Imagining What Birds Think of Climate Change

An artist anticipates the end of the world from an avian perspective.

Zachary Kligler August 29, 2018

“Birds Watching” by Jenny Kendler depicts the eyes of birds threatened by climate change.

In Storm King Art Center’s Indi­ca­tors: Artists on Cli­mate Change, 17 artists offer unique respons­es to the destruc­tion and desta­bi­liza­tion wrought by plan­e­tary warm­ing. The works, installed across Storm King’s muse­um and 500-acre cam­pus, include the accusato­ry gaze of Jen­ny Kendler’s sculp­ture, Birds Watch­ing”: 100 eyes, each belong­ing to a dif­fer­ent species of bird threat­ened by cli­mate change, look­ing back at the humans who might destroy them. Kendler spoke with In These Times about envi­ron­men­tal­ist art, cap­i­tal­ism and build­ing a bet­ter way to be human.

Art is about proposing new ideas and new ways of being. Art can show us how life could be otherwise.

What led you to cre­ate Birds Watching”?

When I was invit­ed to be part of the show, my imme­di­ate thought was about how to rep­re­sent non­hu­mans. Non­hu­man species are becom­ing a new and com­plete­ly unac­knowl­edged sac­ri­fice zone in extrac­tion cap­i­tal­ism, and birds are par­tic­u­lar­ly threat­ened by cli­mate change because it impacts their migra­tion. I’m inter­est­ed in any­thing that depos­es the hier­ar­chy of human excep­tion­al­ism and rec­og­nizes that we’re actu­al­ly embed­ded in these com­plex ecosystems.

How does your work help view­ers escape the log­ic of extrac­tion capitalism?

A lot of fal­si­ties have to be per­pet­u­at­ed in order to make peo­ple will­ing par­tic­i­pants in a sys­tem that is so destruc­tive, not only to our ecosys­tem but to our­selves. Human beings are social apes, we need con­nec­tion, and our needs can be ful­filled in rich and deep ways in gen­uine par­tic­i­pa­to­ry com­mu­ni­ties embed­ded in the nat­ur­al world. But most of those desires have been sub­vert­ed into con­sumerism. I see greater par­tic­i­pa­tion in the nat­ur­al world as a way out.

What role does art play in help­ing us move forward?

A lot of times art is about propos­ing new ideas and new ways of being. Art can show us how life could be oth­er­wise. It can also help us learn how to mourn. How are we going to come to terms with the tremen­dous loss­es that we have faced and that we’re going to face in the com­ing years, espe­cial­ly due to cli­mate change? I still hold out hope — I’m not a fatal­ist — but how do we come to terms with what we’re going to lose? 

INDI­CA­TORS: ARTISTS ON CLI­MATE CHANGE, on dis­play at Storm King Art Cen­ter, New Wind­sor, N.Y., through Novem­ber 11 

Zachary Kligler is a sum­mer 2018 In These Times edi­to­r­i­al intern.
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