Brooklyn Botanic Garden will present “For the Birds,” a multidisciplinary celebration of the interconnections of birds and plants, from June 11 to October 23, 2022. Anchored by a Garden-wide exhibition of 33 site-specific birdhouses, “For the Birds” also features a gallery exhibition, music, performances, and education programming inspired by the Garden’s resident birds and the threat to their long-term survival. A landmark 2019 study, amplified by the National Audubon Society, estimated that there has been a 30 percent decline in bird population across North America since 1970. Climate change, air and water pollution, and habitat destruction are among the cited causes.
“For the Birds” is part of a larger initiative by the exhibition’s creative director, acclaimed film and television music supervisor Randall Poster, who has curated a 20-album set of original recordings set for release this year titled “For the Birds: The Birdsong Project.” Created during the COVID-19 lockdown, music and poetry from some of the240-plus contributors will be woven into “For the Birds” through a listening station and live performances. “The Birdsong Project” includes nearly 200 original pieces of music, more than 70 poems, and 20 original album covers by more than 220 music artists, actors, literary figures, and visual artists. Among the contributors are musicians Beck, Nick Cave, Elvis Costello, Philip Glass, Adam Horovitz, Seu Jorge, Yo-Yo Ma, Mark Ronson, and Loudon Wainwright III; poets Rita Dove, Ada Limón, and Ocean Vuong; actors Bette Midler, Jeff Goldblum, Michael Keaton, Natasha Lyonne, and Wendell Pierce; and artists Brian Calvin, Roz Chast, Chris Johanson, and Simone Shuback.
“Like a lot of people working from home during the Plague of 2020, I found some solace in the quiet that descended on New York City,” Randall Poster said. “As someone moved by and working on music all my life, I had my ears opened to the music of the birds and was moved by the beauty and variety of their song. I was not alone. I also learned that bird life was at great threat as habitats are increasingly threatened. And so, inspired by both joy and revelation, the Birdsong Project began. We reached out to musicians from all over the world to write new musical pieces inspired by birds and birdsong. The response was overwhelming. We then began asking visual artists and architects to design and build birdhouses to draw further attention to birds and birdlife and the importance of our coexistence.”
The 33 site-specific birdhouses on view across the Garden were created by renowned artists, architects, and designers including Charlap Hyman & Herrero, Olalekan Jeyifous, Misha Kahn, Nina Cooke John, Roman and Williams, SO – IL, Steven Holl and Raphael Mostel, Sourabh Gupta, Tatiana Bilbao ESTUDIO by Helene Schauer, Tom Sachs, Walter Hood, and more. Inspired by bird species in residence at BBG, each birdhouse is a meditation on the natural world from artists working in a range of materials and points of view. Each birdhouse is coupled with a track from “The Birdsong Project” offering a multisensory experience for visitors.
“Climate change and related destruction of habitat have led to a 30 percent decline in birds across North America. Since 1911, Brooklyn Botanic Garden has been growing, preserving, and promoting plants and conservation—we are home to one of the nation’s first native plant gardens, and our grounds function as a wonderful, protected space for birds,” Adrian Benepe, president and CEO of Brooklyn Botanic Garden, said. “‘For the Birds’ celebrates and underscores the existential connection between birds and plants, which are entirely mutually dependent, with art, education, and science for an audience of all ages.”
For the Birds also features an exhibition of works from multidisciplinary artist Taryn Simon’s “Birds of the West Indies” in the Conservatory Gallery; a Soundbath featuring Alex Somers; weekly birding tours; horticulture displays connected to the theme of birds and plants; programs for kids and families; and listening areas to hear tracks from “The Birdsong Project.”
All For the Birds programs are free with general admission unless otherwise noted as a ticketed event. For more information, visit bbg.org/forthebirds.
Birdhouses Exhibition Locations throughout the Garden
At the center of For the Birds is a Garden-wide outdoor exhibition of 33 site-specific birdhouses made by internationally renowned artists. Each birdhouse provides an opportunity to learn more about birds and their habitats through the eyes of artists and designers working with a variety of materials and points of view.
Several birdhouses were created with specific species in mind such as: SO – IL’s 3D-printed clay A Palace for the Eastern Bluebird; artist Nina Cooke John’s Oh Robin!, an abstracted interpretation of robins’ nest weaving; architect Suchi Reddy’s The Nest Egg, which carries many elements seen in Carolina wren nests; Ellen Van Dusen’s Trust Me Downy, inspired by the downy woodpecker; and Jessica Maffia A Home for Flickers, designed as a sanctuary for this migratory species.
The parallels between human and avian migration and travel also inspired Studio Barnes’ Fly South, an art deco–inspired nod to the migration patterns of northern birds that head to Florida during the winter months; Sourabh Gupta’s woven, a communal birdhouse inspired by the designer’s own travels far from home; and Tom Sachs’s Swiss, which reflects on the meaning of land borders and national identity to both humans and the birds that fly above them.
Interactions between humans and birds is forefront in many works: Artist Walter Hood’s A Nest for Crows places humans in the role of creating a home for crows out of our own litter, including discarded objects and bottlecaps; and Roman and Williams’s designers Stephen Alesch and Robin Standefer’s 100 Martin Inn is an intricate cedar birdhouse for purple martins, native songbirds that depend on human-made birdhouses for their survival.
Coming back to birdsong, architect Steven Holl and composer Raphael Mostel designed Four Birds with inspiration from the first composition of French composer Olivier Messiaen, “Le Merle Noir” (Blackbird); and for The Auguries, artist Andy Holden took recordings of the songs of some of world’s most endangered bird species and turned the waveforms into sculptures to preserve the songs for the future and remind us of many species’ precarious conditions.
A list of the birdhouses with artist information and a map of their locations throughout the Garden can be found at bbg.org/feature/birdhouses.