Catherine Clover

Birds of the Footscray District
November 15th – December 2nd, 2023


In my multidisciplinary art practice I use sound and language as a means of unlearning, as a way to consider knowledge heirarchies in terms of our relationship with other species such as common urban birds. I assemble works using different forms of objets trouvés, one thread of which is concerned with printed matter (the apparent redundancy of newspapers, hard copy books etc). Bird identification field guides have mostly been usurped by apps on our mobile phones these days and the materiality of old second hand paperbacks seems to increase with the passage of time, including the fading paper, the use of typography, hand-written marginalia by previous owners or librarians, library stamps.

The photographs in this exhibition are details from the book Birds of the Footscray District by Jack Jones (‘Gerygone’), 1939, a settler-colonial guide to urban bird watching. Despite the author’s deep appreciation of the birds’ lives in the complex landscape of Footscray in the 1930s, there is no consideration of the traditional owners of the area, the Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung peoples, whose knowledge systems are deeply entwined with the lives of all other creatures. According to Wurundjeri Custodian Mandy Nicholson, birds are powerfully symbolic for Wurundjeri people. This absence makes for distinctly uncomfortable reading given our extensive debates around decolonisation today. With an abstraction of the content that may indicate its partial/selective knowledge, the photographs can be understood, at least in part, as a reframing of the guide to generate new meanings, a posthuman contribution to the decolonisation debate.