Finland / Scotland
6 January 2021
Re:Tell it to the birds, 2020
[ID: Nestled amongst an entanglement of branches, their dropped brown leaves littering the forest floor, Tell it to the birds peeks out from behind a tree to greet it’s visitors. Perched on top of a long metallic grey stand is a paperback copy of Jessie Bullivant’s Master thesis Site Specific Illness. The background of the book cover is pale grey. On the front cover “Jessie Bullivant” appears in black text at the top. Underneath a black box with white text reads “Site Specific Illness”. The cover image sits below. It displays a luxurious cheeseboard meticulously composed of fanned crackers, green grapes, clusters of orange physalis, a selection of cheese wedges and logs, and two half pomegranates with their jewel-like pink seeds scattered across the scene.]
Dear reader(s): www.jessiebullivant.com
I write this letter of support from the position of a human viewer of Jessie Bullivant’s artwork
Tell it to the birds, 2020, exhibited during the winter of 2020 in the exhibition Bird Feeders curated by Sakari Tervo in Ramsholmen Nature Reserve, Finland (and documented in an online presentation at ofluxo.net).
I come from a lineage of “bird feeders”. Writing this letter I sit at my mothers kitchen table in Gourock watching an array of garden birds dart, dive, nip, swoop, flitter, hop and dance around a row of nine feeders. It transports me to the kitchen table of my apartment in Helsinki with Jessie, where I had the pleasure to indulge in a number of dialogues around Tell it to the birds, while we simultaneously greeted feathery visitors to our window bird feeder.
Tell it to the birds is an inviting artwork to think-with. Simple and sleek in its surface presentation, between the artwork, it’s pages pages and wider context lie complex weavings of relations and relationships. The thesis pages themselves move through time and space in a series of letters which bring together personal experiences, memories, anecdotes, responses to artworks and theoretical references. Placed in this exhibition setting of the forest, in direct contrast to the academic setting, the form and content of the thesis take on new meanings.
“Site specificity” is undeniably a key component of this work. By situating their MFA thesis, which in part performs as a critique of the University, in a new context Jessie offers it up as a “nutritious meal” to be consumed by a new audience. The pages of this artwork claim that “illness is also a way of communicating when other strategies fail. “I am unwell” may also be a way of saying ‘I am uncomfortable / unhappy / resistant / grieving / anxious / dying’”. So, why “tell it to the birds”? Are humans not listening, has this thesis fallen upon unattentive ears within the institution (University) and if so, might at least the birds respond?
Finland / Scotland
Far from a last resort, might we wish to welcome birds as visitors to our artworks? Personally, I have long been interested in the relationships between humans and more-than-human beings. Humans and birds co-inhabit a range of environments and relations, and the birds who visit our “feeders” are a particular form of companion species. Together we move beyond living “alongside” each other towards co-existence, intra-acting through our habits and movements which shift in relation to one another. Not only are birds listened to by humans, they also listen to and read us with great attentiveness. What might their readings of “Site Specific Illness” have to offer humans and our institutions?
Furthermore, Tell it to the birds makes me consider: What are we feeding the birds? Whilst offering up their thesis work as bird feed may suggest even further disillusion with the University, the sustitence comes in the form of knowledge rather than fat balls. With this it opens the question of knowledge consumption and access. Tell it to the birds is addressed to an audience that does not inhabit the University institution, but invites them to engage and participate, to be included in the production of knowledge.
These readings of Tell it to the birds may seem unconventional for the purpose of a letter of recommendation. Yet, this letter of support performs the very substance of Jessie Bullivant’s work as a responsive site for reading between the lines of time, space, site, relations and relationships. Their practice feeds a range of audiences and nourishes the discourses and environments/institutions it engages with. It has been my pleasure to think-with their artwork Tell it to the birds and act in advocacy of their generative practice.