A Ubiquity of Sparrows: Residency at theBanff Centre for the Arts and Creativity 2016
Considering what makes some bird species, such as the sparrow, so successful, I noted the collective noun for a flock of sparrows, “a ubiquity”.
Reflecting upon the environmental impact of species fluctuations, and the effect of removing opportunistic species, led me to Mao Zedong’s Four Pests campaign and the deliberate eradication of the Eurasian Tree Sparrow. This has long been considered a contributing factor in one of the world’s worst self-inflicted environmental disasters, leading to China’s famine [1958-1961].
For three days in December 1958, the entire populace was exhorted to participate in the slaughter of sparrows. Drumming, shouting, beating the trees with long poles, erecting innumerable scarecrows and flags, using slingshots and rifles, birds, afraid to land, began to fall out of the sky by the thousands as they succumbed to exhaustion. Truckloads with millions of dead sparrows were driven around the cities and towns to demonstrate the efficacy of the campaign. China’s Academy of Sciences later produced a report on how many insects, such as locusts, a favorite food of the sparrow, the birds ate compared to seed, demonstrating the killing of sparrows was highly counter-productive; the proliferation of locusts and insects was a factor in the deaths of 30 to 45 million people due to massive crop destruction.
Integrating text from interviews I have done of eyewitnesses to the “War on Sparrows” and the Great Leap Forward, I wanted to create an installation incorporating selections of text screen-printed on small pieces of linen, forming each into a pouch containing 2.5 grams of feathers, which is the amount on a single sparrow.
In doing the interviews, the majority of people I talked to requested that their names not be used - that they remain anonymous. This extended to the second generation of families that I talked to. the phrase that frequently came up was "I feel ashamed".
Drumming, shouting, beating the trees with long poles, erecting innumerable scarecrows and flags, using slingshots and rifles, birds began to fall out of the sky by the thousands as they succumbed to exhaustion.