Artists hope to ruffle feathers with model of dying sparrow

The once ubiquitous sparrow has suffered such a decline that one of the few guaranteed sightings in London this summer - on a plinth at an art gallery - is of the bird in its death throes.

The once ubiquitous sparrow has suffered such a decline that one of the few guaranteed sightings in London this summer - on a plinth at an art gallery - is of the bird in its death throes.

The animatronic model has been created by a pair of Scandinavian conceptual artists for an exhibition at a new display space at Tate Modern. Michael Elmgreen from Denmark and Ingar Dragset from Norway say that among their main purposes is to draw attention to the plight of the bird whose numbers have fallen by half in recent years.

It is not the first time they have used animatronics to explore their themes. The duo were celebrated at last year's Venice Biennale for their animated chimp Lala which struggled to spell out the word "utopia" using a lettered dice. They claim the ailing fortunes of the bird - captured between sheets of glass, marooned upside down, its heart visibly pounding inside its tiny chest - mirrors the demise of working-class identity in Britain.

The artists have given the piece three different titles to explore what they say are its multiple themes. One - Somewhere in the World It's 4 o'Clock - is an apparent reference to public powerlessness over world events. The second - Just a Single Wrong Move - examines how one mistake can cost a person dear, and the third - Blocking the View - is ironic.

Susan May, the curator of the exhibition, said yesterday: "This little sparrow is locked, twitching in its death throes, but it is of course a sculpted piece of animatronics. It is a heart-rending little creature which is endlessly dying ... the artists are very subversive, and they love to play with conventions."

The work forms part of a new series, Untitled: The Public World of the Private Space, marking the fourth anniversary of the opening of the Tate Modern and will rotate recent works by international artists every eight weeks. They will be displayed in a new space designed by architects Herzog and De Meuron on the north entrance of the Bankside building overlooking the Millennium Bridge.

The "trapped" sparrow will be visible to passers-by day and night. The exhibition by Elmgreen and Dragset opens today and runs until 4 July. Admission is free.

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