Precarious Birds is a collaboration between Timo Rissanen and Zoe Sadokierski through which we process and document our reaction – mostly grief – to the precarious circumstances of birds in the Sixth Extinction. The projects aims to give form to accelerated and irrevocable losses, but also to draw out stories of seeming resurrection and hopeful recovery.
In an opinion piece for The New York Times titled ‘A crisis for birds is a crisis for us all’, John W. Fitzpatrick (director of the Cornell Lab for Ornithology) and Peter P. Marra (director of the Georgetown Environment Initiative) write: Birds are indicator species, serving as acutely sensitive barometers of environmental health, and their mass declines signal that the earth’s biological systems are in trouble. Within this project, we use birds as an index, markers that point to the cultural, ecological and political dimensions of the Sixth Extinction.
In early 2018, we began a ‘conversation through making’, assigning each other a bird from one of the following Global IUCN Red List categories: Extinct; Extinct in the Wild; Critically Endangered; Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct); Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct in the Wild). We started with latin names beginning with A — Ava tricolor (Cuban macaw) and Anas Laysanensis (Laysan duck) — and intended to work our way down the alphabet.
Eighteen months later, around Kakapo and Kinglet Calyptura, two things became apparent. First, creating a monthly original artwork based on extensive research is unrealistic for a pair of full-time academics. Second, some bird-stories haunted us more than others. We whittled down from 26 to six birds each to allow us to nest-down with our chosen few.
Images and text on this site show process work — initial ideas and drafts created as we move toward an outcome: an exhibition, a book, a performance. In November 2019, we completed a residence at Arts Letters and Numbers, Averill Park, New York, to consolidate our ideas and spent longer than a few hours over Skype in each other’s presence.
Original rules for play:
- Once a month, we assign each other a bird from the BirdLife Data Zone (updated annually based on the IUCN assessment). The first birds’ scientific names must begin with the letter A, the second B, and so on through the alphabet.
- The selected birds must be classified in one of the following categories: Extinct; Extinct in the Wild; Critically Endangered; Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct); Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct in the Wild).
- We may respond to our assigned bird in any form/medium we like – writing, illustration, textile creation, etc.
- On the last Monday of the month, we email our response to each other. Hand-crafted work to photographed or scanned. We each keep any originals as well as a shared archive of digitised work.