Murmuration at The Bowes Museum

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Murmuration at The Bowes Museum

Delve into the world of birds by exploring avian symbolism in art in a new exhibition at the Bowes Musem


Visitors to The Bowes Musem in County Durham will discover the pivotal role that birds play as indicators to the health of the environment, reflecting the urgent climate crisis and, through the work of artists and makers, ponder the metaphor of birds as messengers of home and belonging as well as learn how birds were represented in art as metaphors for innocence, status and courtship through artworks from the collection.

The exhibition also examines the complex reasons around the collecting of taxidermy, from its role as a teaching resource to its connections to scientific racism and colonial exploitation, and consider the ethical and cultural implications of preserving animals for study and display.

Murmuration opens at The Bowes Musem on 27 January 2024 and runs until 23 June 2024.


The artists

Featuring a mix of contemporary and historical works in a series of themes around belonging, collection, crisis and symbolism, the show includes works by Larry Achiampong and David Blandy, Henna Asikainen, Shiraz Bayjoo, Bentley Beetham, Museum founder Joséphine Bowes, Michel Pierre Hubert Descours, John Doyle, Ryan Gander, Sally Madge, Bethan Maddocks, Edouard-Aimé Pils, David Shrigley, C F Tunnicliffe and Hanna Tuulikki among others.

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Impacting the environment

Murmuration will raise awareness of our human impact on the environment and promote concern for the need for individual and collective change towards a more sustainable, equitable and ecological future on a shared and increasingly fragile planet.

Pieces from the Museum’s collection will be set alongside the contemporary works with additional loans from other institutions including the British Council, Great North Museum:Hancock, Stephen Friedman Gallery, Copperfield Gallery and individuals.

Regional artist, Bethan Maddocks’ paper sculptural-installation, Twelfth Night Pie recreates a bird pie filled with species that now face mass decline, this will be juxtaposed with the Irish artist John Doyle’s lithograph print from 1836, Sing a Song of Sixpence from the collection.

The history of birds and people

How history unfolds a legacy around where birds and people come from, where they migrate and how they return will also be examined in the exhibition through the reproduction of photographic images by the Barnard Castle based ornithologist, photographer and adventurer Bentley Betham as well as lithographs and prints of netted fields shown through the exhibition as well, with works from the collection showing how red and orange hen harriers, curlews and different breeds of plovers are all at risk in the North Pennines.

A series of contemporary taxidermy pieces by the late Sunderland multidisciplinary artist Sally Madge highlight the impact humans have on the environment by showing the consequences consuming microplastics has on the birds.

Bird song

The show will also feature a sound piece by Hanna Tuulikki that invites visitors to immerse themselves in a cacophony of bird song and calls as well as a film work by Larry Achiampong and David Blandy. This film explores the under-recognised relationship between Charles Darwin and John Edmonstone, a former enslaved black man, whose teaching gave Darwin taxidermy skills that were pivotal to the development of his theory of evolution.

Vicky Sturrs, The Bowes Museum’s Director of Programmes and Collections, said: “This is a timely exhibition that showcases the Museum’s vast and varied collection, exhibiting a number of previously unseen works from our stores alongside contemporary pieces that, together, explore our human impact in and on the natural world. We have some stunning pieces on show from artists, designers and makers that, although centuries apart, speak to similar ideas; documenting and commenting on our impact on the planet. This show will, through a host of visual treats, promote thinking and action for us as individuals and as humankind, to slow the decline of climate change.”

The exhibition will be accompanied by a public programme of radical ecology events aimed at adults.

Image top right: Henna AsikainenIcarus and Other Fallen Angels (2013-ongoing), one of the artworks displayed in Murmuration. Credit Henna Asikainen.

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