Ghost of Gone Birds: Celebrity art on a wing and a prayer

Emma Love
Monday 24 October 2011 18:14

It's something of a leap to go from making a film about the band Gorillaz to one about birdwatching. But that's exactly what documentary maker Ceri Levy did recently with The Bird Effect. Not content with that, he found the subject of birds so interesting that he has gone on to curate an exhibition, Ghosts of Gone Birds, in London, with more than 100 artists on board producing new work.

"It started out as a film about birdwatchers and watching, and then I heard Margaret Atwood talk about the problems of bird extinction at The Birdfair, the Glastonbury for birders," explains Levy, who tested out a smaller version of the show in Liverpool earlier this year. "I wanted to get the message across about how we're experiencing a faster rate of bird extinction than normal."

So he compiled a list of extinct birds, then sent it out to artists and asked them to choose which one they wanted to represent. The list of artists and their birds is seemingly endless, from Polly Morgan, who's doing a sculptural heron, to Rob Ryan's Stephens Island wren, Peter Blake's dodo, Dafila Scott's pink-headed duck and Rebecca Jewell's Choiseul crested pigeon. There's Jamie Hewlett's witty take on the Hawaiian crow, which can be seen striding over a smaller dodo, carrying an eccentric-looking man wearing army fatigues and honking a horn. Charming Baker has chosen the Guam flycatcher ("it's a small brown bird that wasn't particularly exciting until Charming got out his paints and canvas") giving the piece a two-tiered wallpaper-style background with the bird perching on the dividing line. Gail Dooley has taken on the albatross, recreating the bird's life-size wingspan from a series of ceramic albatross heads, while paper-cut artist Claire Brewster has opted for the greater and lesser koa finches.

There will also be a programme of talks and events running alongside the exhibition, which includes Jimi Goodwin from Doves performing the title track he has written for The Bird Effect documentary at Rich Mix.

Right now for Levy it feels like Christmas come early, with parcels of art arriving every day.

"The reaction from artists prepared to do a piece has been quite humbling. If you'd said to me a year ago that I'd be receiving a knitted great auk from Margaret Atwood in Canada, I'd have scoffed at the thought."

Ghost of Gone Birds, Rochelle School, London E2 2 to 26 November (

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