A Forest Song
bronze, 23-karat gold leaf, glass, synthetic and natural crystals, gems and minerals, polymer clay, epoxies and steel
cycle time 18 min 22 sec
A Forest Song
Imagine you are walking in a dark wood and come upon a clearing where a miscellany of strangely exotic birds has assembled. A great three-headed macaw, resplendent in red and blue plumage, casts a wary eye at you over his shoulder. Another head, this one amused, watches a furious rooster scold a magpie who adorns himself, inserting “borrowed” feathers, including rooster’s tailfeathers, among his own. The third, golden head, growing out of the macaw’s other wing, plays with a dead snake he has just killed. Meanwhile, the green head of a two-headed blue and green jay screams at a peregrine falcon, hiding inside the rooster. The peregrine has gashed the blue jay’s side, leaving a large wound. Nearby, a cluster of puffy yellow songbirds gobbles up small butterflies.
In this fantastical avian tableau, DaveandJenn’s A Forest Song (2019), nature is both “red of tooth and claw,” as Darwin described it, and an enchanted place were material profusion reigns. The quarreling birds—made of natural crystals and minerals, synthetic gems, various expoxies, lapis lazuli, stained glass, obsidian, 23-karat gilt bronze, and more—are sumptuous. Light plays subtly across them and their calls fill the air. To each side of the tableau, luminous mirror-image videos extend the forest into virtual space as transparent layers of sharp and blurry images of moving foliage. Animated insects flit from screen to screen.
The forest has long been an important theme for DaveandJenn, who began as painters, exploring the deep space of painting in works that grew to five inches thick. Admitting light, shadows and reflections into their piled-on images, their paintings became dense environments. A Forest Song brings aspects of painting and sculpture together with new media and technology to create “a painting you can walk into,” with larger-than-life birds.
One model for A Forest Song was the bird paintings of Melchoir de Hondecoeter, a 17th-century Dutch painter favoured by magnates of his time, the beginnings of modern global capitalism. Exotic birds were among the spoils. They were kept by the wealthy in aviaries at their country houses. DaveandJenn blend two de Hondecoeter themes: the concert of birds and the Aesopian fable of the raven (here a magpie) and his borrowed plumes. Part of the Dutch painter’s appeal was his use of fable and allegory to suggest similarities in his animals’ and human behaviour. His bird concerts are dissonant, their choristers unable to work harmoniously; his raven sneaky and vain.
DaveandJenn’s A Forest Song is an allegory for our time in which disharmony attends political and social life and the income gap grows. The opulent birds embody excess and information overload. Greedily consumed by the songbirds, the extinct Xerces is the first butterfly in North America to lose its habitat to urban development. Yet, despite human predation, nature’s riches and mysteries continue to fascinate us. DaveandJenn’s forest is a teeming microcosmic universe. Everything in this arboreal chaos is linked. Its creatures are in high gear, and nature is the engine of it all.
David Foy and Jennifer Saleik have been collaborators since 2004. Foy was born in Edmonton, Alberta in 1982; Saleik in Velbert, Germany, in 1983. They received Fine Art Diplomas from Grant MacEwan College in 2003 and each graduated with distinction from the Alberta College of Art + Design, in 2006. Their first appearance as DaveandJenn was in their graduating exhibition. From the start, experimenting with form and materials has been an important aspect of their work, which includes painting, sculpture, installation, animation and digital video.
DaveandJenn’s work was included in the MASS MoCA traveling exhibition Oh, Canada (2012–15) and the Galerie de l’UQAM’s survey of contemporary Canadian painting, Le Projet Peinture/The Painting Project (2013). Recent solo projects include No End at the Art Gallery of Alberta (2015), A Natural History of Islands at the Nickle Galleries (2016), The Wellspring at the Glenbow Museum (2017), Paradise for an In-Between Time at the Esker Foundation, and Thinner Skin/Thicker Hide at Queen’s Square Gallery (2018). They are represented in Calgary by Trepanier Baer Gallery.
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