Madeline Gordon Gallery

Doting on Blackbirds

Anna Van Stralen


In his poem ‘Thirteen ways of looking at a blackbird’ Modernist poet Wallace Steven’s examines the interconnected relationships between the natural world, the human emotional experience, and the living things we encounter. The stanzas bring together fragments of moments which draw in meaning from the titular muse, examining the creature from many angles, through its gaze, in the movement of it’s shadow, in memory, in presence.

Doting on blackbirds adopts the process of a scanning, watchful inhabiting of the ‘hallway spaces’ of the human processes of living. By prioritizing chance driven encounters in space, solitude and listening becomes a vehicle for gaining knowledge of other life forms, other living patterns, and a shared experience of being a free and active agent in the world.

As I spend time in spaces which I would usually pass through, the appreciation of the value of small things increases, building knowledge of the travelling companions and daily struggles of which I am just a small operational part. Doting on blackbirds is about acceptance – accepting a slower pulse, and allowing the things that surround me to take on a richer significance.

It’s also about light, solitude and contentment – is it possible to experience a greater sense of contentment with less, to notice more in an emptier day and to find peace within the dialogue of a quieter mind. In this work, powerlines become monuments, encounters with birds become symbolic visitations and light builds ephemeral moments never to be repeated.

The sculptural works are composed from found objects, thin veneers of paint and material usually considered garbage. In attempting to compose value and worth from the unwanted and discarded, Doting on Blackbirds is a theory for living and an appeal to a withdrawal from excess – an excess of busyness, of material consumption and of self centred habits of thought and activity.

Most of all, it is a statement of the significance of the small dramas and unseen sacrifices of a thousand guardians over a thousands nests. In more words from Wallace,

A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

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