RARA AVIS

Commissioned for  Contour 556: interventions in the landscape, curated by Neil Hobbs, Public Art Festival 22 Oct - 13 Nov 

Website for exhibition

Until the French explorer Antonie Caen sighted black swans on the Western coast of Australia during his 1636 voyage, Europeans had presumed that all swans were white. Until then the black swan had been a symbol for something that didn’t exist. The phrase, rāra avis, ‘as rare a bird upon the Earth as a black swan,’ which was coined by 1st Century Roman poet Juvenal, was a statement of the impossible. The sighting of black swans on European expeditions overturned this thought, and reasoning that underpinned such a fallacy. However the significance of the philosophical idea of the black swan has continued as an analogy to remind us of the fragility of any system of thought, and that any seeming impossibility might yet be disproven. A ‘Black Swan Theory’ has also been developed in order to speculate about how we might perceive rare events that exist beyond our normal expectations of systems in nature, science, technology and society. 

In  Rāra avis, I am using QR codes to create five thoughtful points of intervention along of the Kingston Foreshore, a location inhabited by black swans. By scanning these codes viewers are taken to a website supporting digital works featuring images of black or white swans. Using film and photographs I recorded of black swans in Australia and white swans in England, I have created movies that explore ideas of possible and impossible dualities through patterns and symmetry.  Only available online through the portal of the QR codes, these works also play with the idea of the presence of place and lived experiences in the real world.  This is in contrast to the constructed and interconnected landscape in cyberspace that allows us to be in multiple places simultaneously.  Viewed in real time during the course of an outdoor walk, these small interventions employing swans as points of reflection, provide new perspectives on this landscape that may be taken for granted in the everyday.