bird nature

bird nature

bird nature

acrylic paint on Giclée print, 76.2 x 76.2 cm

bird nature is composed of several layers:

  • a paper collage, composed of small squares of coloured paper
  • digitally processed images of starlings swarming
  • an abandoned bird nest, with a bird’s feather placed in it
  • a selection of 78 haiku composed by Basho (1644-1694)

these layers were photographed, composited and printed, and symbols for each haiku painted on the print. the symbols were drawn intuitively in response to each haiku and are all composed of 3 graphical elements – a dot, a line and a form (closed curve)

i imagined many schemes for creating the symbols, but they all ended up at extremes, on the one hand applying mathematical formulae to create lines and curves that had some linear relationship to elements of the haiku (a huge semantic, analytical and programming problem), or at the other extreme, using random numbers to select elements from a predefined library of dots and lines and forms, which would then be matched to randomly selected haiku

in the end, after 3 months of thinking about this, i just sat down and drew the symbols on paper in an hour. perhaps this was the best way, there shouldn’t be a formula for haiku, though there may be patterns that emerge. it is so difficult to escape patterns (i want to uncover patterns, but at the same time i want to escape them). in drawing the symbols for this picture, the first rule was that each symbol should be composed of a dot, a line and closed-curve. these are the fundamental building blocks of 2 dimensions

plum white

haiku 239 (detail from bird nature)

not about reducing ideas into component parts, the idea and meaning is in the relationship between the particles, not in the definition of the particles. instead of a dot, line and form, it would be equally valid to have any collection of shapes or objects. it is the relationship between the graphical elements and what they represent that defines the symbol. it would be as valid to use completely randomly generated forms to represent a haiku, since we cannot escape patterns (there is a paradox in all of this…)

in the symbols for this picture, the patterns that naturally happened were:

the dot most often represented the bird (or the essence of a bird, an idealised state, a viewpoint…)

the line represented the environment, the weather, the landscape, the call of the bird, the idea of a signal being sent, the process…

the form (closed shape) represented the object; the house, the boat, the person

in some symbols the dot is a point of view, in others it is the focus. the dot is often the soul and physical body of the bird, condensed into a point. i can’t help identifying with this dot, which makes it unclear whether i am describing a bird or myself in relation to these scenes that Basho describes. the beauty of these haiku is that they are at the same time specific, moments, and also generic, timeless and placeless. because of this it is easy to imagine being a bird…

in some symbols the line is a mountain slope, or a trajectory flowing from high to low, or a sense of movement, a sound wave, a wave on water, a path. also a sensed path, from hot to cold, light to dark…

in some symbols the closed form is an object (house, rock, boat), in others it is a living thing (person). in between these 2 states it is also a nest, an enclosing space, warmth, but always receding

bird nature - detail 3

bird nature – detail 3

notes (dec 2008)

the colour grid represents the opposing states / processes of life and death:

red blue

hot cold

gaseous solid

burning freezing

energy inert

in the middle region, these 2 forces combine to produce life (green). it is on this region where life and death meet that the bird nest rests

the bird’s nest is empty except for a single feather, which represents the fundamental element of the bird. it is also represents the remains of the missing/dead bird

the bird’s nest (a found object) is like an empty house, it no longer serves it’s original purpose. how it got to this state is unknown, perhaps it was simply blown out of a tree by the wind. it is also not known if when this happened it had already been discarded or was in use

it is not purposeless however, because it serves an alchemical function

the tiny lines drawn on the image are swarming patterns, derived from photographs of Swallows and Starlings (?). they reconcile the individual with the group, and the group with nature, in terms of order and chaos

the text is a collection of 78 haiku by Basho that refer directly to birds. collectively they therefore describe the relationship between the bird and nature, as observed by Basho

the haiku are the life that is absent from the nest

they are arranged in a grid, as if a particle lattice structure. they form a mesh, a net, an environment, enclosing, wrapping, the bird nest. they are memories of the nest and it’s builder, abstracted so as to contain the essence of the bird

bird nature - haiku symbols

bird nature – haiku symbols

each haiku is represented in 3 parts:

the original Japanese

the literal English translation

an intuitive symbol composed of 3 elements; dot, line and form

each element has a position, relative to the other elements each element might have a shape / size dimension. also colour / shade all these aspects might map from the meaning of each part of the haiku, or the whole. each element in it’s pure ideal form (e.g. dot, straight line, or circle) might also be associated with a segment of the haiku (e.g. a single word, a 5-7-5 segment, a word pair etc)

produce a series of matrices of the possible mappings but the final product will need to be an intuitive expression

properties and transformations

how the dot, line and form elements show themselves individually

how they are expressed as a variation of their fundamental, pure definition

the structure and composition of the haiku:

    • elements of the haiku, words, objects and places described, mapped to dot, line or form
    • the atomic structure of the elements

relation between symbols

how the dot, line and form elements are shown in relation to each other,

how they appear as a group, read as a composite symbol

the overall intuitive sense of the haiku:

    • movement and change
    • environment, place and feeling
    • change and place in time
sense time tense space primary element
static still outside of time past flatfieldearth dot
infinite future openskysea line
coming together
a single moment present cave

relationship between symbols and groups – perhaps they exert an influence on each other, like a magnetic field perhaps the grid exerts an influence on the formation of groups, like a gravitational field, rather than being a passive background

selected haiku

216 a winter peony232 the sea darkens

233 a wandering crow

238 a world of fragrance

239 white blossoms

245 at a kale farm

257 a bird catcher also

268 cherry flowers bloom

277 cold water

475 hackberries falling488 for what

493 a skylark sings

497 spring departing

504 cuckoo

507 in a barley field

509 a crane calls

510 even woodpeckers

511 across the field

729 good for nothing752 the hawk’s eye also

774 wild geese honking

775 fish or bird

776 was it a bush warbler

784 the cuckoo

788 cuckoo

814 carolers

823 crane feathers

288 a stork’s nest289 in a stork’s nest

295 playing on flowers

299 cuckoo

304 even a long day

305 in the middle of a field

306 summer rain

313 mid-harvest

330 look into

512 is it falling down?517 border guard

554 low tide crossing

561 the voice of a dove

643 bush warbler

645 daybreak

654 oranges

658 even in kyoto

680 by the panulownia tree

826 cuckoo827 one cry

874 a feather-down robe

875 a peddler’s

881 parsley baked duck

891 baby sparrows

907 bush warbler

913 butterflies and birds

920 hiding himself

335 cape irago336 more reassuring

337 a single hawk

365 wine cup

405 the cuckoo

413 suma’s fishermen’s

433 exciting

437 already harvested

439 what a good house

682 a sick goose695 building a bridge

696 usually hateful

700 disappeared

702 plovers fly away

720 a cuckoo

721 day after day

724 rice paddy sparrows

726 already sad

931 a bush warbler940 squid vendor

950 fallen blossoms

989 cockscomb

993 the sun covered

1007 this autumn

many thanks to Jane Reichhold and Kodansha International for permission to use text from Basho: The Complete Haiku (2008)

© Michael Davies, 2010.10