Category: Art

"…the bird symbol is one of innocent nature corrupted by human action": Calum Colvin

Calum Colvin. Mute Swan, 1994. © the artist

PR: It is in “Deaf Man’s Villa” that birds first appear as a central motif. Later, in the mid 90’s, you went on to produce your “Ornithology” series. Can you tell us more about the symbolic significance of birds in your work.
CC: In “Deaf Man’s Villa” representations of birds appear symbolically in various forms as victims of human conceit and neglect. In this way the bird symbol is one of innocent nature corrupted by human action. In a sense this occurs again and again in my photographs, but there are other layers of symbolism in the use of birds. It highlights the complexity of meaning I aimed at achieving through the simple technique of staged constructed scenarios orchestrated before and recorded in front of a large-format camera. It is a multi-layered and endlessly cross-referenced image touching on themes of optical illusion, corrupted nature, transformation, evolution and reproduction. Although “the Deaf Man’s Villa” was titled after Goya’s home near Madrid, the place where he painted his incredible “Black Paintings”, the title became something more to me. I began to see the “Villa” as an emblem for the world as a whole and the “Deaf Man” as humankind. The general abuse of the planet by man coupled with the usually catastrophic attempts to interfere in the natural processes, for example, re-introducing extinct species, became an issue of some concern and I wanted to explore the consequences of this kind of behaviour. As you mentioned, the use of bird imagery became more central to the image in the mid 90’s when I started work on an ongoing series of images under the collective title, “Ornithology”, although in fact the works touched on many themes. I wanted to create a series of images which contained social commentary masked in a kind of urban Audobonesque visual style. These works include “The Magnificent Frigatebird”, an image which meditates on Scottish working-class culture, and “Sacred Ibis”, which looks at the destructive aspects of the lottery obsession.
Read Peter Robertson’s interview with Calum Colvin.
About Calum Colvin.
About Peter Robertson.