Birds of Firle (2020-2022)

Birds of Firle - Credit Tanya Shadrick

A single edition book being posted
in sequence to one hundred collaborators

by TANYA SHADRICK

GRIEF IS THE THING NO HOPE IS THE THING
21 IMAGES (6CM X 6CM) TO PROMPT
A CUMULATIVE, COMMUNAL RESPONSE

On New Year’s Day 2020, Birds of Firle – a single edition, handmade book – was placed in the post to the first of 100 recipients in the UK and overseas who have committed to respond to it in words, sound or images. An exercise in slow art – a cumulative, communal creative practice – initiated by Tanya Shadrick, founder of The Selkie Press.

Letter to Participants

Each participant receives the following letter, which is numbered to show where they are in this sequential undertaking:

“All of the images – simple as the tools and skills with which I made them – date from the winter of 2018, a time of complicated grief: the kind that can’t be shared; when the loss is private, pained; not really known to those around one.

I determined to weather it, simply. To drive in school hours to the highest, wildest point in my local area and sit tight. Cry, sleep, eat. Write a little. Read a lot. And I did – a book a day sometimes. The Nobel Laureates. Some idea that my life would assume its right proportions again by feeling itself small & humble in the presence of all the lives real and imagined in those books from so many nations, faiths, decades. That I might mend in this way my concentration and courage both.

The first bird surprised me while I was resting my eyes. A jackdaw level with my driver seat window, held still in the strong wind up there on the Beacon. After that, watching the rooks and ravens that gather there became a deliberate part of each day.

When I first began to put the images online, several people asked if I was working after the example of the late Japanese photographer Masahisa Fukase, who began to study ravens obsessively after loss. I didn’t know of him then, but discovering his work made me more not less committed to what I was doing – & to sharing my birds in a way that the very expensive and limited editions of his exquisite images cannot be.

I have not yet found creativity or nature or even friendship to be a cure-all for sorrow. The images for a long time felt only to be a concentrate of failure, loneliness, confusion. But the growing purpose of my visits there, as I learned about the birds and waited for them, began to make other creative work come – and then the unexpected connections that happen whenever one puts new things out into the world. The loss remained a stubborn hollow space (is so still). But, very slowly, life expanded around it. Colour returned.

And hope. In sending this book out now, I anticipate gladly the words, images and conversations that might follow from it.”

Postscript: Birds of Firle began on New Year’s Day 2020: soon afterwards life changed for us all due to the spread of Coronavirus. To have this book still be going slowly to and from people all over the world feels even more important than before in this time of our new and necessary solitudes.

Responses

Replies are being hosted online by The Selkie Press, ahead of an exhibition and limited edition release in 2022.

Related Resources

‘An Account of My Hut’ (Wild Women Press, Jan 2020): Tanya wrote about her improvised hermitage among the Birds of Firle, as first Wild Woman Web story spinner of 2020 (following on from artist Jackie Morris who contributed the December thread).

Foundle on Little Toller’s The Clearing: Three Views of a Chalkstone by Tanya Shadrick, Jo Sweeting and Louisa Thomsen Brits. An account in three voices of a found erratic chalkstone at Firle Beacon that Tanya Shadrick, sculptor Jo Sweeting and writer Louisa Thomsen Brits have worked on since their strange encounter with it in summer 2019. The boulder is now carved with Sussex dialect words for place, and is the first work in an ongoing project called ‘Re-Wilding the Word Hoard’ – which will next take the three women to the beach at Bucks Mills National Trust North Devon for a residency in March/April 2020.

‘Foundle’ (Growing Wild podcast: Dec 2019): Hear Tanya, Jo and Louisa in conversation with broadcaster Charlotte Petts of Growing Wild FM beside the Foundle on the top of Firle Beacon.

Birds of Firle - Jackdaw - Credit Tanya Shadrick