Untitled with broom handle

Untitled with broom handle was created for Feed and Be Fed group exhibition at Intermedia Arts in October 2012, a show organized around Dia de los Muertos.

My piece related more closely with Dia de los Inocentes, the day of remembering dead children, but not literally so. It’s more about remembering the jumble of joy and sorrow that is childhood. The exhilarating feeling of acting on a strong desire, and then the realization that our actions have consequences, sometimes tragic ones, is the dramatic arc of beginning to understand ourselves in relation to the world around us.

My own experience of this awakening was through my fascination as a child with birds nests. When I was about 8 or 9 I loved to find nests in the woods by our house, and in the spring became more and more interested in finding nests with eggs and baby birds in them. I had beautiful fantasies about what it would be like to hold and play with baby birds, and my desire for holding baby birds became so overwhelming that I finally devised a way to get a robin’s nest out of the tree in our front yard using a broom handle and a chair. I knew it was naughty but I did it anyway. After several tries, I knocked the nest down out of the big tree, but of course I couldn’t catch it like I had imagined, and instead the nest and baby robins fell to the ground. I felt simultaneously a thrill of excitement– I did it! I had the nest!– and horror– the baby birds are hurt. I woke my mother up (it was early morning) and she came out, scolded me, pronounced the birds dead. Except for one survivor, who we carried inside and kept, in his nest, in a cardboard box with a lamp clipped to the side for warmth. I kept the cardboard box in my room, and every time I approached the box the robin peeped and lolled his little head toward the sound of my steps. We fed the baby robin with chopped worms and gave it water with an eyedropper, but it died a few days later.

I knew the baby robin had died when he was silent. I also knew that he had died because of what I had done, and felt terrible. But now, as an adult, I can remember both the intense, thrilling desire of that experience– the intense sweetness of the dream– and the acute, near-physical pain of remorse– the intense sadness of the reality. It’s this duality of experience, and the space that my piece creates for experiential contemplation of these feelings, that fit so well with the ritual and meaning of Dia de los Muertos, especially Dia de los Inocentes.

detail of edible bird skeleton on phylo dough nest. 2012.
detail of edible bird skeleton on philo dough nest. 2012.
edible bird skeletons in caramel philo nests. 2012.
edible bird skeletons in caramel philo nests. 2012.