USRU 22Urban Species Restoration Unit

In studying the various efforts to restore what man has damaged and degraded it is hard to escape the idea that what we are really speaking about is habitat for all living things and striking a balance between man’s unthinking and unrelenting encroachment on what is left of habitat for all the other species on the earth besides man. What if efforts to protect those spaces or efforts to restore what has been degraded or destroyed are stymied? What if the need to build more and more housing forces habitat out of urban, as well as suburban human habitat? What will the birds do? Where will they nest? What will they use in this urban environment devoid of forestation or even green bushes to feather their nests?
Probably the most important idea is the collision between man and every other live species on the planet. Higgs speaks loudly to this in relating the “bear in the kitchen” story. In that respect, the only possible solution is that man must treat areas outside of wilderness preserves as a continual buffer zone so that the lines are blurred. Urban areas just for humans are not restorable—until the demise of man. See Thomas Cole’s Course of Empire.
It happens that I like crows. Scratch that, it’s is an absolute fascination. Last fall I painted crows, pulling down the curtain of fall over a beautiful sun-filled summer day—the painting was featured in Clamor 2013. Purely by coincidence UWB recently posted the link to a PBS video entitled, A Murder of Crows. This little masterpiece highlighted how crows in urban Tokyo form nests using wire hangers, which they twist and bend into a shape that will accommodate the nesting bird’s form. This film aided me in the concept of a nest built entirely of manmade “disposable” materials, Styrofoam, plastics, wire, painted acrylic, polystyrene in any form.
I imagined that when the habitat is completely gone, there will be a public outcry to return the birds! Likely activists will lobby cities, counties and states for new laws, rules and regulations to return those flying critters to the urban landscape—not by tearing down buildings but mandating large scale spaces for birds to use as habitat in this stark grey cement and glass world. Man’s creation, the cinderblock is called into service by an imaginary Federal law that mandates each citizen to provide outdoor space for re-habitation of birds. In essence the law, by way of eminent domain seizes the airspace of outdoor balconies on all urban high rise buildings and mandates seasonal maintenance (after chicks have left the nest) and prohibits humans from being less than ten feet away from the unit. Penalties for interference include prison time and monetary fines. Of course, the ten foot rule would have been controversial, so would the fresh air provided by opening the door to a balcony—but deemed a small price to pay to restore birds to the urban environment – even if the only food they could find was shards of plastic or tossed out disposable lighters.
Here we have a sculptural piece which announces the problem “hundreds dead” as the published extra of a major urban newspaper, The San Francisco Chronicle. The announcement is in the form of an acrylic transfer affixed to a painting of a blue sky with pale, barely formed clouds drifting in the background. On one end, the unit is labeled and numbered. The third side is a bold affront to the eyes, aesthetics are informed by a circus of red and white stripes over which a cautionary yellow label mandates “Keep Back Ten Feet” while reciting the specific CFR that imposes jail time and monetary fines. The image of a dead crow, mouth agape and feet rising in the air lays at final rest atop the rules. Rising from the cement base is a foundational structure for a nest, made from rebar (to insure structural integrity over the life of the unit) tipped with polystyrene fibers that could be plucked and used to “feather a nest.” Here it appears that a candidate for survival built a nest with items that the bird could find in the urban environment, trash. In this case, a wire hangar, Styrofoam from meat packaging, a crushed cigarette box and other heat holding man-made materials. The result is that the heat held by the plastics cooked the egg as it lies in the center looking poached, a lone feather by its side in a moment of poignant disgust.

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