SOAS University of London

Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, School of Arts

Bird in Hand (2019): Migration, Murmuration, and Messages in the work of artist Simryn Gill (born in Singapore, 1959)

Emilia Terracciano (University of Oxford)

Date: 19 November 2019Time: 5:15 PM

Finishes: 19 November 2019Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Faber Building, 23/24 Russell Square Room: FG08

Type of Event: Seminar

Birds sample the air we breathe and the water we drink, detecting danger to the environment and our health before we do. In his book Their Fate is Our Fate: How Birds Foretell Threats to Our Health and Our World, Australian microbiologist and immunologist Peter Doherty argues that avian and human worlds are delicately and intimately entwined. Many will have heard of the canary in the mine and how it was used to give warning. Humans still look to birds as messengers. This paper considers how artist Simryn Gill engages with the avian world to think about ecology, migration and changing perceptions of bird species. Based between Sydney and Port Dickson, Malaysia, Gill has conceptualised our evolving and technologised notions of space, territory, and race through the image of the bird. Her work Bird in Hand could refer to the shortened adaptation of the ancient Greek proverb ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’. Bird in Hand displays the print of the body of a found silvereye bird (killed by the artist’s old cat). An avian species from the South Seas, ranging as far as Tasmania in its seasonal travels, the silvereye prompts numerous reflections about invasive species, vermin extermination, and catastrophes to come. Offering a critique of the commonly held view that a small benefit available now is more valuable than some possibly larger future one, Gill appears to ask: what small futures can we hold dear, when we choose the bird in hand?

About the Speaker: 

Dr Emilia Terracciano is a writer and art historian based in London and Oxford. Emilia lectures in modern and contemporary art. She is the TORCH/Ruskin AW Mellon Global South Fellow, and Bowra Junior Research Fellow in the Humanities at Wadham College, University of Oxford. She was previously a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at Ruskin 2015-2018. She has written for Art JournalThird TextArt Bulletin and FriezeMargModern Painters1000WordsMet Breuer, and Jhaveri Contemporary. Her book Art and Emergency: Modernism in twentieth-century India was published by IB Tauris in 2018.

Organiser: Pamela Corey

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