A Bird In The Hand Is Worth Two On A Gibson Les PaulMay 24, 2010
The weather’s been great in London at the moment. I was going to spend Sunday watching Columbo at Lunchtime and then find somewhere to go to soak up the sun. I received a text from one of my friends, The Ever Gorgeous Dez™, reminding me about an exhibition at The Barbican Curve gallery, by a French artist called Céleste Boursier-Mougenot. It’s an installation featuring Gibson guitars and basses (Les Paul versions), cymbals and Zebra Finches. The comings and goings of the finches as they walk along, or peck at the frets, build nests from the foliage in the sand, or fly around and land on cymbals brings pleasing sounds, coupled with their natural tweet. The instruments are miked up and amplified so you can appreciate the clean sound of a Les Paul.
I could end up explaining in greater detail, but you need to see this video to give you an idea. Jimi Hendrix is alive and well in a Finch.
It was the last day of the show and after watching half of Columbo, I decided to go (it wasn’t a particularly good one anyway). When I got to the Barbican there was a large queue and I saw a warning notice that the wait would be at least two hours. Sod that, I thought, and turned around to leave the building. I just happened to look at the queue once more and recognised someone. It was The Ever Gorgeous Dez™. I thought she went much earlier in the day. Surely the wait wasn’t that long. She called me over, much to the annoyance of everyone else in the queue and proceeded to explain that her original plan of getting there early was scuppered by a massive hangover. Still, her hangover was my benefit and we both waited until we were finally ushered in.
It was fantastic. We walked through a metal curtain, then made our way down a dark corridor where images were flashing on the walls. We kept going until the room suddenly opened up and we saw the finches doing their thing. The birds were tiny and would land on the ground at any time, so everyone was walking carefully and apart from a couple of children, whose parents clearly let them just run around wherever they are, everyone moved slowly so as not to scare them. At one point, two birds landed on the cycle helmet Dez was holding, then moved to her shoulders and started pecking at her dreadlocks. They must’ve thought it was some kind of vine they could get pieces from, to build on the nests they created in some of the guitars. Others landed on shoes, folded arms, or heads. According to the museum worker, the birds were cautious about human visitors at the start of the show (quite right too, some of us can be vile), but now they were very comfortable.
It was amazing to be part of this sound art, but also to witness first hand the habits of these fabulous creatures. I’m an urban Pie to the core, but it was lovely to be able to coexist for a short time with creatures other than cats, dogs, rats and cockroaches. Truly, it was one of the maddest shows I’d ever been too and possibly the most uplifting.