Jenny Kendler
Birds Watching, 2018-2019
Reflective film mounted on aluminium on steel frame

Birds Watching is a 40-foot-long sculpture composed of a ‘flock’ of one-hundred reflective birds’ eyes mounted on aluminium, originally created for Storm King’s exhibition Indicators: Artists on Climate Change, Mountainville, New York. The colourful eyes glow – or gaze – back when hit with light, such as a camera flash. Each eye belongs to a species of bird considered endangered by climate change, creating a potent portrait of what we stand to lose.

When encountering the direct gaze of these many others, Birds Watching asks us to consider our own responsibility for climate change’s myriad effects on other beings. Have we allowed birds and other non-humans – with their unique and unfathomably wondrous life-ways – to be sacrificed to extraction capitalism? As the Surrealist André Breton suggests, in order to change ways of being, we must first change ways of seeing.

In that spirit, Birds Watching reminds us that truly seeing is a reciprocal act. Mass media imagery and omnipresent screens skew our sense of vision towards a one-way consumption, contributing to our feeling of being apart from the world. When we fall into this limited, non-participatory vision, what we see tends to confirm our biases and stereotypes – flattening other beings, like birds, into mere decoration for our world, or containers for human symbolism. This objectifying gaze has become the dominant mode of looking, but what about other gazes – the gaze of mutual curiosity, the gaze of respect, or even of love?

And most potently, when our act of seeing is reciprocated by another being, this mutual gaze involves us in an active participation with and within this vibrant biosphere. Relearning the ability to look deeply at nature enrols us in the enfolding, participatory act of living – re-weaving our entanglements with the rest of the natural world. When we allow ourselves to be permeated by nature’s beauty, we are reminded that we cannot be solely spectators in this age of the Anthropocene – when human care itself has become an ecological force. Truly seeing can be a first step towards practising a renewed ethos of mutualism and care.

Birds Watching invites seeing with an eye towards becoming, reminding us that when we look at nature, nature looks back.

Find out more about Jenny Kendler on her website.