Monday, October 8, 2007

Birds, H5N1 and Irony

Lately I have started a new series of work.

It is nesting season and I have been noticing lots of the most beautifully detailed and delicate Scaly-breasted Munia lonchura punctulata nests on my verandah and in the trees around our apartment in Chiang Mai. Being a weaver, I can't help but admire the materials and structure of these amazing forms. Apart from this, birds serve as a metaphor for the migratory experiences of families like mine that move between different parts of the world, and nests as the temporary and fragile resting places that we construct, abandon and sometimes reclaim along the way.

Moving back and forth between 3 very different cultural spheres allows me to look at experiences and people around me in a somewhat detached and analytic way. I spend part of my year in the coastal, suburban area where I grew up in Queensland, Australia, another part living in a community of Thais and expatriates from all parts of the world in Chiang Mai and a third part in the coastal Muslim community in which my husband grew up in Krabi, Southern Thailand.

I have always thought it fascinating how birds are able to move between spaces and places, carrying seeds in their bellies and shitting them out in a new environment, facilitating the spread of plant species and creating new 'hybrid' environments, much like the diaspora of communities of people around the world who fertilize new cultural spheres.
Besides all this, birds and the beautiful nests they craft, are simply an awesome aspect of our natural environment!

I have been considering this in relation to the current fear of birds surrounding H5N1 (Asian Bird Flu) and the potential that exists for a global influenza pandemic. This hit home last week when I rushed a friend to a hospital ER with a very high fever and we were hit with a barrage of questions about birds and our contact with them. I though immediately to one of my favourite daily rituals - an early morning cup of tea on my verandah watching the birds going about their business and feeling very special to have them nesting right on my doorstep.

It turns out that my friend only had Leptospirosos (yes, the rat urine bacteria!) but the interrogation in the ER prompted me think about the irony of something so alluring and liberated as birds being such a threat. I started this series of new work with this in mind.

Recently I stumbled across a fabulous pack of coasters with kitsch bird designs on them and am using the coasters as the base of these works and constructing onto them with finely split bamboo that the rice farmers around Chiang Mai use to tie bundles of rice together.

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